The Iliad By Homer Summary and Analysis Book XVI

Summary

While the battle around the ships continues, Patroklos pleads with Achilles to be allowed to wear Achilles' armor and to lead the Myrmidons, his troops, into battle. While Achilles is considering this request, flames are seen rising from among the ships, indicating great success for the Trojans. Achilles consents, and Patroklos and the Myrmidons arm themselves with great enthusiasm. After Achilles has addressed them and offered a libation to Zeus, he warns Patroklos to do no more than rescue the ships, for if he attacks Troy, he may be killed.

The Trojans are panicked by the belief that Achilles has decided to unleash his fury against them, and in a short time, the addition of Achilles' fresh and well equipped regiment of Myrmidons to the Achaian army destroys the Trojan advantage. Hektor and his men flee toward Troy.

Patroklos pursues Hektor and his men all the way to the walls of Troy, doing many heroic deeds on the way. However, Apollo decides to enter the fighting as an ally of Hektor, and while Patroklos, in an almost god-like manner, slaughters nine Trojans in a single charge, Apollo slips up behind him and strikes him so fiercely on the back that Patroklos' vizored helmet flies off. His spear is shattered and his armor falls to the ground. Then, while Patroklos is standing in a daze, a Trojan soldier pierces him midway between the shoulders with a javelin.

Patroklos tries to hide, but Hektor sees him and rams a spear through the lower part of his belly. Patroklos falls with a thud, and the entire Achaian army is stunned. His voice failing, Patroklos tells Hektor that it was not he who conquered him. It was the gods, he says, the gods and "deadly Destiny."

Analysis

This episode is the second turning point in the tragic story of Achilles. He has made a fatal decision, and the deaths of Sarpedon, Patroklos, Hektor, Achilles himself, and the fall of Troy all inevitably follow. The deaths of Sarpedon and Patroklos in this book introduce an elegiac tone into the last part of the Iliad, as the characters that the reader sees as sympathetic are killed. Until now, Achilles has been torn by a conflict between the noble elements of his soul, which urge him to help his Achaian friends, and his obsessive sense of honor, which demands the full humiliation of Agamemnon and a complete recognition of Achilles' own worth by the other Achaian warriors.

Achilles sees the disguise scheme suggested by Patroklos as the perfect solution to his dilemma: It would allow him to save his own ships and thus fulfill his moral obligation to the Achaians. Yet at the same time, he can protect his prestige because he himself would not have to intervene. This equivocating solution is the cause of all the tragic events to come. Achilles tries to rationalize his consent to the plan by claiming that he had sworn not to participate in the fighting unless his own ships were threatened; but in fact, he never really said this. What has happened is that Achilles is beginning to lose his ability to think clearly and weigh all the factors in this situation.

Achilles' horses, Roan Beauty and Dapple, are introduced, emphasizing the importance of horses in ancient warfare. As with human characters, the lineage of the horses is given.

Achilles takes his wine cup (kalyx) to make a special prayer to Zeus. Like his shield and spear, the wine cup is an object that only Achilles uses. Achilles' prayer is for Patroklos, and the reader immediately finds that Zeus will grant Patroklos success but denies him "safe and sound return from battle." Later, Zeus considers overturning fate to let his own son, Sarpedon, live. Hera overrules him, saying, "Do as you please, Zeus . . . / but none of the deathless gods will ever praise you." The clear suggestion is that Zeus has some control over fate; but like humans, he must generally accept the fate that has been decreed, for worse consequences occur when fate is tampered with.

Glossary

Glaucus Trojan ally who commands the Lycians.

intractable not tractable; specifically, a) hard to manage; unruly or stubborn b) hard to work, manipulate, cure, or treat; often used in describing Achilles.

Myrmidons soldiers commanded by Achilles.

Sarpedon Trojan ally, co-commander of the Lycians, killed by Patroklos. He was a son of Zeus.

Selli prophets who serve Zeus.

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On what day after the return of Hektor’s body to the Trojans will the battle begin again?




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