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BOOK XXIII: The Funeral of Patroclos
Since Achilles feels he has avenged the death of Patroclos, he now turns his attention to preparing a proper burial for his dear friend. Patroclos, however, appears to him in a dream and begs his friend not to prolong the funeral. He also requests that both his bones and those of Achilles be buried in the same urn.
The massive preparations for the funeral begin as timber for the pyre is brought from Mt. Ida. Patroclos' body is placed on the wood, along with other various animal and human sacrifices, including the body of Hector. Achilles then decides not to use Hector's body as a sacrifice and throws it to the ground; Aphrodite and Apollo protect the body from being torn apart by the dogs.
After he is finally satisfied with the pyre, Achilles prays to the winds, Boreas and Zephyros, and begs them to set the wood aflame. The request is granted, and a raging fire is started. When the fire spends its force and begins to burn low, Agamemnon and his men extinguish the last embers with wine. Then the bones of Patroclos are gathered and placed in an urn, which is to be buried in a tomb that is under construction.
Achilles, having accorded the body of Patroclos the ceremonial rites due him, orders funeral games to be held in honor of his dead companion. The first game is to be a Chariot Race, between Eumelos, Meriones, Diomedes, Menelaos, and Antilochos. The second game is to be a boxing match between Epeius and Euryalous. The third game is a wrestling match with Telamonian Aias and Odysseus as contenders. The fourth game is a Foot Race between Aias, son of Oileus, Odysseus, and Antilochos. The fifth game is dueling between Telamonian Aias and Diomedes. The sixth game is Discus Throwing, the seventh is Archery, and the last is Spear Throwing. Valuable prizes are awarded to the winners of each contest.
It is important to stress that the relationship that existed between Achilles and Patroclos is key to the development of the Iliad's general plot and theme. The intimate friendship between the two and the death of Patroclos serve as the means to return Achilles to the battlefield, where he can prove his heroism. Once Achilles avenges the death of Patroclos by killing Hector, it is not surprising that he turns his full attention to elaborate funeral preparations for his friend. It is also not surprising that he tosses Hector's body to the ground for the dogs to ravage.
The profound impact of the death of Patroclos upon Achilles is evidenced by the hero's nighttime dream. His dead friend tells him not to prolong the funeral arrangements and asks that his burned bones be mixed in an urn with those of Achilles, foreshadowing the approaching death of the Greek hero. Acting upon the request of the envisioned Patroclos, Achilles immediately begins to make the funeral arrangements. As he prepares the pyre, the hero's brutality is seen once again. The twelve hostages, which he took during his battle in the Xanthus, are slain as human sacrifices and placed on the pyre with Patroclos. It is obvious through the slaughter and sacrifice of the Trojans and the casting of Hector to the dogs that Achilles still suffers from excess. Torn by anger, grief, and vengeance, he has entered a second wrath cycle that deprives him of stability and balance.
The games that Achilles orders to honor Patroclos are described in detail and become a mixture of fierce competition and open humor, especially when the gods enter the duels to help their favorite humans. The chariot race is a perfect example. Apollo snatches away the whip of Diomedes, but Athena restores it and overturns Eumelos, who is driving Trojan horses. Aias and Idomeneus, two spectators who intently watch the competition, have a heated argument about who is leading and have to be calmed down by Achilles before they begin throwing fists at one another. After the race is over, Achilles and Antilochos argue over who should be awarded the second prize, since Achilles wants to give it to Eumelos for putting up the best struggle against overwhelming divine odds. In the end the second prize is granted to Antilochos; but then a quarrel arises between Menelaos and Antilochos. Menelaos maintains that Antilochos fouled him in a narrow stretch of track, and Antilochos admits his guilt.