Homer’s Iliad: Book XVI

Questions for Book XVI:

  • What is Patroclus’ last dying word to Hector?

“‘Why in tears, Patroclus?
Like a girl, a baby running after her mother,
begging to be picked up, and she tugs her skirts,
holding her back as she tries to hurry off — all tears,
fawning up at her, till she takes her in her arms …
That’s how you look, Patroclus, streaming live tears”

Okay, Achilles: we get it already!
The poet uses second-person address to Patroclus, surprisingly: “you answered your friend, Patroclus O my rider” (16.22).

you are intractable, Achilles!
Pray god such anger never seizes me, such rage you nurse.
Cursed in your own courage!” (16.32-34).

Patroclus rebels against Achilles and his stubborn, enraged, “heart of iron” (16.37). He would borrow Achilles’ armor so that the Trojans believe that he is Achilles back on the field. Of course, we are reminded that he was here “condemned to beg for his own death and brutal doom” (16.55).

In speaking, Achilles starts beating the proverbial dead horse, ranting again about the girl and Agamemnon.

“that son of Atreus! Treating me like some vagabond,
some outcast stripped of all my rights . . .
Let bygones be bygones now. Done is done.
How on earth can a man rage on forever?” (16.67-70).

He seems to recognize his emotional impasse and catches himself up, but this glimpse of awareness does not change the fact of his remaining rage.

“Still, by god, I said I would not relax my anger,
not till the cries and carnage reached my own ships”

Ironically, Achilles preaches restraint to Patroclus. We know that Patroclus will risk himself and not return alive though. The plan finally is that Patroclus will wear Achilles’ armor in battle so that the Trojans think that Achilles has returned. That should keep Patroclus safe if he holds back from the worst of the battle. Patroclus arms for battle in all respects but for Achilles’ “weighted, heavy, tough” spear (16.168). Achilles prays to Zeus for Patroclus’ protection, futilely.

Zeus faces a dilemma: should he save his own son Sarpedon?

“he showered tears of blood that drenched the earth,
showers in praise of him, how own dear son,
the man Patroclus was just about to kill”

Patroclus kills Sarpedon. Zeus is not pleased. Eventually after much other fighting, Hector attacks and spears Patroclus.

“rammed his spearshaft home,
stabbing deep in the bowels, and the brazen point
went jutting straight out through Patroclus’ back.
Down he crashed” (16.955-958).

Patroclus’ last words try to rob Hector of the honor of the kill. He claims Fate and Apollo are responsible. But the last gasp should be read as rather chilling:

“Already I see them looming up beside you — death
and the strong force of fate, to bring you down
at the hands of Aeacus’ great royal son …


Iliad: Book XVII
Iliad Index