Summary and Analysis
Menelaos attempts to protect the body of Patroklos from the enemy, but finally he is driven off by Hektor. The Trojan commander strips Achilles' beautiful armor from the corpse and puts it on in place of his own. Then almost immediately, a battle develops over Patroklos' naked corpse. The Trojans hope to take it to Troy to mutilate it as a warning to all the Achaians, and the Achaians want to give it a proper funeral ceremony. The leading warriors on both sides engage in this fight, and two gods, Apollo and Athena, also join. While this is going on, Hektor attempts to capture Achilles' horses, but they escape back to the Achaian camp. Finally, the body of Patroklos is rescued and is safely carried back to the Achaian camp.
Book XVII at last gives the reader the aristeia of Menelaos. The capture of Menelaos' wife caused the Trojan War, yet he has for the most part been a bit player in the story, often looked out for by his older brother, Agamemnon. In Book XVII, he comes into his own as a warrior. However, even here Homer continues to use similes that seem to diminish Menelaos. In line 5 he is compared to a cow protecting its calf and later in this book he is compared to a fly. Menelaos is generally presented as a sympathetic character, but at the same time, this presentation often makes him seem somewhat less than many of the other Greek heroes.
The horses of Achilles weep for the dead Patroklos. This scene underscores the earlier introduction of these horses. This allows Homer to emphasize the point that even nature weeps for the dead Patroklos.
While most of Book XVII is battle description, the decision by Hektor to wear Achilles' armor is very suggestive. Hektor, the greatest of the Trojan warriors, seems by this act to associate himself as the equal of Achilles. Later events will show that Hektor's actions here are examples of hubris — sinful pride. In this book, Hektor and Aeneas sweep forward again, but their successes mark the beginning of the end in the Iliad for Trojan victories.
In lines 351-353, Aias dodges a spear that strikes and kills Schedius. This fortuitous dodging followed by an infortuitous death happens several times in the Iliad and becomes something of a cliché.
The Homeric Greeks believed that one's soul could not enter the afterworld unless the proper burial rites had been carried out — in this case, cremation and burial of the ashes under a barrow. The battle that takes place over the body of Patroklos is due to this belief.
pathetic fallacy in literature, the attribution of human feelings and characteristics to inanimate things (for example, the angry sea, a stubborn door). While the weeping horses of Achilles could be called personification, they are more precisely examples of pathetic fallacy.
Son of Cronus epithet for Zeus. Cronus the Titan was Zeus' father.
yoke pads part of the accoutrements for harnessed oxen. The yoke pads kept the yokes from digging into the animal's skin.