An Introduction to Book 17 of the Iliad
“Repetition, and repetition in every variation of size, shape, and content is one of the basic and all-pervading procedures of Homeric poetry.” (Thornton 1984:73)
Book 17, while not the longest, is certainly among the longer books of the Iliad at 761 verses, and is entirely devoted to the fight for Patroklos’ corpse after his death on the battlefield at the hands of Apollo, Euphorbos, and Hektor. This introductory essay is designed to accompany the notes on Iliad 17 that I have published as part of A Homer Commentary in Progress. I propose first to explore Patroklos’ role within the Iliad and in the larger poetic tradition, in order to explain why an entire book is dedicated to the fight for his corpse. I will then go on in the second half of the essay to give a brief overview of the book’s structure and themes. As we will see, the story of Patroklos’ death follows an extremely ancient pattern that is deeply embedded in the poetic tradition. His death is formulated as both a sacrifice that brings Achilles back into the war after his withdrawal in Iliad 1 and as a ritual substitution that previews Achilles’ own coming death. In presenting this argument I will be drawing throughout on the far more extensive argumentation of Lord 1960, Nagy 1979 and 2013, Lowenstam 1981, and Burgess 2009. Further discussion may be found in Scheliha 1943:264 and 397-98 (with earlier bibliography ad loc.), Kakridis 1949:60–71, Whitman 1958:201 (“The death of Patroclus is a shadow play of the death of Achilles, a montage of one image upon another”), Reinhardt 1961:354, Nagy 1979:33, 63, 143-45, and 293, Sinos 1980:55, Lowenstam 1981:116-17 and passim, Schein 1984:26 and 155, and Janko 1992 ad 16.777-867. Additional citations on this theme may be found in Brügger 2018 ad 16.165.
Patroklos is the closest comrade of the Iliad’s central figure, the Greek hero Achilles. They were raised in the same house, as Patroklos himself tells us when he comes to Achilles in a dream after his death (Iliad 23.84–90). His death in book 16 is the reason that Achilles comes back to battle, even knowing that he himself will die in avenging Patroklos’ death. The deaths of Patroklos at the hands of the Trojan prince Hektor, of Hektor at the hands of Achilles, and of Achilles at the hands of Paris (beyond the confines of the poem) are fundamentally interconnected in the Iliad. Achilles’ death is foreshadowed repeatedly after the death of Patroklos and prophesied by various characters, including by his mother, the goddess Thetis, who tells Achilles at Iliad 18.96: “Your own death awaits you straightaway after that of Hektor” [αὐτίκα γάρ τοι ἔπειτα μεθ’ ῞Εκτορα πότμος ἑτοῖμος]. With his dying breath Patroklos foretells the death of Hektor, who in turn with his dying breath foretells the death of Achilles.
This interconnectedness is made manifest in the exchange of armor that takes place among these three characters (Whitman 1958:199–203; Collins 1998:15–45). Patroklos goes into battle wearing Achilles’ famous divinely crafted armor precisely in order that he be mistaken for Achilles. Hektor strips Patroklos of this armor upon killing him and puts it on himself. Achilles must get a new set of divinely made armor, in which he confronts Hektor, who is still wearing his old set. Each of these characters then becomes an embodiment of Achilles; in killing Patroklos, Hektor arguably kills Achilles as well, and in killing Hektor, Achilles kills himself.
We can see that the 750+ verses devoted to the fight for Patroklos’ corpse are about much more than the grief initiated by a single warrior’s death. An ancient audience, familiar as they would have been with the larger mythological, poetic, and religious traditions about the hero Achilles, were witnessing in advance the coming fight for Achilles’ own body (see also Burgess 2009:81–83). That fight was narrated in the Aithiopis in the Epic Cycle and is also described in the Odyssey by Agamemnon, who is at this point dead and in the underworld:
‘ὄλβιε Πηλέος υἱέ, θεοῖς ἐπιείκελ᾽ Ἀχιλλεῦ, ὃς θάνες ἐν Τροίῃ ἑκὰς Ἄργεος· ἀμφὶ δέ σ᾽ ἄλλοι κτείνοντο Τρώων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν υἷες ἄριστοι, μαρνάμενοι περὶ σεῖο: σὺ δ᾽ ἐν στροφάλιγγι κονίης κεῖσο μέγας μεγαλωστί, λελασμένος ἱπποσυνάων. ἡμεῖς δὲ πρόπαν ἦμαρ ἐμαρνάμεθ᾽· οὐδέ κε πάμπαν παυσάμεθα πτολέμου, εἰ μὴ Ζεὺς λαίλαπι παῦσεν.
Fortunate son of Peleus, Achilles like the gods, (since) you died in Troy far from Argos. And around you others, the best sons of the Trojans and the Achaeans, were killed, doing battle around you. But you in a whirl of dust lay dead, all huge and hugely, no longer mindful of chariot-fighting. The whole day we battled, nor would we have at all stopped from war, if Zeus hadn’t stopped us with a storm. (Odyssey 24.36–42)
The body of Achilles was not only the subject of myth, song, drama, and art throughout antiquity, but in keeping with the Greek practice of hero cult, it was ritually lamented and worshipped and believed to be very powerful after death (Nagy 1979/1999:114, Hedreen 1991 with additional citations ad loc.). Having the body matters in this tradition. Proper burial matters. Patroklos’ bones will be mingled with those of Achilles himself, in the golden amphora given to Thetis by Dionysus for this very purpose, on the day of her marriage to the mortal Peleus (Iliad 23.81–92; Odyssey 24.72–79). But as we will see, Patroklos should not only be understood through the lens of Achilles, to the exclusion of his own story, nor should we overlook the less exalted but still very powerful reasons for devoting such an extended fight to Patroklos’ corpse. As Jasper Griffin has written (1980:46–47): “To deprive the dead of a grave is to abolish his memory, to make him as if he had never been; hence the passionate concern felt in Homer for a grave to remain after one’s death, to record for posterity one’s existence and significance.” Because his bones will be mixed with those of Achilles, Patroklos’ story will always be intertwined with his. But for his comrades, Patroklos is as philos as Achilles himself, and worthy of their fight for him and their care. They would rather die at Troy than allow the Trojan’s to take possession of his corpse (17.416–419). It is important to understand him in both of these dimensions as we interpret Iliad 17. I hope to show, moreover, that the passionate concern noted by Griffin is not particular to Homer at all, but is a concern that is shared with the soldiers fighting in our current wars.The passionate desire to to rescue the body of a fallen comrade as it is being dragged away by the enemy is arguably a universal and timeless traumatic experience. It is no surprise that it takes an entire book of the Iliad to fully convey the fear and horror and attendant grief of that experience.
The emotions of Iliad 17 come to a climax in the traumatic moment in which Menelaos has to break the news of Patroklos’ death to Antilokhos. It is in this moment that the sorrow initiated by Patroklos’ death must not only be felt, but conveyed to others who have not yet heard. This moment prepares us for what is arguably the most sorrowful moment of the entire poem, when Antilokos conveys the news to Achilles, when Achilles himself comes to know that Patroklos is dead, and that his own death in war is now immanent. “The best of the Achaeans has been killed,” and Achilles will now step into his place, answering the Achaean cry for help, and securing once and for all his eternal akhos and kleos.
##Patroklos within the Iliad: Patroklos as ritual substitute (therapōn) for Achilles
As I have already begun to suggest, the death of Achilles himself is foreshadowed by death of Patroklos, who ritually substitutes for Achilles in Iliad 16 and takes on his rivalry/antagonism with the god Apollo. Patroklos becomes Achilles, “the best of the Achaeans,” and when he dies everyone mourns Achilles while at the same time mourning Patroklos. What follows is an overview of Patroklos’ role in the Iliad through passages chosen to highlight this central theme. (On the passages from Iliad 16 see also the commentaries of Janko 1992 and Brügger 2018 with scholarship cited.) The Iliad begins with the wrath [mēnis] of Achilles, who withdraws from battle after quarreling with Agamemnon. After being forced to give up his own prize woman Chryseis, Agamemnon states that he will take Achilles’ captive prize woman Briseis. As he withdraws Achilles makes an official speech act:
ἀλλ᾽ ἔκ τοι ἐρέω καὶ ἐπὶ μέγαν ὅρκον ὀμοῦμαι… ἦ ποτ᾽ Ἀχιλλῆος ποθὴ ἵξεται υἷας Ἀχαιῶν σύμπαντας· τότε δ᾽ οὔ τι δυνήσεαι ἀχνύμενός περ χραισμεῖν, εὖτ᾽ ἂν πολλοὶ ὑφ᾽ Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο θνήσκοντες πίπτωσι· σὺ δ᾽ ἔνδοθι θυμὸν ἀμύξεις χωόμενος ὅ τ᾽ ἄριστον Ἀχαιῶν οὐδὲν ἔτισας.
But I will speak out and, more than that, I will swear a great oath… Some day a longing [pothē] for Achilles will come upon the sons of the Achaeans, all of them together. But at that point you will not be able, even though in great sorrow [akhos], to help it, when many men at the hand of man-slaying Hektor fall dying. And you will tear your heart out inside, angry because you did not honor the best of the Achaeans. (Iliad 1.233-244)
In book 17, Achilles’ words take on new meaning. Achilles is unquestionably the best of the Achaeans in the Iliadic tradition (Iliad 2.768–769), but when Patroklos dies in his place, Patroklos becomes in that moment the best. When Menelaos breaks the news that Patroklos has died to Antilokhos (Achilles’ next closest comrade to Achilles after Patroklos, according to Odyssey 24.78–79), he says:
Ἀντίλοχ᾽ εἰ δ᾽ ἄγε δεῦρο διοτρεφὲς ὄφρα πύθηαι λυγρῆς ἀγγελίης, ἣ μὴ ὤφελλε γενέσθαι. ἤδη μὲν σὲ καὶ αὐτὸν ὀΐομαι εἰσορόωντα γιγνώσκειν ὅτι πῆμα θεὸς Δαναοῖσι κυλίνδει, νίκη δὲ Τρώων· πέφαται δ᾽ ὤριστος Ἀχαιῶν Πάτροκλος, μεγάλη δὲ ποθὴ Δαναοῖσι τέτυκται. ἀλλὰ σύ γ᾽ αἶψ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ θέων ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν εἰπεῖν, αἴ κε τάχιστα νέκυν ἐπὶ νῆα σαώσῃ γυμνόν· ἀτὰρ τά γε τεύχε᾽ ἔχει κορυθαίολος Ἕκτωρ. ὣς ἔφατ᾽, Ἀντίλοχος δὲ κατέστυγε μῦθον ἀκούσας. δὴν δέ μιν ἀμφασίη ἐπέων λάβε, τὼ δέ οἱ ὄσσε δακρυόφι πλῆσθεν, θαλερὴ δέ οἱ ἔσχετο φωνή.
“Antilokhos, cherished by Zeus, come here in order that you may learn of grievous news, which I wish had never happened. Already I think you yourself see and comprehend that a god is rolling down pain upon the Danaans, and victory belongs to the Trojans. The best of the Achaeans has been killed, Patroklos, and a great longing [pothē] has been created for the Danaans. But you run quickly to the ships of the Achaeans and tell Achilles, if he could as quickly as possible save the body back to the ship, stripped. Hektor of the shining helmet has the armor.” So he spoke, and Antilokhos was struck with horror upon hearing his words. For a long time he was speechless, and his two eyes filled with tears, and his flourishing voice was held in check. (Iliad 17.685–693)
For all of book 17, Achilles is unaware, just like Antilokhos, that Patroklos is dead. His mother Thetis does not tell him the news (17.410–411), nor did she foretell it to him (19.328–329). He does not expect, when he asks his mother to persuade Zeus to give help to the Trojans in book 1, that it will be Patroklos who will die. This passage from Iliad 17, then, allows us to appreciate the events of Iliad 1 and Achilles’ own words in a new light. In Iliad 17, Patroklos is the best of the Achaeans, and it is for him that the Achaeans—and most especially Achilles himself—will long. (Cf. Iliad 24.6, where Achilles is described as “longing for the manhood and great might of Patroklos” [Πατρόκλου ποθέων ἀνδροτῆτά τε καὶ μένος ἠΰ].)
The sequence of events that leads to Patroklos’ death in Achilles’ place, wearing his armor, at the hands of the god Apollo, Achilles’ divine antagonistic, begins at the start of book 16. (See, however, Lowenstam 1981:32 and passim, who argues that the sequence is actually initiated in Iliad 11. Cf. Nagy 1979/1999:233–234, who notes that Patroklos is first designated “equal to Ares” in 11.604, and that “this epithet marks Patroklos for death”: ἔκμολεν ἶσος Ἄρηϊ, κακοῦ δ᾽ ἄρα οἱ πέλεν ἀρχή.) Knowing that many of the champions of the Greeks have been wounded, and that Trojans are closing in on their ships, Patroklos begs:
ἀλλ᾽ ἐμέ περ πρόες ὦχ᾽, ἃμα δ᾽ ἄλλον λαὸν ὄπασσον Μυρμιδόνων, ἤν πού τι φόως Δαναοῖσι γένωμαι. δὸς δέ μοι ὤμοιιν τὰ σὰ τεύχεα θωρηχθῆναι, αἴ κ᾽ ἐμὲ σοὶ ἴσκοντες ἀπόσχωνται πολέμοιο Τρῶες, ἀναπνεύσωσι δ᾽ Ἀρήϊοι υἷες Ἀχαιῶν τειρόμενοι· ὀλίγη δέ τ᾽ ἀνάπνευσις πολέμοιο.
“At least send me, quickly, and let the rest of the warriors of the Myrmidons accompany me, if I may be a beacon for the Danaans. Let your armor be placed around my shoulders, in the hopes that they may mistake me for you and hold back from battle, the Trojans that it is, and the warlike sons of the Achaeans may have some breathing space, since they are worn out, and there is little respite from battle.” (Iliad 16.38–43)
This is the fatal turning point for Patroklos, as the narrator is quick to note, calling him μέγα νήπιος:
ὣς φάτο λισσόμενος μέγα νήπιος· ἦ γὰρ ἔμελλεν οἷ αὐτῷ θάνατόν τε κακὸν καὶ κῆρα λιτέσθαι.
So he spoke beseeching him, greatly oblivious to the consequences. For he was begging for his own evil death and doom. (Iliad 16.46–47)
Susan Edmunds (1990) has shown that the word nēpios is used of adults who lack awareness of their impending death. In an exhaustive study of the word, Edmunds defines nēpios as the state of being mentally and socially disconnected (that is, clueless or oblivious) in a way that is characteristic of children. νήπιος is in fact a negative expression of a root of which ἤπιος is a positive. ἤπιος is to be “like a father” while νήπιος is to be “like a child.” (In the Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad, the word νήπιον at 6.400 is glossed as οὕτως ὡς οἱ παῖδες [“in the way of children”]). We may compare to this passage a similar construction at 20.296, where Poseidon fears for Aeneas, who has put his trust in Apollo: νήπιος, οὐδέ τί οἱ χραισμήσει λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον (“nēpios, nor will he [= Apollo] ward off mournful death for him”).
These verses are not the first time Patroklos has been called nēpios in this book. When Patroklos first comes to Achilles lamenting the deaths of the Greeks, Achilles compares how to a kourē nēpiē:
Τίπτε δεδάκρυσαι Πατρόκλεες, ἠΰτε κούρη νηπίη, ἥ θ’ ἅμα μητρὶ θέουσ’ ἀνελέσθαι ἀνώγει εἱανοῦ ἁπτομένη, καί τ’ ἐσσυμένην κατερύκει, δακρυόεσσα δέ μιν ποτιδέρκεται, ὄφρ’ ἀνέληται.
Why ever do you cry, Patroklos? (You are) like an oblivious girl, who running along with her mother begs to be picked up, grabbing onto her robe, and she hinders her as she is trying to go, and tearfully she looks at her, in order that she be picked up. (Iliad 16.7-10)
This simile about the little girl and her mother has been interpreted by Kathy Gaca (2008) as depicting a mother about to be taken captive by an enemy army. The mother and her daughter (and presumably, other women and children) are running from the invading soldiers, and the little girl begs to be picked up because she cannot otherwise keep up. If we accept Gaca’s interpretation of the simile, the girl’s pleas to her mother and her mother’s stopping to pick her daughter up will likely lead to both of them being captured. The parallel between what will happen to the girl and her mother and to Patroklos and Achilles lies in the fact that when Patroklos and Achilles make their agreement that only Patroklos will go into battle, their decision will result in both of their deaths: Achilles will return to battle to avenge the death of Patroklos and seal his own fate in doing so. (Alex Purves [2014:127–128] links this simile to Iliad 17 in another way: just as the little girl slows her mother down, begging to be picked so does the fight for Patroklos’ body dramatically slow down the narrative, as the Achaeans fight to lift his body up and out of the battlefield.)
Steven Lowenstam likewise documents the close association between the word nēpios and impending death in his 1981 study of Patroklos’ death. Characters who are called nēpios will not make it back, they will not have a nostos (Lowenstam 1981:61 and 167–169). Another word that is closely associated with the word nēpios in Homeric diction and discussed by Lowenstam is the word therapōn. Building on the work of Whitman (1958), Van Brock (1959), and others, as well as the words of the Iliad itself (see especially 16.233–248 and 23.83–92), Lowenstam shows that Patroklos is Achilles’ therapōn, a word which conveys a relationship of ritual substitution (Lowenstam 1981:126–177; so also Nagy 1979/1999:94–117 and 289–295 and 2013, Part I, Hour 6). This relationship becomes fulfilled when Patroklos leads the Myrmidons into battle in place of Achilles, wearing Achilles’ armor. Patroklos’ subsequent death, the lamentation for him, and his funeral preview those of Achilles. Achilles’ death does not take place within the narrative confines of the Iliad itself, but it is nonetheless enacted in the sacrificial death of Patroklos.
Many of these concepts come together when Achilles prays to Zeus as he sends Patroklos into battle in Iliad 16:
Ζεῦ ἄνα Δωδωναῖε Πελασγικὲ τηλόθι ναίων Δωδώνης μεδέων δυσχειμέρου, ἀμφὶ δὲ Σελλοὶ σοὶ ναίουσ᾽ ὑποφῆται ἀνιπτόποδες χαμαιεῦναι, ἠμὲν δή ποτ᾽ ἐμὸν ἔπος ἔκλυες εὐξαμένοιο, τίμησας μὲν ἐμέ, μέγα δ᾽ ἴψαο λαὸν Ἀχαιῶν, ἠδ᾽ ἔτι καὶ νῦν μοι τόδ᾽ ἐπικρήηνον ἐέλδωρ· αὐτὸς μὲν γὰρ ἐγὼ μενέω νηῶν ἐν ἀγῶνι, ἀλλ᾽ ἕταρον πέμπω πολέσιν μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι μάρνασθαι· τῷ κῦδος ἅμα πρόες εὐρύοπα Ζεῦ, θάρσυνον δέ οἱ ἦτορ ἐνὶ φρεσίν, ὄφρα καὶ Ἕκτωρ εἴσεται ἤ ῥα καὶ οἶος ἐπίστηται πολεμίζειν ἡμέτερος θεράπων, ἦ οἱ τότε χεῖρες ἄαπτοι μαίνονθ᾽, ὁππότ᾽ ἐγώ περ ἴω μετὰ μῶλον Ἄρηος. αὐτὰρ ἐπεί κ᾽ ἀπὸ ναῦφι μάχην ἐνοπήν τε δίηται, ἀσκηθής μοι ἔπειτα θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας ἵκοιτο τεύχεσί τε ξὺν πᾶσι καὶ ἀγχεμάχοις ἑτάροισιν. ὣς ἔφατ᾽ εὐχόμενος, τοῦ δ᾽ ἔκλυε μητίετα Ζεύς. τῷ δ᾽ ἕτερον μὲν ἔδωκε πατήρ, ἕτερον δ᾽ ἀνένευσε· νηῶν μέν οἱ ἀπώσασθαι πόλεμόν τε μάχην τε δῶκε, σόον δ᾽ ἀνένευσε μάχης ἐξαπονέεσθαι.
Zeus of Dodona and Pelasgia, who dwell far away, you who rule over Dodona with its harsh winters, and around you the Selli dwell, interpreters, with their feet unwashed and their beds on the ground, you heard my words when I prayed to you once before, and you honored me, while you pressed hard the warriors of the Achaeans, so also now bring to fulfillment for me this wish. I will stay here at my assembly of ships, but I send my comrade together with many Myrmidons to fight. Send forth, Zeus who sees far and wide, radiant glory together with him, and make the heart in his chest bold, so that Hektor may find out whether my therapōn has the skill to fight alone, or whether his hands are only at that time rage invincible, when I in fact go into the turmoil of war. Then when he has driven the the cry of battle away from the ships, may he come back to the swift ships unscathed, with all his armor and his close fighting comrades.” So he spoke, praying, and Zeus the deviser heard his prayer. Part of it the father did indeed grant him, but he denied not the other part. That Patroklos push back war and battle away from the ships he granted, but he refused to let him return home safe out of the fight. (Iliad 16.233–252)
Here Achilles specifically refers to Patroklos as his therapōn, and begs Zeus that he be allowed to return home [ἐξαπονέεσθαι], safe and unscathed. He specifically worries that Patroklos will not be able be able to fight alone, separate from him. And in fact we are told explicitly that he will not survive out there without Achilles. Zeus does not grant that part of Achilles’ prayer. Patroklos will not have a nostos. (See Nagy 1979/1999:292–293.)
Achilles is not only worried that Patroklos can’t fight separately from him, he worries that Apollo himself will come for him:
ἐκ νηῶν ἐλάσας ἰέναι πάλιν: εἰ δέ κεν αὖ τοι δώῃ κῦδος ἀρέσθαι ἐρίγδουπος πόσις Ἥρης, μὴ σύ γ᾽ ἄνευθεν ἐμεῖο λιλαίεσθαι πολεμίζειν Τρωσὶ φιλοπτολέμοισιν· ἀτιμότερον δέ με θήσεις· μὴ δ᾽ ἐπαγαλλόμενος πολέμῳ καὶ δηϊοτῆτι Τρῶας ἐναιρόμενος προτὶ Ἴλιον ἡγεμονεύειν, μή τις ἀπ᾽ Οὐλύμποιο θεῶν αἰειγενετάων ἐμβήῃ· μάλα τούς γε φιλεῖ ἑκάεργος Ἀπόλλων· ἀλλὰ πάλιν τρωπᾶσθαι, ἐπὴν φάος ἐν νήεσσι θήῃς, τοὺς δ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἐᾶν πεδίον κάτα δηριάασθαι. αἲ γὰρ Ζεῦ τε πάτερ καὶ Ἀθηναίη καὶ Ἄπολλον μήτέ τις οὖν Τρώων θάνατον φύγοι ὅσσοι ἔασι, μήτέ τις Ἀργείων, νῶϊν δ᾽ ἐκδῦμεν ὄλεθρον, ὄφρ᾽ οἶοι Τροίης ἱερὰ κρήδεμνα λύωμεν.
After you have driven them [the Trojans] from the ships, come back again. If to you the thundering husband of Hera grants to win kudos, don’t apart from me desire to do battle with the Trojans who love war. You will make me even more without honor. And don’t while rejoicing in battle and strife and slaying Trojans lead the way to Ilium, lest one of the ever living gods from Olympus step in your way—them at least Apollo who works from afar especially loves— but turn back, when the light of salvation among the ships you have placed, and let the rest fight on the plain. By father Zeus and Athena and Apollo, I wish that no one of the Trojans would escape death, however many there are, and none of the Argives, but that we two put off destruction, so that we alone might undo the sacred veil of Troy. (Iliad 16.87–100)
Here Achilles expresses a desire not only that Patroklos make it back alive, but that they two sack Troy together as fighting team, so much so that he wishes they were the only two mortals left on earth (or at least, at Troy). This passage emphasizes their interconnection and their unity as a fighting pair, as the therapōn relationship implies, but it adds another dimension. Achilles fears that his in taking his place in battle, Patroklos will meet his own divine antagonist, Apollo (Nagy 1979/1999:143). (On Achilles and Patroklos as a fighting pair that becomes separated see also my note on 17.4–6.)
And this is precisely what occurs. Patroklos does not merely beat the Trojans back from the ships, he goes all the way to the walls of Troy and the Skaian gates. After the death of Sarpedon, Patroklos’ death is set in motion:
Πάτροκλος δ᾽ ἵπποισι καὶ Αὐτομέδοντι κελεύσας Τρῶας καὶ Λυκίους μετεκίαθε, καὶ μέγ᾽ ἀάσθη νήπιος· εἰ δὲ ἔπος Πηληϊάδαο φύλαξεν ἦ τ᾽ ἂν ὑπέκφυγε κῆρα κακὴν μέλανος θανάτοιο… ἔνθα τίνα πρῶτον τίνα δ᾽ ὕστατον ἐξενάριξας Πατρόκλεις, ὅτε δή σε θεοὶ θάνατον δὲ κάλεσσαν;
Patroklos with a command to Automedon and his horses went after the Trojans and the Lycians, and he was terribly deluded, oblivious to the consequences [nēpios]. If he had kept the words of the son of Peleus He would have escaped the evil doom of black death… Whom first, whom last did you slay, Patroklos, when the gods called you to death? (Iliad 16.684–687, 692–693)
Patroklos is here the therapōn who does not realize he is headed for his own death. The phrase μέγ᾽ ἀάσθη νήπιος is itself a sympathetic comment by the narrator, who can see what Patroklos cannot see, but just a few lines later we have one of several direct addresses to Patroklos in this book as his death approaches. As I discuss in more detail below, such apostrophes signal the heightened emotional involvement of both the poet and the audience in the events that are unfolding. (See below and my note on 17.1, as well as Brügger 2018 ad 16.20, for more on the apostrophes of Menelaos and Patroklos in books 16 and 17.) It as if the poet is witnessing a tragic event in slow motion that he cannot stop.
Achilles too is mega nēpios, of course. He is unaware that in sending Patroklos to battle without him he has sealed Patroklos’ doom and his own (see also Lowenstam 1981:63–64). Later he will come to grieve for his mistake with words that recall his own instructions to Patroklos:
οὐδέ τι Πατρόκλῳ γενόμην φάος οὐδ᾽ ἑτάροισι τοῖς ἄλλοις, οἳ δή πολέες δάμεν Ἕκτορι δίῳ
I did not become a light of salvation for Patroklos or for the rest of my comrades many of whom were overcome by brilliant Hektor. (Iliad 18.102–103)
In that same conversation with his mother Thetis in Iliad 18 Achilles expresses both shock that his request of her in book 1 resulted in Patroklos’ death (18.79–82), and acceptance that in returning to battle to avenge Patroklos he must now die too (αὐτίκα τεθναίην 18.98).
The actual killing of Patroklos in Iliad 16 is full of sacrificial elements, as Patroklos takes on Achilles’ antagonism with the god Apollo. These elements have been thoroughly investigated by Nagy and Lowenstam, and so I will just touch on them briefly here, noting that Patroklos’ death is depicted in a way that evokes animal sacrifice, in which the sacrificial victim is stunned and then ritually killed.
Πάτροκλος δὲ Τρωσὶ κακὰ φρονέων ἐνόρουσε. τρὶς μὲν ἔπειτ᾽ ἐπόρουσε θοῷ ἀτάλαντος Ἄρηϊ σμερδαλέα ἰάχων, τρὶς δ᾽ ἐννέα φῶτας ἔπεφνεν. ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ τὸ τέταρτον ἐπέσσυτο δαίμονι ἶσος, ἔνθ᾽ ἄρα τοι Πάτροκλε φάνη βιότοιο τελευτή· ἤντετο γάρ τοι Φοῖβος ἐνὶ κρατερῇ ὑσμίνῃ δεινός· ὃ μὲν τὸν ἰόντα κατὰ κλόνον οὐκ ἐνόησεν, ἠέρι γὰρ πολλῇ κεκαλυμμένος ἀντεβόλησε· στῆ δ᾽ ὄπιθεν, πλῆξεν δὲ μετάφρενον εὐρέε τ᾽ ὤμω χειρὶ καταπρηνεῖ, στρεφεδίνηθεν δέ οἱ ὄσσε. τοῦ δ᾽ ἀπὸ μὲν κρατὸς κυνέην βάλε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων· ἣ δὲ κυλινδομένη καναχὴν ἔχε ποσσὶν ὑφ᾽ ἵππων αὐλῶπις τρυφάλεια, μιάνθησαν δὲ ἔθειραι αἵματι καὶ κονίῃσι· πάρος γε μὲν οὐ θέμις ἦεν ἱππόκομον πήληκα μιαίνεσθαι κονίῃσιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἀνδρὸς θείοιο κάρη χαρίεν τε μέτωπον ῥύετ᾽ Ἀχιλλῆος· τότε δὲ Ζεὺς Ἕκτορι δῶκεν ᾗ κεφαλῇ φορέειν, σχεδόθεν δέ οἱ ἦεν ὄλεθρος… τὸν δ᾽ ἄτη φρένας εἷλε, λύθεν δ᾽ ὑπὸ φαίδιμα γυῖα, στῆ δὲ ταφών·
Patroklos sprang upon the Trojans thinking evil thoughts. Three times he sprang, the equivalent of swift Ares, with a terrifying shout, and three times he slew nine men. But when he rushed for a fourth time, equal to a daimōn, then for you, Patroklos, the end of life appeared. For Phoebus Apollo opposed you in mighty combat, and he was terrifying. He [Patroklos] didn’t notice him as he was going through the throng, for covered in much mist he [Apollo] met him. He stood from behind, and struck his back and his two broad shoulders with a down-turned hand, and his two eyes were set whirling. From his head Phoebus Apollo struck the helmet, and it went rolling with a clang under the feet of the horses, the plumed helmet, and its horse hairs were fouled with blood and dust. Not before at least was it a custom for the horse-hair helmet to be fouled with dust, but the graceful head and forehead of a god-like man it protected, Achilles. But at that point Zeus gave it to Hektor to wear on his head, and death was not far away for him… Derangement took hold of his [Patroklos’] senses, and his limbs beneath him were loosened, and he stood dazed. (Iliad 16.783–806)
Apollo plays a crucial first step in Patroklos’ death at the Skaian gates, the very location where Achilles’ own death is prophesied by Hektor to take place at the hands of Paris and Apollo (Iliad 22.359–360). Patroklos’ death, like Achilles’, comes at the hands of both man and god. Apollo’s is only the first of three blows, and serves to stun him. Euphorbos hits him next with a thrown spear (16.812) and quickly retreats. Then Hektor stabs him with the fatal wound in the belly (16.820–821). (On the similarities between Patroklos’ and Achilles’ death, see especially Burgess 2009:72–97, as well as Kullmann 1960:315–316, Nagy 1979/1999:143–144, Janko 1992:312–314.)
That Patroklos’ death is depicted as a sacrifice was noted by Albert Lord in his 1960 work The Singer of Tales:
By the killing of Patroclus a feud has started in this heroic society, and according to its rules Hector must in turn be killed, Hector or one of his kin. The element that makes the situation somewhat different in the Iliad is that Patroclus has been killed by decree of Zeus or of fate. The gods have here been the aggressors. Patroclus is a sacrifice. It is Apollo who has killed Patroclus, and now one of Apollo’s men, Hector, must pay. (Lord 1960:197)
Interpretation of Patroklos’ death as a sacrifice of some kind seems to go back at least as far as the late Archaic/early Classical period, when the Triptolemos painter depicted the dead Patroklos as a ram with his throat cut, on the ground and being fought over by two warriors (one labeled Hektor, the other left unlabeled). (The vase is a red-figure stamnos, Basel Antikenmuseum BS 477 [= Beazley ARV2 361, 7] on which see especially Nagy 2013:6§49. Additional interpretations are offered by Schmidt 1969 and Griffiths 1985 and 1989. Brown 2016:10 interprets the vase as I do here.) However we conceive of the precise nature of this sacrifice, the effect is such that it “heals” the mēnis of Achilles initiated in book 1 and brings Achilles back into the war. (See Iliad 19.74–75: ὣς ἔφαθ᾽, οἳ δ᾽ ἐχάρησαν ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοὶ/μῆνιν ἀπειπόντος μεγαθύμου Πηλεΐωνος “Thus did he speak, and the well-greaved Achaeans rejoiced that the great-hearted son of Peleus had put away [lit. “unsaid”] his anger [mēnis].” For more on the therapeutic connotations of the word therapōn see Nagy 2013:6§47–§56. On Patroklos’ death as the sacrifice that causes Achilles to choose philotēs over mēnis see Sinos 1980.)
The effect of Patroklos’ death is to bring Achilles back into the war, where he will kill Hektor and thereby pave the way for the sack of Troy. Achilles articulates two choices before him in the embassy of book 9 (410–416), kleos and nostos, but Patroklos’ death, still completely unforeseen in book 9, makes the choice for him; he chooses kleos at the cost of nostos. But the immediate response to Patroklos’ death within the Iliad is one of grief. That grief is simultaneously for Patroklos and for Achilles, so closely connected are their two deaths. The verse immediately following Hektor’s wounding of Patroklos in the belly is 16.822:
δούπησεν δὲ πεσών, μέγα δ᾽ ἤκαχε λαὸν Ἀχαιῶν
He fell with a thud, and caused great sorrow (akhos) for the warriors of the Achaeans.
This verse describes Patroklos’ death, but it is practically an etymology for Achilles’ own name, as Leonard Muellner has noted:
In epic narrative the traditional opposite of akhos is in fact kleos, since the two terms are different sides of a single phenomenon, in that a hero’s kleos is his victim’s akhos. The most obvious manifestation of this duality is the fact that Achilles’ epic, the Iliad, ends with laments (an expression of penthos) for Hector, his victim, but it is also reflected in the duality of the Achilles/Patroklos character: one half dies and is lamented, the other lives and gets the kleos (Patroklos’s name transparently derives from *Patro-klew-ēs, “who has the kleos of the ancestors”). But the names are switched from their respective destinies: it is Patroklos, Achilles’ body double, who has the akhos and Achilles the kleos. The switch is expressive of something significant: Achilles, the hero endowed with the kleos, is equally marked by his akhos. The formulaic system of the epic marks this layering of opposites upon him in a striking way. It describes Patroklos’s death at 16.822 with the standard half line to describe a hero’s death, doupēsen de pesōn, “and he fell with a thud,” a phrase that occurs twenty-one times in the Iliad, but the line concludes with a phrase never attested elsewhere: mega d’ēkakhe lāon Akhaiōn, “and he gave great akhos to the lāos of the Achaeans,” a sentence made up of the two elements of Achilles’ name. (Muellner 2020:102)
Verse 16.822, as Muellner notes, occurs only here in the Iliad, but just as the formulaic diction of the Iliad closely unites the deaths of Sarpedon, Patroklos, and Hektor (on which see further below), it seems highly probable that this same verse was used of Achilles’s own death in epic poetry beyond the Iliad. Deploying it here surely reinforced the substitution pattern and pointed ahead to Achilles’ coming death. (On the components of Achilles’ and Patroklos’ name see also Nagy 1976 and 1979/1999:69–83 and 102.)
The akhos of verse 16.822 spreads far and wide. In book 17, there is no time to grieve, or even to share the news, as the Achaean’s fight desperately to recover their comrade’s body. But as we have seen, at the end of that book Antilokhos, himself made speechless with grief, is dispatched to tell Achilles. Book 18 opens with Antilokhos tearfully breaking the news to Achilles:
δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων, φάτο δ᾽ ἀγγελίην ἀλεγεινήν· ὤ μοι Πηλέος υἱὲ δαΐφρονος ἦ μάλα λυγρῆς πεύσεαι ἀγγελίης, ἣ μὴ ὤφελλε γενέσθαι. κεῖται Πάτροκλος, νέκυος δὲ δὴ ἀμφιμάχονται γυμνοῦ· ἀτὰρ τά γε τεύχε᾽ ἔχει κορυθαίολος Ἕκτωρ.
Shedding hot tears he spoke a painful message: “O me, son of battle-minded Peleus, truly a message of grief you will hear, which ought never to have been. Patroklos lies dead, and they are fighting around his corpse, which is naked. As for the armor, Hektor of the shining helm has it.” (Iliad 18.17-21)
Achilles’ response is one of intense mourning. Like Antilokhos at the end of 17, he is initially without words:
ὣς φάτο, τὸν δ᾽ ἄχεος νεφέλη ἐκάλυψε μέλαινα· ἀμφοτέρῃσι δὲ χερσὶν ἑλὼν κόνιν αἰθαλόεσσαν χεύατο κὰκ κεφαλῆς, χαρίεν δ᾽ ᾔσχυνε πρόσωπον· νεκταρέῳ δὲ χιτῶνι μέλαιν᾽ ἀμφίζανε τέφρη. αὐτὸς δ᾽ ἐν κονίῃσι μέγας μεγαλωστὶ τανυσθεὶς κεῖτο, φίλῃσι δὲ χερσὶ κόμην ᾔσχυνε δαΐζων.
So he [Antilokhos] spoke, and a dark cloud of akhos enveloped him [Achilles]. Taking the sooty dust with both hands he poured it over his head, and he disfigured his lovely face. The black ash settled over his khiton, fragrant as nectar. And he himself, stretched out in the dust all huge and hugely he lay as if dead, and he disfigured his hair, tearing it with his hands. (Iliad 18.22–27)
Achilles’ response to the news of Patroklos’ death is to essentially become his own corpse (so Kakridis 1949: 60–71; see also Edwards 1984:78–80 and Schein 1984:129–133). Calvert Watkins has explored the IndoEuropean formulaic resonance of the verb κεῖμαι used here. It is closely linked formulaically with the equivalent Greek word πέφαται (the very word used by Menelaos of Patroklos at 17.689) and means not just lie, but “lie dead” (Watkins 1995:500–504; see also Schein 1984:130). Achilles’ corpse, moreover, happens to be described in surviving Homeric poetry, in Agamemnon’s description of Achilles’ death, the fight for his body, and his funeral in the Odyssey (24.37–40). There too, like the dead Kebriones in Iliad 16.775–76, Achilles lies megas megalosti:
ἀμφὶ δέ σ᾽ ἄλλοι κτείνοντο Τρώων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν υἷες ἄριστοι, μαρνάμενοι περὶ σεῖο: σὺ δ᾽ ἐν στροφάλιγγι κονίης κεῖσο μέγας μεγαλωστί, λελασμένος ἱπποσυνάων.
And around you the rest, the best sons of the Trojans and the Achaeans, were killing, doing battle around you. But you in a whirl of dust lay dead, all huge and hugely, no longer mindful of chariot-fighting. (Odyssey 24.37–40)
(On Kebriones, see also Griffin 1980:106 with additional citations ad loc.) Patroklos’ death is portrayed to be the equivalent of Achilles’ own death, and so too must there be an epic battle for his corpse, and mourning of cosmic proportions. Achilles, Thetis, Briseis, and even Achilles’ horses all mourn for Patroklos as if grieving for Achilles himself; Thetis’ and Briseis’ laments in books 18 and 19 are explicitly for Achilles.
As the passage continues, the captive women of the camp lament, although their words are not reported, and finally Achilles gives a cry of grief (σμερδαλέον δ᾽ ᾤμωξεν 35), whereupon his mother Thetis takes up the lament among her sisters the Nereids:
τῶν δὲ καὶ ἀργύφεον πλῆτο σπέος· αἳ δ᾽ ἅμα πᾶσαι στήθεα πεπλήγοντο, Θέτις δ᾽ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο· ‘κλῦτε κασίγνηται Νηρηΐδες, ὄφρ᾽ ἐῢ πᾶσαι εἴδετ᾽ ἀκούουσαι ὅσ᾽ ἐμῷ ἔνι κήδεα θυμῷ. ὤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ὤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια, ἥ τ᾽ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε ἔξοχον ἡρώων· ὃ δ᾽ ἀνέδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἶσος· τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς νηυσὶν ἐπιπροέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ᾽ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω.
The glittering gave was full of them (the Nereids). They all together struck their breasts, and Thetis led off the lament: “Hear me, sisters, daughters of Nereus, so that you all may know well and hear how many cares are in my thumos. O me how I am wretched, o me how unluckily I was the best child bearer, since I bore a child that was faultless and strong, outstanding of heroes. And he shot up like a sapling. After nourishing him like plant on the hill of an orchard I sent him forth in the hollow ships to Ilion to fight with the Trojans. But I will not receive him again returning home to the house of Peleus.” (Iliad 18.50–60)
The person who has died is Patroklos, but it is Achilles who is lamented by Thetis and the Nereids, just as they do at Achilles’ actual death and funeral, as described in Odyssey 24 (47–59). So closely linked are their deaths, as Thetis knows better than anyone, that the death of the one means the death of the other. Achilles’ death has been inevitably set in motion.
Thetis laments Achilles in terms of homecoming. She will never welcome him home [τὸν δ᾽ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις/οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα 18.59–60]. (Cf. Iliad 5.158, where Phainops is likewise described: οὐ ζώοντε μάχης ἐκνοστήσαντε/δέξατο.) Not thirty lines later Achilles himself uses this same language when noting the price Thetis will now pay for having married a mortal, and the consequence of his return to battle:
ἵνα καὶ σοὶ πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ μυρίον εἴη παιδὸς ἀποφθιμένοιο, τὸν οὐχ ὑποδέξεαι αὖτις οἴκαδε νοστήσαντ᾽
so that you might have infinite sorrow in your heart for your son who perished, whom you will never receive back returning home (Iliad 18.88–90)
I noted earlier that in book 16 Achilles prays for Patroklos to come back to the ships “unscathed” [ἀσκηθής], a prayer that Zeus does not grant. Elsewhere in my work I have discussed the close relationship between this word and the theme of homecoming from a mission or a voyage (Dué and Ebbott 2010:278 and Dué 2019:37). In book 16 the two ideas are closely linked; Achilles prays that Patroklos return unscathed but the poem immediately informs us that Patroklos will not in fact make it back home [ἐξαπονέεσθαι 16.252]. Later in Iliad 18 the poem laments Patroklos on Achilles’ behalf in terms that echo Thetis’ sorrow:
αὐτὰρ Ἀχαιοὶ ἀσπασίως Πάτροκλον ὑπ᾽ ἐκ βελέων ἐρύσαντες κάτθεσαν ἐν λεχέεσσι· φίλοι δ᾽ ἀμφέσταν ἑταῖροι μυρόμενοι· μετὰ δέ σφι ποδώκης εἵπετ᾽ Ἀχιλλεὺς δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων, ἐπεὶ εἴσιδε πιστὸν ἑταῖρον κείμενον ἐν φέρτρῳ δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ, τόν ῥ᾽ ἤτοι μὲν ἔπεμπε σὺν ἵπποισιν καὶ ὄχεσφιν ἐς πόλεμον, οὐδ᾽ αὖτις ἐδέξατο νοστήσαντα.
Meanwhile the Achaeans gladly drew the body of Patroklos out from under the arrows and placed him on a bier. And his dear comrades stood around him mourning. And after them swift-footed Achilles followed shedding hot tears, when he looked upon his trusted comrade lying on a bier, torn by the sharp bronze, the one whom he sent with his horses and chariot to war, but he did not receive him returning back home again. (Iliad 18.231–238)
Achilles grieves here like the mother—his own mother, Thetis—who sent her son to war but will never welcome him home (Iliad 18.58–60 and 18.88-90). And like his therapōn Patroklos, when Achilles re-enters battle solo in Iliad 20, it is on a mission from which he will never return home safe.
Briseis’ lament for Patroklos in book 19, which I have explored elsewhere in depth (Dué 2002), likewise laments Achilles:
Βρισηῒς δ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ, ἀμφ’ αὐτᾠ χυμένη λίγ’ ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ’ ἄμυσσε στήθεά τ’ ἠδ’ ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα. εἶπε δ’ ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι· Πάτροκλέ μοι δειλῇ πλεῖστον κεχαρισμένε θυμᾠ ζωὸν μέν σε ἔλειπον ἐγὼ κλισίηθεν ἰοῦσα, νῦν δέ σε τεθνηῶτα κιχάνομαι ὄρχαμε λαῶν ἂψ ἀνιοῦσ’· ὥς μοι δέχεται κακὸν ἐκ κακοῦ αἰεί. ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ, τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ, κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον. οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ’ ἔασκες, ὅτ’ ἄνδρ’ ἐμὸν ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος, κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ’ ἔφασκες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ’ ἐνὶ νηυσὶν ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι. τώ σ’ ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα μείλιχον αἰεί.
Then Briseis like golden Aphrodite, when she saw Patroklos torn by the sharp bronze, wailed with piercing cries, falling around him. And with her hands she struck her breast and tender neck and beautiful face. And then lamenting she spoke, a woman like the goddesses: “Patroklos, most pleasing to my wretched heart, I left you alive when I went from the tent. But now I find you dead, O leader of the people, as I come back. So evil begets evil for me forever. The husband to whom my father and revered mother gave me I saw torn by the sharp bronze before the city, and my three brothers, whom one mother bore together with me, beloved ones, all of whom met their day of destruction. Nor did you allow me, when swift Achilles killed my husband, and sacked the city of god-like Mynes, to weep, but you claimed that you would make me the wedded wife of god-like Achilles and that you would bring me in the ships to Phthia, and give me a wedding feast among the Myrmidons. Therefore I weep for you now that you are dead ceaselessly, you who were kind always.” (Iliad 19. 282-300)
In my 2002 study of this passage I focused on the way that the formulaic and traditional nature of Homeric diction allows Briseis’ lament to resonate far beyond its immediate context. The audience’s familiarity with such language likewise allows them to receive these passages on a deeper level than would an audience hearing this passage for the first time. When Briseis falls over the body of Patroklos and begins lamenting with piercing cries, a traditional audience can not only think of Patroklos, who here as in Iliad 18 is “torn by the sharp bronze,” but also Briseis’ first husband, also “torn by the sharp bronze” (19.292), whom she has already lamented. The audience can also look ahead to the death of her current, would be husband, Achilles, whom she mourns here—just like Thetis does in Iliad 18—as much as she does Patroklos.
Iliad 23, with its funeral games for Patroklos, continue this pattern. Once again we find echoes of Achilles’ own magnificent funeral, as described for us in Odyssey 24. As Nagy has written (1979/1999:113), “The Iliadic tradition requires Achilles to prefigure his dead self by staying alive, and the real ritual of a real funeral is reserved by the narrative for his surrogate Patroklos.” Book 23 begins with Patroklos appearing to Achilles in a dream, asking that his bones be combined with those of Achilles in the golden amphora that his mother Thetis received on her wedding day for this purpose. (For more on this passage, see Dué 2019:66–79 and further below.) As in life so in death they will be inseparable and indistinguishable.
There is much more that could be said on the substitution/therapōn pattern, and I point especially to the work of Burgess 2009, who demonstrates concisely and precisely the way that Patroklos’ epic story within the Iliad maps onto the epic story of Achilles, as Burgess has reconstructed it from surviving sources. In chapter 2 of that work Burgess reconstructs the story of Achilles’ death as a fabula consisting of eight motifs (I quote them here as given in his appendix):
A. Memnon arrives to defend Troy; before battle Thetis predicts to Achilles that he will die shortly after Memnon’s death.
B. Achilles duels with Memnon, who has killed Antilochos, and kills him; divine scales are used to signify the outcome.
C. Eos requests a special afterlife for Memnon; his corpse is removed from the field by divine intervention and buried.
D. Immediately after killing Memnon, Achilles routs the Trojans and attacks Troy.
E. Achilles is killed by Apollo and Paris by bow at the walls of Troy.
F. There is a battle over the corpse of Achilles (in which Glaukos is killed by Ajax), and Ajax carries the body to safety as Odysseus defends.
G. There is an elaborate funeral ceremony for Achilles, which Thetis, the Nereids, and the Muses attend; Thetis takes Achilles from the pyre to a paradisiacal location; the Greeks build a conspicuous funeral mound at Troy.
H. Games are held in honor of Achilles.
For each of these eight motifs Burgess examines the surviving literary and iconographic evidence, arguing that despite the late date of some of this evidence, the themes reflected in it very likely predate the Homeric epics and the Epic Cycle in the larger mythological tradition. (Burgess’s methodology here has been thoroughly set forth in his 2001 book.)
Burgess goes on to argue that in Iliad 16 onwards “[b]oth Patroklos and Achilles reflect later events in the life of Achilles. The two ‘sequences’ associated with them cooperate in presenting a cohesive outline of the fabula of the death of Achilles” (94). Building on the sequence of motifs that he outlines in chapter 2, Burgess shows how the story of Patroklos in Books 16 and 17 reflects motifs A-F. In Book 18, the sequence is interrupted, and the Achilles story takes over, reflecting motifs G (with Thetis mourning the prostrate Achilles), followed by A, B, and D, until we get to Achilles considering attacking Troy. Because, according to Burgess, “Achilles is not fated to die in the Iliad” (95), the sequence then reverts to Patroklos, in connection with whom we find in Iliad 23 motifs G and H. Burgess links the sequencing he has discovered to rhapsodic performance, suggesting that “the Homeric poem was created in the context of epic performance techniques that probably existed long before the Panathenaic festival” (96). More important, he asserts, is that the sequencing is a clue to understanding the Iliad’s reception by an ancient audience: “By such patterning, the Iliad allows an extended envisioning of the death of Achilles, even though that event lies outside the poem’s narrative boundaries” (97).
Here I would like to point once again to the crucial work of Nagy 1979/1999 and Lowenstam 1981, both of whom in many ways anticipate and pave the way for Burgess by articulating the ritual and narrative significance of this mapping. And I will conclude my own exploration of the role of Patroklos as a substitute for Achilles within the Iliad with a final passage from Iliad 23:
πάντες δ᾽ ὑλοτόμοι φιτροὺς φέρον… κὰδ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀκτῆς βάλλον ἐπισχερώ, ἔνθ᾽ ἄρ᾽ Ἀχιλλεὺς φράσσατο Πατρόκλῳ μέγα ἠρίον ἠδὲ οἷ αὐτῷ.
All who had been cutting wood bore logs… they threw them down upon the seashore in a line, at the place where Achilles directed them to make a huge funeral mound for Patroklos and for himself. (Iliad 23.123-126)
##Patroklos in the larger epic tradition
It is to a certain extent still common in Homeric scholarship to view the sophisticated structure I have been discussing as the finishing touch of the final poet in the tradition, that is, of “Homer,” and indeed the character of Patroklos has been interpreted by scholars who conceive of Homer in this way as being the creation of the master poet. To put it another way, in this line of reasoning Patroklos was invented by the master poet “Homer.” It was a central tenet of my 2002 book that such arguments are fundamentally flawed because they mischaracterize the way composition in performance within a traditional system operates. These kinds of arguments wrongly equate oral methods of composition with simplicity and a lack of both creativity and planning. Secondly, arguments involving “invention” fail to account for the conservative way in which a traditional system operates. Not only do the poets in such a system claim to sing the songs exactly the same way word for word every time (even though an outside observer can demonstrate that they do not), in the case of the Homeric epics at least the poet claims to repeat the song exactly as he has been inspired to do by the Muses, who were there (Nagy 1979/1999:271–272 and Dué, comment on 2.484–2.493 [forthcoming]). An investigation of Patroklos’ character grounded in oral poetics suggests that in fact he and his story are deeply embedded in the tradition within which our Iliad was composed. Far from being a late addition to the poem, he would appear to be quite “old.” What follows is an overview of the argument and evidence behind this assertion, with reference to more extensive treatments elsewhere. (On invention and oral tradition see especially Dué 2002:83–89, 2006b, and 2019:162–163. Examples from interviews with poets in the South Slavic tradition are quoted in Lord 1960:26–28; see also Vidan 2003:37–64. For an example from the Akkadian tradition, see West 1997:598. On Patroklos as an invented character, see Howald 1924:11–12 as well as Dihle 1970:159–160 and bibliography ad loc. More recent discussions of Patroklos include Allan 2005 and Burgess 1997 and 2005.)
Like arguably all named characters in the Iliad, even those who come on the scene seemingly only to die (on which see Dué 2002 and 2019:117–121 and Dué and Ebbott 2010:106–119), Patroklos has a backstory that is known to the tradition and is referred to in the poem. We can tease out Patroklos’ history if we pay close attention, but I want to stress that an ancient audience would not have had to tease it out. They would have known his backstory, in much the same way that moviegoers know the backstories of characters in the Marvel Universe in all their multiformity when they go to see the latest Avengers movie.
As I did in my 2002 study of the character of Briseis, I find it is helpful to think about the character of Patroklos—and all named characters in Iliad—both paradigmatically and syntagmatically. That is to say, characters within the epic tradition have back stories (life histories, so to speak) that can be conceptualized on a horizontal axis, with events taking place in a linear narrative. This linear narrative can be told in more compressed or more expanded versions, but the events have a particular sequence and details that are specific to that character, details that are known to poets and audiences. Briseis, for example, (as she tells her story in her lament at Iliad 19.291–299) lived in Lyrnessos, and was taken captive when Achilles killed her husband and brothers and sacked her town. Traditional characters can also resonate, however, on a paradigmatic level: Briseis can be understood as a grieving wife or an unmarried girl or a captive prize, depending on how she is characterized by the traditional diction and the narrative patterns used to tell her story. Lament is a powerful, first-person form of speech and song in which women can narrate their own life experiences, and Briseis’ lament is the only place in the Iliad where we learn about Briseis’ life prior to her capture. But her lament gains a great deal of power from the fact that Briseis’ grief foreshadows the grief of every Trojan wife.
The character of Patroklos likewise has a story that is all his own, but it is a story that, as we shall see further below, resonates with paradigmatic significance. Patroklos is first introduced in book 1 of the Iliad by way of his father, in the form of the patronymic Menoitiadēs. Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel, Achilles officially withdraws from fighting, and returns to his tents:
ὣς τώ γ᾽ ἀντιβίοισι μαχεσσαμένω ἐπέεσσιν ἀνστήτην, λῦσαν δ᾽ ἀγορὴν παρὰ νηυσὶν Ἀχαιῶν· Πηλεΐδης μὲν ἐπὶ κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἐΐσας ἤϊε σύν τε Μενοιτιάδῃ καὶ οἷς ἑτάροισιν·
So after battling with wrangling words the two stood up, and they broke up the assembly alongside the ships of the Achaeans. The son of Peleus went to the tents and balanced ships with the son of Menoitios and his comrades. (Iliad 1.304–307)
The first-time modern reader of the Iliad may find this reference confusing and must be told who the son of Menoitios is. But for a traditional audience, a patronymic like Menoitiadēs is a signal that links him to the wider epic tradition, with its vast array of stories and characters, as well as his own personal story. For us too such names can be signals, but they are difficult and sometimes impossible for us as outsiders to interpret. For us moderns it can be like having an index to a book, but not the book itself.
References in an epic song to named figures with which we modern readers are not familiar would not be opaque for a member of the song culture in which that epic poetry is composed and performed. (Lang 1995:149 notes that of all the heroes in the Iliad only Calchas and Nestor are formally introduced.) For an audience comprised of such members, named figures conjure up not only their role in the present story, but also other traditional tales associated with that figure. As I, Christos Tsagalis, and others have explored elsewhere (building on the work of John Foley, among others), the hypertext-like, referential possibilities of formulaic diction mean that not only names, but also epithets and indeed every phrase has the potential to “resound with overtones from the dim past whence they came” (Lord 1960:65). As Gregory Nagy has written: “A distinctive epithet is like a small theme song that conjures up a thought-association with the traditional essence of an epic figure, thing, or concept” (1990b:23). And as John Foley has noted, for a traditional audience, these phrases conjure not just the present use but all previous performances, imbuing the language with what he terms “traditional referentiality” and “immanent art” (see especially Foley 1991 and 1999): “‘Grey-eyed Athena’ and ‘wise Penelope’ are thus neither brilliant attributions in unrelated situations nor mindless metrical fillers of last resort. Rather they index the characters they name, in all their complexity, not merely in one given situation or even poem but against an enormously larger traditional back-drop” (Foley 1999:18). (On the “hypertextual” quality of oral traditional poetry see the papers collected in Tsagalis 2010a. Additional discussion and references are in Dué and Ebbott 2010:27–28. An example of the interpretative possibilities offered by a “hypertextual” approach to formulaic diction may be found in Ebbott 2017. A related concept is “interformularity,” as discussed by Bakker 2013:157–169.)
In Patroklos’ case, we modern readers don’t actually have to guess what his backstory may have been, because we have his own words in the poem to go by. He provides his own backstory in Iliad 23, when (as discussed above) he appears to Achilles in a dream after his death and asks to be buried together with him:
ἄλλο δέ τοι ἐρέω καὶ ἐφήσομαι αἴ κε πίθηαι· μὴ ἐμὰ σῶν ἀπάνευθε τιθήμεναι ὀστέ᾽ Ἀχιλλεῦ, ἀλλ᾽ ὁμοῦ ὡς ἐτράφημεν ἐν ὑμετέροισι δόμοισιν, εὖτέ με τυτθὸν ἐόντα Μενοίτιος ἐξ Ὀπόεντος ἤγαγεν ὑμέτερόνδ᾽ ἀνδροκτασίης ὕπο λυγρῆς, ἤματι τῷ ὅτε παῖδα κατέκτανον Ἀμφιδάμαντος νήπιος οὐκ ἐθέλων ἀμφ᾽ ἀστραγάλοισι χολωθείς· ἔνθά με δεξάμενος ἐν δώμασιν ἱππότα Πηλεὺς ἔτραφέ τ᾽ ἐνδυκέως καὶ σὸν θεράποντ᾽ ὀνόμηνεν· ὣς δὲ καὶ ὀστέα νῶϊν ὁμὴ σορὸς ἀμφικαλύπτοι
But I will say another thing, and you cast it in your heart: do not have my bones laid apart from yours, Achilles, but together as we were raised together in your house when Menoitios led me as a child from Opoeis to your house because of a grievous killing, on that day when I killed the son of Amphidamas unthinkingly, not intentionally, angered over a game of dice. The horseman Peleus received me there into his house and raised me with kindness and named me your therapōn. So let the same vessel hold both our bones (Iliad 23.82–91)
Here we learn that Patroklos is from Opoeis and his father is Menoitios. As boy, he says, he accidentally [νήπιος οὐκ ἐθέλων] killed another boy in anger over a game. Patroklos refers to the boy he killed as simply the son of Amphidamas. Much like Patroklos’ own introduction in book 1 as the son of Menoitios, Amphidamas’ son is given no other name. Does the audience know who the son of Amphidamas is? The only other Amphidamas in the Iliad is mentioned at is at 10.268–269; he was one of the previous owners of the boar’s tusk helmet that Meriones loans to Odysseus in that book. It is impossible to know if he is the same Amphidamas, and no son is mentioned. Amphidamas gives the helmet to Molos as a guest gift, and Molos gives it to his son Meriones. (This history perhaps suggests that Amphidamas had no son to pass it down to.) But it is certainly conceivable and in keeping with how this poetic tradition operates (even if not provable in this case) that the boy’s name was known to tradition, and that a more expanded telling of Patroklos’ life story might have included it.
Patroklos’ account goes on to tell us that after he killed this boy, he was brought to Phthia and raised by Peleus in Achilles’ own house. In book 11 (765–790) we find some additional details: Menoitios was present in Achilles’ house when Nestor and Odysseus came to recruit Achilles and Patroklos for the Trojan War, and on that day Peleus asked Patroklos, as the elder of the two, to look after Achilles and give him sound advice. (See Hainsworth ad 11.605 for likely kinship ties between Peleus and Menoitios.) In book 18 (324–327) Achilles says that he promised Menoitios that he would bring Patroklos back in glory to Opoeis after sacking Troy, but of course that will never take place, because Patroklos dies at Troy, killed by a combination of Apollo, Euphorbos, and Hektor while Achilles abstained from battle.
This is Patroklos’ biography with its own character specific details, but his biography links him with a narrative pattern and a cluster of characters in the Iliad identified by Eunice Kim as fugitive murderers (Kim 2017; see also examples in Richardson 1993 ad 23.85–90). We have already seen that Patroklos can be typologically linked to other therapōn figures within the Iliad, but the concept is a more pervasive one and our understanding of Patroklos as therapōn should not be restricted to the Iliadic examples alone. Kim’s work on fugitive murderers likewise helps us to better appreciate the poetic resonance of Patroklos’ story within the broader epic tradition: “By foregrounding his status as a fugitive murderer, Patroclus highlights [in his appearance to Achilles in Iliad 23] the twin experiences of exile and reintegration he has previously undergone, and relates them to his current experiences of death and hoped-for burial. He, in effect, asks Achilles to receive his body just as Peleus had before him” (Kim 2017:118). Kim notes that fugitive murderer figures cluster around Achilles, and highlight Achilles’ own transformation from the would be murderer of Agamemnon in Iliad 1 to the host who takes in fugitives in Iliad 24 (Kim 2017:96–122). Priam is only metaphorically compared to fugitive murder in that book, but Achilles’ father Peleus, who is explicitly invoked and mourned for during Priam’s and Achilles’ encounter in Iliad 24, was twice a fugitive murderer who then became a host to a number of others. While it may not be the dominant theme of the Iliad, the fugitive murderer pattern exemplified by Patroklos clearly has deep roots and was a pervasive one within the epic tradition. Thus even an audience unfamiliar with Patroklos’ personal story could have appreciated him on a paradigmatic level by uniting him with such figures as Phoinix and Peleus.
The fugitive murderer pattern is just one of several that Patroklos embodies over the course of the poem. Perhaps the most ancient and important narrative pattern for our Iliad is that of the intimately linked fighting comrade. As we have seen, Achilles and Patroklos are such a tightly connected pair that Achilles expresses a desire that they two sack Troy together as fighting team. We have also noted Achilles’ expressed fear that Patroklos cannot fight separately from him, and that his own divine antagonist Apollo will confront him (which does of course occur). The death of Patroklos, moreover, sets off a chain of events that leads directly to Achilles’ own death. But their two deaths are also intertwined with the death of Hektor. That interconnectedness is reflected in the formulaic language used to tell their story. The same set of three verses marks the passing of both Patroklos and Hektor:
Ὣς ἄρα μιν εἰπόντα τέλος θανάτοιο κάλυψε· ψυχὴ δ’ ἐκ ῥεθέων πταμένη Ἄϊδος δὲ βεβήκει ὃν πότμον γοόωσα λιποῦσ’ ἀνδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην.
When he had thus spoken the finality of death covered him. His life-breath left his body and flitted down to the house of Hades, lamenting its fate and leaving behind the youth and vigor of its manhood. (Iliad 16.855–57 AND 22.361–63; translation is based loosely on that of Butler)
The meter of verse 16.857/22.363 provides an indication of the great antiquity of the verse. The first syllable of the word ἀνδροτῆτα (‘manhood’) must be scanned short, something which is only possible if we assume the verse to have been composed before the linguistic changes that resulted in *anr̥tāta becoming ἀνδροτῆτα (cf. ἀνδρειπότες at Iliad 2.651, where the ἀνδρ- must similarly be scanned short and ἀνδροτῆτα found again at 24.6). Calvert Watkins’s explanation of the significance is as follows: “Since we know that the change r̥ > or/ro (other dialects ar/ra) had taken place in Greek by the time of the Linear B tablets… the lines with *anr̥tāta could not have been composed any later than 1400 B.C. or so. They furnish us with a terminus ante quem for the fixation of the formulaic vehicle of a key feature of the thematic structure of the Iliad: these two deaths in equipoise.” (See Watkins 1995:499, citing Wackernagel 1909/1953:1116 n.1 and 1170 n.1, Leumann 1950 221 n.16, Ruijgh 1967:69, Wathelet 1970:171ff., West 1982:15 and 1988:156–157, and Watkins 1987.) If Watkins is correct, not only is Patroklos’ death a vital component the deep structure of the Iliad, that structure had already been formed before the end of the Bronze Age.
Graeme Bird (2020:175) has interpreted the significance of the meter here similarly: “Thus a highly significant formula, one employed for the deaths of Patroclus and Hector, and dating back to a time earlier than Linear B, has remained in the text of Homer, even as it has changed linguistically along with the changes in the Greek language, resulting in it being in a form that is no longer metrical.” Not everyone is in agreement with this analysis. Timothy Barnes (2011:10), for example, has argued against Watkins’s interpretation of the history of the formula, arguing instead for * ἀμ(β)ροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην “as the model upon which the attested ἀνδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην was coined, at a relatively recent date, by a poet aiming at an impressive line to close an important scene: the death of Achilles.” (Barnes reconstructs this formula, not attested in surviving Homeric epic poetry, on the basis of an Avestan counterpart.) One of Barnes’ primary objections to viewing ἀνδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην as a vestige of Mycenaean hexameter poetry is the implication for our understanding of the composition and history of the Iliad. I do not share Barnes’s objections and fully embrace the implications, however. Contra Barnes (2011:1–2), I assert the continuity (though certainly not textual fixity) of the Iliadic tradition over more than 700 years (see especially Dué 2019:17–53).
The idea that something like our Iliad, revolving as it does around the intense friendship of the fighting comrades Achilles and Patroklos, could have been sung already in the Bronze Age is possibly supported by parallels with another very ancient poetic tradition. As Albert Lord points out in The Singer of Tales (1960:197): “For the closest parallel to Patroclus we must turn to the Epic of Gilgamesh.” The parallels to which Lord refers are well known and have been the subject of intense study in the decades since The Singer of Tales was published (see especially West 1997.334–401). Like the Iliad, the Sumerian (and later Babylonian) Epic of Gilgamesh narrates the glorious deeds of a mortal hero of divine ancestry (Gilgamesh is described as being two thirds god, one third human) who confronts his mortality by way of the death of his closest comrade. In Gilgamesh’s case, the death of his nearest and dearest friend Enkidu causes him to go on a quest in search of immortality, while in Achilles’ story the death of Patroklos foreshadows and sets him on the path to his own untimely death. But both epics feature the grief of their central hero prominently, and depict the relationship between the two comrades as being on a level beyond friendship, brotherhood, or romantic love, rather they are more like two halves of a whole. Here is just a brief excerpt from Gilgamesh’s lament for Enkidu, as it survives in tablet VIII (lines 42–64) of the Standard Babylonian version in the translation of Andrew George (1999):
“Hear me, O young men, hear [me!] Hear me, O elders [of teeming Uruk,] hear me! I shall weep for Enkidu, my friend, like a hired mourner-woman I shall bitterly wail. The axe at my side, in which my arm trusted, the dirk at my belt, the shield at my face, my festive garment, my girdle of delight: a wicked wind rose up and robbed me.
O my friend, wild ass on the run, donkey of the uplands, panther of the wild! Having joined forces we climbed the [mountains,] seized and [slew] the Bull of Heaven, destroyed Humbaba, who [dwelt in the] Forest [of Cedar.]
Now what is this sleep that has seized you? You’ve become unconscious, you do not [hear me!] But he, he lifted not [his head.] He felt his heart, but it beat no longer.”
He covered, like a bride, the face of his friend, like an eagle he circled around him. Like a lioness deprived of her cubs, he paced to and fro, this way and that.
His curly [hair] he tore out in clumps, he ripped off his finery, [like] something taboo he cast it away.
The similarities between the relationships of Gilgamesh and Enkidu and Achilles and Patroklos, in addition to the many other parallels noted by Burkert 1992, West 1997, and Currie 2016, among others, adds weight to the idea that the story of Achilles and Patroklos is a Bronze Age story. (See also the recent overviews in Cook 2020:63–66 and Wilson 2020. For earlier studies, see the citations in Morris 1997 and West 1997:335, n. 3.)
Whether or not the two traditions came into contact as far back as the third millennium BCE, I cannot say. Ancient Near Eastern narrative poems present themselves as oral performances and claim to narrate events that occurred far earlier than the poems that transmit them (Wilson 2020:104). Stylistically, West has asserted, Sumerian and Akkadian poetry “is intelligible only as song” (West 1997:594). There are many passages that assume oral transmission (West 1997:596–597). But these poems also make reference to and interact extensively with scribal culture (Sasson 2005:244; West 1997:590–606). They survive in written form on cuneiform tablets, the products of a sophisticated scribal network in the Near East. One passage in a Sumerian hymn quoted by West (1997:597, using the translation of Black in Vogelzang and Vanstiphout 1992:100-101) captures in a striking way the interactive dynamic between the oral and the written:
He (the nar singer) should attend to what is old, not allow it to be neglected.
Let the scribe stand by, and catch (the songs) in his hand(writing), let the singer stand by, and ‘speak’ to (the scribe) from (the songs) so that they will be perpetuated thus in the scribal college.
So that none of my praise-songs should perish, so that none of my words should be dropped from the tradition.
Here the ephemeral quality of oral poetry in emphasized, in that it is described as something that must be caught and perpetuated in writing. At the same time, tradition is depicted as evolving and multiform. Writing must be used to fix something that is not static.
West (1997:401) argues that the Babylonian version of the epic that I have quoted above directly influenced the composition of our Iliad but notes that the durability of cuneiform texts does not require an early date, while Burkert’s work focuses on Near Eastern cultural contact in the much later Archaic era. Although both West and Burkert note that significant cultural interaction between Greece and the Near East occurred in the late Bronze Age, both of these scholars seem to make a special effort to bring the dating of any Near Eastern poetic influence closer in time to conventional dates for “Homer” in the eighth or seventh century BCE. (See, e.g., West 1997:ix: “A text composed in the second millennium might be thought too far removed in time to be relevant Homer; yet in some cases where such a text furnishes a parallel, we know that it was still being copied in the seventh century, so that the gap shrinks to nothing” and West 1997:602: “The implication of the argument is that in the generations before Homer, and in his time, the Gilgamesh epic and other Akkadian classic poems might still be heard as well as read, and moreover that they would be heard in much the same form as that in which we read them in Neo-Assyrian copies.”) At the risk of doing something similar in reverse, I would argue that contact between the two epic traditions must have occurred well before the end of the Bronze Age (so also Morris 1997). At the very least there is no reason to insist on such a late date.
Indeed, for the reasons I have articulated here and in all of my published work, I believe the Iron Age or Archaic era far too late. For the Epic of Gilgamesh to have played such a formative role in shaping our Iliad, the two epic traditions (Greek and Sumerian/Babylonian) must have come into contact hundreds of years before the end of the Bronze Age, when both epics were part of flourishing oral performance traditions. I acknowledge the potential circuity of my reasoning here, nevertheless the great antiquity of the Epic of Gilgamesh (taken together with the other evidence touched on here and in Dué 2019:17–53 and the linguistic and archaeological evidence surveyed in Morris 1997) leads to me to posit the great antiquity of not only the Iliad but also the character of Patroklos, and more precisely, the antiquity of his character’s prominent role in Achilles’ story. Rather than the finishing touch of a master poet in the Archaic period, I see the relationship between Achilles and Patroklos as being the core story around which our Iliad grew in the Bronze Age and beyond. This process took many centuries. (On the crystallization of our epic over many centuries see especially Sherratt 1990 and Nagy 2020.) If I were to guess about the mechanism of transmission, I would speculate, as does West (1997:629), that there were bilingual poets conversant in both traditions, perhaps in multiple eras during the evolution of our Iliad. But we will likely never know the precise mechanisms, dates, and places, by which the Epic of Gilgamesh came to play such a shaping role in the entirely separate (linguistically and culturally and geographically) Greek epic tradition. Nevertheless, as West concludes his massive work on this topic, “A corpse suffices to prove a death, even if the inquest is inconclusive” (West 1997:630).
##Iliad 17: Structure and Themes
The organizational structure of book 17 is not immediately obvious. The book begins with Menelaos perceiving that Patroklos has fallen, and him moving to bestride the body. An epic struggle for the corpse begins, and the tide of battle shifts back and forth again and again. The book ends with Menelaos and Meriones carrying the body away from battle towards the ships, while the two Ajaxes fight off the Trojans who pursue them. The events of the book and the shifting of the tide of battle can be summarized as follows, with the caveat that the divisions I have made between episodes are somewhat arbitrary and will be refined further below:
a) Menelaos and Euphorbos duel over the body of Patroklos; Euphorbos is killed. (1–69)
b) Apollo stirs up Hektor, after which Menelaos retreats and finds Ajax. Meanwhile Hektor takes the armor, and Ajax and Menelaos move in to protect the corpse. (70–131)
c) With Ajax and Menelaos standing firm, Glaukos reproaches Hektor and threatens to leave Troy with the Lycian troops if he doesn’t obtain the body of Patroklos (to bargain for that of Sarpedon). Hektor rallies the Trojans and Lycians and puts on armor of Achilles. Zeus feels pity for Hektor (knowing that by putting on the armor he is sealing his doom) and gives him strength for the time being. (132-232)
d) The tide shifts back and forth: Ajax is afraid, and Menelaos calls for help from the “best of the Danaans” (245). Meanwhile the Trojans make their onslaught. Zeus then stirs up the Achaeans to protect Patroklos. The Trojans advance, and the Achaeans retreat. The Achaeans are then turned around by Ajax. Ajax kills Hippothoos, Hektor kills Skhedios, Ajax kills Phorkys, and the Greeks take the corpses and the armor. (233–318)
e) Apollo stirs up Aeneas and stops a Greek rout “beyond fate.” There are back and forth killings in a stale mate. (319–365)
f) Elsewhere on the battlefield the rest of the Trojans and Achaeans, including Thrasymedes and Antilokhos, are fighting unaware of the struggle for Patroklos’ corpse, where the “best men” (368) are covered in mist. The back and forth continues, and a simile compares the fighting to the stretching of the bull hide. Achilles is also unaware (404–411). The Greeks and Trojans despair and exhort one another (366–425)
g) Achilles’ horses weep and Zeus pities them and gives them strength to save Automedon, which they eventually do, after Automedon gets a new charioteer (Alkimedon) and fights and kills Aretos and strips him. Hektor and Aeneas want to take out Automedon and get the horses, but they are thwarted by the Aiante. (426–542)
h) Zeus turns the tide in favor of the Greeks with Athena’s help. Menelaos kills Podes, then Apollo stirs up the Trojans and Zeus gives signs of victory for the Trojans. (543–625)
i) Ajax perceives that Zeus’ will has shifted, and he suggests that Menelaos find Antilokhos and direct him to go tell Achilles the terrible news of Patroklos’ death. After a prayer from Ajax, Zeus scatters the mist, and Menelaos finds and delivers the message to Antilokhos. Antilokhos is speechless with grief, but leaves to do as requested. (626–699)
j) At last the two Ajaxes hold off the Trojans while Menelaos and Meriones begin to carry Patroklos’ body out of battle. (700–761)
The analyst scholar Walter Leaf considered this structure (or seeming lack of it) “a very difficult and complicated problem” and asserted that “[t]he weakness of the narrative as a whole is patent,” with the book showing a “continual lack of clearness and grasp of the situation” (Leaf 1902:216). We should consider, however, whether or not the constantly shifting tide of battle and the lack of a clear “grasp of the situation” are not in fact the point. (See also Clay 2011:90-95 and Purves 2014:128ff.) The harder it is to rescue the body of Patroklos, the more glory there is in doing so. Arguably, the depth of the Achaeans’ grief for Patroklos (and his own attendant kleos) can be measured in the amount of effort they are willing to devote to his corpse (so also Fenik 1968:159). The greater the stalemate, the more suspense is generated, and the more relief when his body is secured at last. As we have seen, the Achaeans fought for Achilles’ body for an entire day. Much like the equivalence between akhos and kleos, there appears to be a correlation between the grief generated by a warrior’s death, the length of the fight to secure his body, and the amount of kleos involved for both the warrior who has been killed and the warrior who has done the killing.
A closer examination, moreover, reveals that that there is an underlying organization in book 17 that is in keeping with the techniques of oral poetry. Bernard Fenik (1968:159–160) identifies four instances of what he identifies as the rebuke pattern deployed in the book, together with a fifth instance of a closely related “consultation” pattern. In Iliad 17, the rebuke pattern can be outlined as follows, taking the first instance of this pattern, 17.1–131, as a model (Thornton 1984:87):
a) successful Greek fight for Patroklos
b) Trojan hero rebuked
c) Trojan attack
d) Greek withdrawal
e) Greek call for help
f) Greek attack
Fenik and Agathe Thornton, who builds directly upon Fenik’s work, demonstrate that this motif sequence plays out with variations on this same basic structure five times over the course of Iliad 17–18.238 (at which point the body of Patroklos is finally safe within the Greek camp). The fourth of these five sequences (17.466–542), the passage that Fenik designates as an example of the “consultation pattern,” differs only from the other four in that in place of one warrior/god rebuking another warrior, two warriors confer and team up (Fenik 1968:26).
Thornton’s analysis expands upon Fenik’s in that she shows that the “call for help” part of the sequence is a crucial one that is “one of the major themes in the construction of the Iliad as a whole” (Thornton 1984:92). For Thornton, the fifth and culminating call for help, a sequence which begins with Ajax realizing Zeus’ will has turned and wishing for someone to deliver a message to Achilles, and ends with Achilles coming to the Achaeans’ aid, is the key to understanding the structure and poetics of Iliad 17:
To sum up, within its five-fold repetition, this motif-sequence is used to unfold the movement of the armies from beneath the walls of Troy to the ditch of the Achaean camp. In the first two sequences, the ebb and flow of battle is even. In the third, it becomes stationary. In the fourth, the divine horses of Peleus are saved for Achilles. In the fifth, a slow tough retreat with the body is successfully brought to a close by Achilles’ shout and appearance. The multiplication of such a sequence is clearly an excellent technique for oral singing on a large scale, and at the same time an exciting escalation of events for an audience to follow. Furthermore, we have seen that a “call for help” is one of the major themes in the construction of the Iliad as whole… It is the third and final call in the Iliad which is also the last of our five motif-sequences. The four preceding sequences are then preparing for and leading up to the last “call for help” of all which brings about the return of Achilles to the battlefield. (Thornton 1984:92)
Thornton sees the embassy to Achilles in Iliad 9 and Patroklos’ appeal to Achilles in the beginning of Iliad 16 as the first two steps in a repeating thematic sequence that culminates in the third and successful appeal to Achilles at the beginning of Iliad 18.
Both Fenik and Thornton incorporate the whole of Iliad 17 within a five-fold sequence that extends all the way until Patroklos’ body is safely within the confines of the Greek camp, that is until Iliad 18.238. This is not to place to discuss the complicated topic of the Iliad’s book divisions, divisions that would seem to have their origins ultimately in performance units (on which see Nagy 1996a:182). But it is worth noting that the already quite lengthy “book” (or scroll) 17 may have been at one time part of a longer performance unit that transcended the later book divisions and incorporated all five of the sequences outlined by Fenik and Thornton.
###The Best of the Achaeans
Achilles is unquestionably the best of the Achaeans in the Iliadic tradition:
τίς τὰρ τῶν ὄχ᾽ ἄριστος ἔην σύ μοι ἔννεπε Μοῦσα αὐτῶν ἠδ᾽ ἵππων, οἳ ἅμ᾽ Ἀτρεΐδῃσιν ἕποντο… ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ᾽ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ᾽ Ἀχιλεὺς μήνιεν· ὃ γὰρ πολὺ φέρτατος ἦεν, ἵπποι θ᾽ οἳ φορέεσκον ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα.
Tell me, Muse, who was by far the best of these, of the men themselves and their horses, who accompanied the sons of Atreus? Of the men greatly the best was Telamonian Ajax so long as Achilles had wrath. For he was very much the best and the horses who used to carry the faultless son of Peleus. (Iliad 2.761–769)
A similar assertion is made in book 17:
μίνυνθα δὲ καὶ τοῦ Ἀχαιοὶ μέλλον ἀπέσσεσθαι· μάλα γάρ σφεας ὦκ᾽ ἐλέλιξεν Αἴας, ὃς περὶ μὲν εἶδος, περὶ δ᾽ ἔργα τέτυκτο τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ᾽ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα.
But the Achaeans were only for a short time going to be absent from him. For right back around Ajax swiftly whirled them, Ajax who in form and in deeds exceeded the rest of the Danaans, after faultless Achilles. (Iliad 17.277–280)
But as I noted at the outset of this essay, when Patroklos dies in Achilles’ place in book 17, Patroklos becomes in that moment the best. (For more on Ajax’s role in Iliad 17 and the wider epic tradition, see my note on 17.115.)
The question of who is the “best”—whether that be “the best of the Achaeans” or the best of the Lycians or the Paeonians or the Myrmidons or the Trojans— is a theme that runs throughout the Iliad. (See especially Edwards 1984 with additional citations ad loc.) As Calvert Watkins has shown, this formula has a long IndoEuropean poetic history: “The equipollent opposition of two heroes in the epic context is reflected in the system of epithets: each of the two can be qualified as ἄριστος ‘best’” (Watkins 1995:483). Watkins cites two passages spoken by Achilles that illustrate this equivalence between the hero who slays and the hero who has been slain in Homeric epic. I quote them here with Watkins’s translations and emphases:
ὥς μ᾽ ὄφελ᾽ Ἕκτωρ κτεῖναι ὃς ἐνθάδε γ᾽ ἔτραφ᾽ ἄριστος τώ κ᾽ ἀγαθὸς μὲν ἔπεφν᾽, ἀγαθὸν δέ κεν ἐξενάριξε
Would that Hector had slain me, the best of the men bred here; then a brave man would have been the slayer, and he would have slain a brave man. (Iliad 21.279–280)
τοῖος ἐών, οἷός ποτ᾽ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ πέφνον λαὸν ἄριστον
I am not such as I was, when in broad Troy, I slew the best of the host. (Odyssey 11.499–500)
As Watkins demonstrates, this usage has parallels in several other Indo-European poetic traditions, parallels which suggest that the theme is of great antiquity (Watkins 1995:484–487).
As we see in the passage from Iliad 2 that I have quoted above, the poem gives us an objective answer to the question of who is the best of the Achaeans. Achilles is the best, and Ajax is next. But a survey of all instances of “the best” in the Iliad turns up something surprising and touching. Who “the best” is in fact shifts. Patroklos is arguably the best in Iliad 17.164 and 17.689 because he is the ritual substitute of the acknowledged best, Achilles. But as I say a survey of all instances of the phrase reveals something else as well. The “best” is very often the one whom the warriors are grieving for right in that moment, the one whose loss they are feeling most acutely. In Iliad 11, the best men are Nestor’s 11 brothers, whom Herakles had recently killed, and now Nestor was facing an attack without them. At the beginning of 17, Apollo tells Hektor that while he was going after Achilles’ horses, Euphorbos, “the best man of the Trojans” was killed by Menelaos (Iliad 17.75–81). (If we are speaking objectively, should not Hektor be the best? Achilles call him the best of those nourished at Troy in Iliad 21.279) And later in book 17, it is Patroklos’ death being reported, and he then becomes the best. Let’s look again at 17.689–690:
πέφαται δ᾽ ὤριστος Ἀχαιῶν Πάτροκλος, μεγάλη δὲ ποθὴ Δαναοῖσι τέτυκται.
Even the syntax of the verses reflects the shock of discovery. In verse 689 we have the announcement: “the best of the Achaeans has been killed.” It is not until the next verse, a brief pause to be sure but still felt, that we learn precisely who the best of the Achaeans is. It is not Achilles, but Patroklos. (Achilles’ name would fit in this same slot, as would others.) Arguably every warrior, in the moment that they die, becomes the one that his comrades would give anything to save. It is this particular emotional reaction to the death of a fighting comrade that Iliad 17 illustrates on such a grand scale. In Homeric poetry, the overwhelming combination of shock, loss, and grief-filled longing finds expression in the phrase “the best man has been killed.” Anthony Edwards concludes his own study of this phrase, as applied to Achilles, similarly: “This careful deployment of aristos enables Achilles to play out his fate on a […] tragic scale, though vicariously, within a framework of proxy and prediction” (Edwards 1984:80). When Achilles (or any other warrior) is invoked as the best of the Achaeans, it is with the inevitable foreshadowing of his coming death.
Of course what brings death to one warrior and grief to his comrades brings glory to another, as numerous passages throughout the Iliad attest. To quote Leonard Muellner once again: “a hero’s kleos is his victim’s akhos” (Muellner 2020:102). When Achilles prepares to return to battle after the death of Patroklos, he says:
νῦν δὲ κλέος ἐσθλὸν ἀροίμην, καί τινα Τρωϊάδων καὶ Δαρδανίδων βαθυκόλπων ἀμφοτέρῃσιν χερσὶ παρειάων ἁπαλάων δάκρυ’ ὀμορξαμένην ἁδινὸν στοναχῆσαι ἐφείην, γνοῖεν δ’ ὡς δὴ δηρὸν ἐγὼ πολέμοιο πέπαυμαι·
But now may I win good kleos, and may I cause some one of the deep-girdled Trojan and Dardanian women to wipe the tears from their delicate cheeks with both hands and wail with cries that come thick and fast. And they may know that too long I have held back from battle. (Iliad 18.121-125)
Andromache’s song of sorrow is Achilles’ song of glory. (On the relationship between lament and kleos see also below and Murnaghan 1999, Nagy 1999, Sultan 1999:91 and Dué 2006:39–46: “So closely tied are penthos and kleos that in many instances within the poems themselves they are the same thing” .)
The death that brings the greatest glory likewise causes the greatest sorrow. In Iliad 5.103, Pandaros rejoices upon hitting Diomedes, who is in the middle of his aristeia, with his arrow. “The best of the Achaeans has been hit” (βέβληται γὰρ ἄριστος Ἀχαιῶν) he proclaims. In that moment, with Achilles and Patroklos both absent, Diomedes is the best of the Achaeans. Athena has filled him with battle fury and courage. Had the wound been a fatal one, the announcement that “the best of the Achaeans has been hit” would have plunged the Achaeans into grief, while Pandaros reaped the kleos. In another remarkable passage from Iliad 5, the goddess Dione speaks angrily about Diomedes because he has wounded her daughter Aphrodite in the hand. Though he is not physically present, she warns that even he, “the best of the Achaeans,” may be killed:
τὼ νῦν Τυδεΐδης, εἰ καὶ μάλα καρτερός ἐστι, φραζέσθω μή τίς οἱ ἀμείνων σεῖο μάχηται, μὴ δὴν Αἰγιάλεια περίφρων Ἀδρηστίνη ἐξ ὕπνου γοόωσα φίλους οἰκῆας ἐγείρῃ κουρίδιον ποθέουσα πόσιν τὸν ἄριστον Ἀχαιῶν ἰφθίμη ἄλοχος Διομήδεος ἱπποδάμοιο.
Therefore now let the son of Tydeus, even if he is very powerful, take thought, lest someone better than him fight him in battle, lest for a long time circumspect Aigialeia, the daughter of Adrastus, be roused from sleep, lamenting her beloved family members, longing for the husband of her youth, the best of the Achaeans, she the mighty wife of Diomedes tamer of horses. (Iliad 5.410–415)
Here the grief of Diomedes’ wife Aigialeia, her lamentation, and her longing for him, are only imagined, and imagined by a hostile speaker at that. But we find once again a close correlation between being “the best” and the grief and longing that a warrior’s death inspires when killed. The “best” warrior’s death causes the greatest grief. But so too does great grief (in this case, Aigialeia’s) result in a warrior being remembered as “the best.”
Never having fought in combat myself, I was moved to discover that “the best of the Achaeans” is not only a poetic formula. While watching a 2010 documentary by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger entitled Restrepo, I was particularly struck by a segment in which American soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan fight with Taliban soldiers over the corpse of a fallen comrade. In a National Public Radio interview, Hetherington described what it was like to be an embedded reporter with that platoon. The most moving part of the interview is when Hetherington begins describing what it was like when Staff Sergeant Larry Rougle was killed and the enemy tried to drag his body away. Much like the Greek hero Menelaos, who is compared to a mother cow protecting her newborn calf as he stands to protect the body of the slain Patroklos (Iliad 17.4–8), or Ajax, who is compared to a lion who stands over its cubs to protect them from hunters (17.133–137), the men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade fight for Rougle’s corpse. And when one soldier tearfully recalls this event later, he says (Restrepo 1:08): “He was one of the best fighters if not the best… the best guy we have out here just got killed.” In the NPR interview, Hetherington himself breaks down and begins to weep when he is asked about this event.
Hetherington says the fight for Staff Sergeant Rougle’s body was the one time any of the soldiers told him to turn the camera off, so that moment of the enemy attempting to take the dead American soldier’s body is not recorded on film. But in the Iliad, all of Book 17 is devoted to telling the story of how the Achaeans prevent the Trojans from taking the body of Patroklos. The fact that the American soldiers did not want that part of the fight recorded on film, that the filmmakers did not include even a reference to it in the final documentary, and that recalling it could make Hetherington sob, testify to how overwhelming an emotional experience such a fight is. Having this modern example (as described in the interview) allows us to better understand why an entire book of the Iliad would be devoted to such a fight.
Patroklos’ story is not a new one. Every warrior that dies at Troy is a version of Patroklos, and on that level, any ancient audience member who had witnessed a comrade die could be moved to tears by Patroklos’ death. There is a more specific set of interformulaic references that are activated by the narrative of Patroklos’ death as well: Patroklos substitutes for Achilles in Iliad 17, and the grief of cosmic proportions that will be initiated by Achilles’ death is evoked in 17 and beyond. But we can’t forget that Patroklos is also a dear comrade of the Achaeans with his own backstory and his own set of near and dear ones who will intimately mourn for him, not least of whom is Achilles. The formulaic diction of Homeric poetry does not force us to choose which type of resonance is at play. All three types of meaning are there.
###The Grief of War
Iliad 17 narrates the fight for Patroklos’ corpse (“the best of the Achaeans”) and grief pervades its poetics, as it does the poetics of the entire poem. (On the Iliad as a “poem of death” see also Reinhardt 1960:13, Vermeule 1979:97, Griffin 1980:142, and Schein 1984:67.) As I wrote in my 2006 book about the laments of captive women (Dué 2006a:39–40), the Iliad and Odyssey are infused with voices of lament. Although the poems of the Epic Cycle are now lost to us, it is clear from what we know of them that in these poems, too, laments for heroes played an important role. Within the Iliad and Odyssey, so full of grief is epic poetry that it has the effect of inspiring mourning in those who are most connected to the action. In other words, what is epic kleos—the latest entertainment—for the generic audience of epic is a song of lament for those with a stake in the tale, with the result that the only distinction between a song of lament and epic poetry becomes the listener. (See especially Odyssey 1.328–352, 4.219–234, and 8.83–95 and 521–534.) Tsagalis (2004:167) argues that lament is “the form of speech that best represents the poem’s perspective.”
The Iliad quotes within its narration of Achilles’ kleos many songs of lamentation that serve to highlight the mortality of the central hero as well as underscore the immortality of song, including Thetis’ lament for Achilles in Iliad 18, discussed above:
ὤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ὤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια, ἥ τ᾽ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε ἔξοχον ἡρώων· ὃ δ᾽ ἀνέδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἶσος· τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς νηυσὶν ἐπιπροέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ᾽ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω.
O me how I am wretched, o me how unluckily I was the best child bearer, since I bore a child that was faultless and strong, outstanding of heroes. And he shot up like a sapling. After nourishing him like plant on the hill of an orchard I sent him forth in the hollow ships to Ilion to fight with the Trojans. But I will not receive him again returning home to the house of Peleus.” (Iliad 18.54–60)
The theme of the hero as a plant that blossoms beautifully and dies quickly or as a tree that has been cut down is an important theme in Greek lament traditions (Alexiou 1974:198–201, Danforth 1982:96–99, Sultan 1999:70–71; Dué 2006:62–73). It is also a metaphor that encapsulates what glory means in the Iliad. One of the primary metaphors for epic song in the Iliad is that of a flower that will never wilt:
μήτηρ γάρ τέ μέ φησι θεὰ Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα διχθαδίας κῆρας φερέμεν θανάτοιο τέλος δέ. εἰ μέν κ᾽ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι, ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται: εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ᾽ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν, ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ᾽ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.
My mother the goddess Thetis of the shining feet tells me that a two-fold doom carries me to the finality of death. If I stay here and fight around the city of Troy, my homecoming [nostos] is lost, but my glory in song [kleos] will be unwilting. Whereas if I reach home my good kleos is lost, but my life will be long, and the finality of death will not soon reach me. (Iliad 9.410-416)
Here Achilles reveals not only the crux of this choice of fates around which the Iliad itself is built, but also the driving principle of Greek epic song. The unwilting flower of epic poetry is contrasted with the necessarily mortal hero, whose death comes all too quickly (Nagy 1979:174–184).
Because most warriors at Troy do not have mothers or wives present on the battlefield to lament their deaths in first person, the Iliad mourns for them in other ways beyond the traditional first-person lament. The traditional imagery of lament spills over into epic diction itself, with the result that similes, metaphors, and other descriptions of heroes are infused with themes drawn from the natural world. Indeed the imagery, themes, and language of lament are so pervasive in epic poetry that a number of scholars have speculated that women’s lament traditions played a crucial role in the development of epic (Murnaghan 1999, Nagy 1999, Sultan 1999). Epic poetry narrates the glory of heroes, the klea andrōn, but it also laments their untimely deaths and the suffering they cause. That these lament-filled passages are more often than not sung for the death of the Trojans and their allies is a testament to the remarkable parity of compassion that underlies the Iliad. (On the pathos of the Iliad see also Griffin 1980:103–143.) Both sides are mourned equally.
The depiction of the death of the Trojan warrior Euphorbos in the opening encounter of Iliad 17 is one such place where epic diction draws on the botanical imagery that pervades Greek laments for heroes. Euphorbos, like Achilles, is compared to a young tree when he is killed on the battlefield by Menelaos. Euphorbos topples like a tree that is overcome by a storm:
ἀντικρὺ δ᾽ ἁπαλοῖο δι᾽ αὐχένος ἤλυθ᾽ ἀκωκή, δούπησεν δὲ πεσών, ἀράβησε δὲ τεύχε᾽ ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ. αἵματί οἱ δεύοντο κόμαι Χαρίτεσσιν ὁμοῖαι πλοχμοί θ᾽, οἳ χρυσῷ τε καὶ ἀργύρῳ ἐσφήκωντο. οἷον δὲ τρέφει ἔρνος ἀνὴρ ἐριθηλὲς ἐλαίης χώρῳ ἐν οἰοπόλῳ, ὅθ᾽ ἅλις ἀναβέβροχεν ὕδωρ, καλὸν τηλεθάον· τὸ δέ τε πνοιαὶ δονέουσι παντοίων ἀνέμων, καί τε βρύει ἄνθεϊ λευκῷ· ἐλθὼν δ᾽ ἐξαπίνης ἄνεμος σὺν λαίλαπι πολλῇ βόθρου τ᾽ ἐξέστρεψε καὶ ἐξετάνυσσ᾽ ἐπὶ γαίῃ· τοῖον Πάνθου υἱὸν ἐϋμμελίην Εὔφορβον Ἀτρεΐδης Μενέλαος ἐπεὶ κτάνε τεύχε᾽ ἐσύλα.
The point went straight through his soft neck, and he fell with a thud, and the armor clattered on top of him. His hair was soaked with blood, and it was like the Graces, as were his braids, which were tightly bound with gold and silver. Just like a flourishing sapling of an olive tree that a man nourishes in a solitary place where water gushes up in abundance, a beautiful sapling growing luxuriantly—blasts of every kind of wind shake it and it is full of white blossoms, but suddenly a wind comes together with a furious storm and it uproots the tree and stretches out on the ground— even so the son of Panthoos, Euphorbos with the ash spear, did the son of Atreus, Menelaos, strip of his armor after he had killed him. (Iliad 17.49-60)
In my 2006 book I note that the tree imagery in this passage is intensified by two references to blossoms (Dué 2006a:66–67). First, in the simile, the tree to which Euphorbos is compared blossoms with white flowers. And second, scholia in medieval manuscripts of the Iliad reveal that this comparison between Euphorbus and the tree with its blossoms is even closer than might appear at first glance. According to the scholia, kharites, translated here as “the Graces,” means in the Cypriot dialect of Greek “myrtle blossoms.” Following Nagy (2010:296) I translate the scholion as it survives in the Venetus A manuscript as follows:
Χαρίτεσσιν ὁμοιαι] ἀντὶ τοῦ ταῖς τῶν Χαρίτων κόμαις ἴσοι, ἀπίθανον δέ ἐστιν· ἀμόρφωτος γὰρ ἡ κόμη· εἰ μὴ οὕτως· Μακεδόνες δὲ καὶ Κύπριοι χάριτας λέγουσι τὰς συνεστραμμένας καὶ οὔλας μυρσίνας, ἃς φαμὲν στεφανίτιδας.
Like the Graces: Instead of “like the hair of the Graces.” But it is unlikely. For the hair is formless (i.e., it is no longer elaborately styled). If not (we must understand it) this way. Macedonians and Cypriotes use the word kharites with reference to myrtle blossoms that are compacted and curled [around a garland]. We call them garland-blossoms. (Venetus A Scholia on Iliad XVII 51)
(Note: This translation depends on an emendation of the Greek text of the scholion. Following Van Thiel, I have printed γὰρ ἡ κόμη where the manuscript reads γῆ κόμη.)
The flecks of blood in Euphorbus’ hair look like myrtle blossoms. Since the Arcado-Cypriot dialect component of Homeric diction contains some of the oldest elements of the oral poetic system in which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed, it is likely that in early phases of the Iliad tradition Euphorbus’ hair was understood to look like myrtle blossoms. (For Arcado-Cypriot in particular, see Horrocks 2010:13–24 and Panayotou-Triantapyllopoulou 2014. On the dialect layers of Homeric poetry more generally see Parry 1932, Householder and Nagy 1972:58–70, Horrocks 1997 and 2010:44–49, and Bakker 2020.) Thus we find that the comparison of a dying warrior to a flower is an ancient theme at the core of the Greek epic tradition. (On the mortality of the hero as a central theme of epic, see also Griffin 1980, Schein 1984, and Greene 1999. Other passages that compare dying warriors to trees include Iliad 4.482–489, 5.560, 13.178–181, 13.389–392, 14.414–418, 16.482–485, 17.53–59, and 18.56–60. For more on the theme of hair in the dust see my note on 17.49–60.)
Another way that warriors far from home are mourned in the Iliad is via the miniature biographies that frequently accompany the deaths of warriors in battle (Griffin 1980:103–143, Schein 1984:72–76, Tsagalis 2004:179–187). Here again we will find that what is a boast or brings kleos to the victorious warrior brings grief to the loved ones of the fallen. A perfect illustration of this eternal equation occurs in 14.487ff., where the Greek warrior Peneleos avenges the death of his comrade Promakhos at the hands of Akamas. (It would appear that Promakhos and Peneleos are related, on which see the scholia of the Venetus B ad 2.494 and Janko’s  commentary ad 14.449.) Akamas retreats unharmed, but Peneleos kills instead the Trojan Ilioneus, an only son whose head Peneleos lifts up “like the head of a poppy” and boasts over it:
Πηνέλεῳ δὲ μάλιστα δαΐφρονι θυμὸν ὄρινεν· ὁρμήθη δ᾽ Ἀκάμαντος· ὃ δ᾽ οὐχ ὑπέμεινεν ἐρωὴν Πηνελέωο ἄνακτος· ὃ δ᾽ οὔτασεν Ἰλιονῆα υἱὸν Φόρβαντος πολυμήλου, τόν ῥα μάλιστα Ἑρμείας Τρώων ἐφίλει καὶ κτῆσιν ὄπασσε· τῷ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπὸ μήτηρ μοῦνον τέκεν Ἰλιονῆα. τὸν τόθ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ὀφρύος οὖτα κατ᾽ ὀφθαλμοῖο θέμεθλα, ἐκ δ᾽ ὦσε γλήνην· δόρυ δ᾽ ὀφθαλμοῖο διὰ πρὸ καὶ διὰ ἰνίου ἦλθεν, ὃ δ᾽ ἕζετο χεῖρε πετάσσας ἄμφω· Πηνέλεως δὲ ἐρυσσάμενος ξίφος ὀξὺ αὐχένα μέσσον ἔλασσεν, ἀπήραξεν δὲ χαμᾶζε αὐτῇ σὺν πήληκι κάρη· ἔτι δ᾽ ὄβριμον ἔγχος ἦεν ἐν ὀφθαλμῷ· ὃ δὲ φὴ κώδειαν ἀνασχὼν πέφραδέ τε Τρώεσσι καὶ εὐχόμενος ἔπος ηὔδα· εἰπέμεναί μοι Τρῶες ἀγαυοῦ Ἰλιονῆος πατρὶ φίλῳ καὶ μητρὶ γοήμεναι ἐν μεγάροισιν· οὐδὲ γὰρ ἣ Προμάχοιο δάμαρ Ἀλεγηνορίδαο ἀνδρὶ φίλῳ ἐλθόντι γανύσσεται, ὁππότε κεν δὴ ἐκ Τροίης σὺν νηυσὶ νεώμεθα κοῦροι Ἀχαιῶν. (Iliad 14.487–505)
But he [Akamas] especially stirred the heart [thumos] in keen-spirited Peneleos and he started for Akamas. But he [Akamas] did not wait for the onrush of the lord Peneleos. And he [Peneleos] wounded Ilioneus, the son of Phorbas of many flocks, whom especially of the Trojans Hermes loved and granted property. To him his mother had born Ilioneus as an only child, and him at that moment he [Peneleos] wounded under the eye-brow in the roots of the eye and he pushed the eye-ball from it. Right through the eye came the spear and it went through the occipital bone, and he [Ilioneus] sat down, stretching out his hands, both of them, while Peneleos drew his sharp sword and drove it in the middle of his neck, and to the ground he struck off his head together with its helmet. The mighty spear still was in his eye. And he [Peneleos] holding it up like the head of a poppy signaled to the Trojans and boasting spoke a word: “Tell for me, Trojans, illustrious Ilioneus’ dear father and mother to lament in their halls. For the wife of Promakhos the son of Alegenor will not be gladdened by her dear husband coming home, whenever the sons of the Achaeans return from Troy with their ships.”
Even though the account of Ilioneus’ death is followed by a boast, in which the grief of his parents is treated as just compensation for the grief of the widow of Promakhos, we can see in that account a kind of mourning for Ilioneus and great compassion for the suffering of his Trojan parents. (Cf. Griffin 1980:108 on 20.389–393: “It is easy to reverse this and convert an insult into a lament.”) This passage closely resembles others found throughout the Iliad that introduce warriors just before they die. As Mary Ebbott and I have argued elsewhere, these highly compressed biographies would likely have served a commemorative function, and, compressed though they are, often share themes and imagery (especially botanical imagery) with traditional laments performed by women, such as those sung by Andromache, Briseis, and Achilles’ mother Thetis in the Iliad. (See Dué and Ebbott 2010:322–323 and Dué 2019:117–120 as well as Tsagalis 2004:179–187.)
Many of these compressed biographies seem to be focalized through the eyes of a mother or widow. In Iliad 11.221–228, we hear the story of Iphidamas, who leaves behind his bride and half-built house to “go after the kleos of the Achaeans.” (Other passages that include mentions of the recent marriage or bethrothal of a fallen soldier include 13.173, 365–367, and 429.) In Iliad 4 we learn how Simoeisios comes to be named by his parents, and that he dies before he can repay their care in raising him:
ἔνθ᾽ ἔβαλ᾽ Ἀνθεμίωνος υἱὸν Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ἠΐθεον θαλερὸν Σιμοείσιον, ὅν ποτε μήτηρ Ἴδηθεν κατιοῦσα παρ᾽ ὄχθῃσιν Σιμόεντος γείνατ᾽, ἐπεί ῥα τοκεῦσιν ἅμ᾽ ἕσπετο μῆλα ἰδέσθαι· τοὔνεκά μιν κάλεον Σιμοείσιον· οὐδὲ τοκεῦσι θρέπτρα φίλοις ἀπέδωκε, μινυνθάδιος δέ οἱ αἰὼν ἔπλεθ᾽ ὑπ᾽ Αἴαντος μεγαθύμου δουρὶ δαμέντι… ὁ δ᾽ ἐν κονίῃσι χαμαὶ πέσεν αἴγειρος ὣς ἥ ῥά τ᾽ ἐν εἱαμενῇ ἕλεος μεγάλοιο πεφύκει λείη, ἀτάρ τέ οἱ ὄζοι ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτῃ πεφύασι· τὴν μέν θ᾽ ἁρματοπηγὸς ἀνὴρ αἴθωνι σιδήρῳ ἐξέταμ᾽, ὄφρα ἴτυν κάμψῃ περικαλλέϊ δίφρῳ· ἣ μέν τ᾽ ἀζομένη κεῖται ποταμοῖο παρ᾽ ὄχθας. τοῖον ἄρ᾽ Ἀνθεμίδην Σιμοείσιον ἐξενάριξεν Αἴας διογενής·
There Telamonian Ajax struck the son of Anthemion, still unmarried and in the bloom of youth, Simoeisios, whom once his mother coming down from Ida along the banks of the Simoeis river bore, since she followed along with her parents to look after the flocks. Therefore they called him Simoeisios. Nor to his beloved parents did he repay their nurturing, but his life was cut short by great-spirited Ajax, overcome by the spear… He fell to the ground in the dust like a poplar, which in the meadow of a great marsh has grown smooth, and the branches have grown at the top-most point. A chariot builder with shining iron cut it down, in order that he bend a wheel for his exceedingly beautiful chariot. The tree lies there drying next to the banks of the river. Such a man did Ajax sprung from Zeus slay, the son of Anthemion, Simoeisios. (4.473–489)
In this passage, as in the case of Ilioneus, the life story of Simoeisios’ mother is emphasized, and Simoeisios is compared to a felled poplar. (For on the botanical imagery employed in the description of Simoeisios’ death see also Schein 1984:73–75.)
The death of Gorgythion at Iliad 8.302–308 is another particularly beautiful example of this kind of passage, for which I cite the evocative translation of Samuel Butler, only slightly adapted:
ὃ δ’ ἀμύμονα Γοργυθίωνα υἱὸν ἐῢν Πριάμοιο κατὰ στῆθος βάλεν ἰῷ, τόν ῥ’ ἐξ Αἰσύμηθεν ὀπυιομένη τέκε μήτηρ καλὴ Καστιάνειρα δέμας ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι. μήκων δ’ ὡς ἑτέρωσε κάρη βάλεν, ἥ τ’ ἐνὶ κήπῳ καρπῷ βριθομένη νοτίῃσί τε εἰαρινῇσιν, ὣς ἑτέρωσ’ ἤμυσε κάρη πήληκι βαρυνθέν.
The arrow hit Priam’s brave son faultless Gorgythion in the chest. His mother, fair Kastianeira, lovely as a goddess, bore him after she had been married from Aisyme, and now he bowed his head as a garden poppy in full bloom when it is weighed down by showers in spring—even thus heavy bowed his head beneath the weight of his helmet. (Iliad 8.302–308)
Members of ancient audiences of the Iliad could have easily imagined these words in a lament sung in the first person by Kastianeira upon learning of the death of her son in battle.
In Iliad 17, there are relatively few of these mini-biographies, and indeed relatively few duels and deaths described in detail, other than the death of Euphorbos, which opens the book. There is no aristeia taking place, no kudos or kleos piling up for one particular warrior. Instead, the emphasis is on the unending stalemate, with the Greek heroes mostly on the defensive, protecting Patroklos’ corpse. But there are three brief obituary passages in quick succession in the span of 17.288–351. First is the death of Hippothoos, who is killed by Ajax as he is attempting to drag Patroklos’ body away by the foot:
τοῦ δ᾽ αὖθι λύθη μένος, ἐκ δ᾽ ἄρα χειρῶν Πατρόκλοιο πόδα μεγαλήτορος ἧκε χαμᾶζε κεῖσθαι· ὃ δ᾽ ἄγχ᾽ αὐτοῖο πέσε πρηνὴς ἐπὶ νεκρῷ τῆλ᾽ ἀπὸ Λαρίσης ἐριβώλακος, οὐδὲ τοκεῦσι θρέπτρα φίλοις ἀπέδωκε, μινυνθάδιος δέ οἱ αἰὼν ἔπλεθ᾽ ὑπ᾽ Αἴαντος μεγαθύμου δουρὶ δαμέντι.
His battle fury was released, and from his hands he let the foot of great-hearted Patroklos fall to the ground to lie there. And he fell face forward on top of his corpse, far from fertile Larisa, nor to his beloved parents did he repay their nurturing, but his life was cut short by great-spirited Ajax, overcome by the spear. (Iliad 17.298–303)
Here the grief for Hippothoos is focalized through the perspective of his parents, who will not have their care for him repaid in their old age. The last two and a half verses are also used of Simoeisios, discussed above. Both the lives of Simoeisios and Hippothoos then are μινυνθάδιος (“short-lived”), a word used elsewhere of both Achilles (1.352) and Hektor (15.612) as well as Lykaon (21.84). Hippothoos is thus commemorated mainly in a way that unites him with other young men who die in battle at Troy. (See also Fenik 1968:233 for additional ways in which this scene is “typical” of battle deaths in the Iliad.) But he is not entirely generic. Earlier in the passage is called “the radiant son of Pelasgian Lethos” (Λήθοιο Πελασγοῦ φαίδιμος υἱὸς 288) and his home town of Larisa is remembered. As Griffin points out (1980:106–109), the bitterness of a death far away from home is emphasized in many passages throughout the Iliad with great sympathy.
The death of Hippothoos is noteworthy for another reason. Sources that narrate the death of Achilles (including Apollodoros, Epitome 5.4 and a now lost Chalkidian vase) include the detail that the Lycian hero Glaukos was killed by Ajax as he was attempting to drag away Achilles’ body. The Chalkidian vase depicts Glaukos attempting to attach a strap to Achilles’ foot. (For sources and discussion see Fenik 1968:233 and Burgess 2009:39–40.) It is possible that if the Aithiopis (or any other epic account of the death of Achilles) survived, we might see here yet another reflection of the fight for Achilles’ corpse in book 17’s narration of the fight for Patroklos’ corpse (so also Burgess 2009:81-82).
Next in succession comes Skhedios, whom Hektor strikes while intending to hit Ajax in retaliation for Hippothoos’ death:
ὃ δὲ Σχεδίον μεγαθύμου Ἰφίτου υἱὸν Φωκήων ὄχ᾽ ἄριστον, ὃς ἐν κλειτῷ Πανοπῆϊ οἰκία ναιετάασκε πολέσσ᾽ ἄνδρεσσιν ἀνάσσων.
But [he hit] Skhedios the son of great-spirited Iphitos by far the best of the Phocians, who in renowned Panopeus dwelled, ruling over many men. (Iliad 17.306–308)
This biography is highly compressed, but a few personal details emerge, including his father’s name, his home town, and the fact that he ruled over many people. He is, moreover, called “by far the best of the Phocians,” a phrase which as we have seen brings kleos to himself and to Hektor, but also conveys the grief of his fighting comrades at the moment of his death.
And finally we have the death of Trojan Apisaon commemorated in 17.348–351:
καὶ βάλεν Ἱππασίδην Ἀπισάονα ποιμένα λαῶν ἧπαρ ὑπὸ πραπίδων, εἶθαρ δ᾽ ὑπὸ γούνατ᾽ ἔλυσεν, ὅς ῥ᾽ ἐκ Παιονίης ἐριβώλακος εἰληλούθει, καὶ δὲ μετ᾽ Ἀστεροπαῖον ἀριστεύεσκε μάχεσθαι.
and [Lykomedes] struck the son of Hippasos, Apisaon the shepherd of the people, in the liver beneath the diaphragm, and at once he loosened his knees out from under him, he who had come from fertile Paionia, and he was the best at fighting after Asteropaios.
Much like Skhedios, only his father and geographical origin are included and there is no mention of his mother, but he is remembered for being one of the best in battle of those from Paionia, second only to Asteropaios, whose death is not narrated in but is implied in the verses that immediately follow. For Skhedios and Apisaon, then, the grief imagined in their miniature obituaries is that of their comrades, and specifically their fellow warriors from their home towns, for whom they become “the best” in death.
In addition to these three, there is one additional passage in Iliad 17 that interacts with the obituary pattern, and it resembles the narrative of Ilioneus’ death, quoted above, in many respects. When Menelaos and Euphorbos confront one another over the corpse of Patroklos at the start of the book, Menelaos taunts Euphorbos with the fact that he has already killed his brother (cf. Iliad 14.516):
οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδὲ βίη Ὑπερήνορος ἱπποδάμοιο ἧς ἥβης ἀπόνηθ᾽, ὅτε μ᾽ ὤνατο καί μ᾽ ὑπέμεινε καί μ᾽ ἔφατ᾽ ἐν Δαναοῖσιν ἐλέγχιστον πολεμιστὴν ἔμμεναι· οὐδέ ἕ φημι πόδεσσί γε οἷσι κιόντα εὐφρῆναι ἄλοχόν τε φίλην κεδνούς τε τοκῆας. ὥς θην καὶ σὸν ἐγὼ λύσω μένος
Not even the might of Hyperenor tamer of horses had enjoyment of his youth, when he scorned me and awaited me and said that I was the worst warrior among the Danaans. Nor do I think that he, going on foot at least, will gladden his beloved wife and cherished parents. Just as surely will I loosen your battle fury also… (17.24–29)
Much like Peneleos when he kills Ilioneus, Menelaos takes pleasure in imaging the sorrow of the parents and wife of a man he has killed. But unlike Ilioneus, Hyperenor has a relative on the battlefield to mourn him, and so what is Menelaos’ kleos immediately becomes Euphorbos’ akhos:
νῦν μὲν δὴ Μενέλαε διοτρεφὲς ἦ μάλα τείσεις γνωτὸν ἐμὸν τὸν ἔπεφνες, ἐπευχόμενος δ᾽ ἀγορεύεις, χήρωσας δὲ γυναῖκα μυχῷ θαλάμοιο νέοιο, ἀρητὸν δὲ τοκεῦσι γόον καὶ πένθος ἔθηκας. ἦ κέ σφιν δειλοῖσι γόου κατάπαυμα γενοίμην εἴ κεν ἐγὼ κεφαλήν τε τεὴν καὶ τεύχε᾽ ἐνείκας Πάνθῳ ἐν χείρεσσι βάλω καὶ Φρόντιδι δίῃ.
Now Menelaos nurtured by Zeus truly you will pay, you slew a member of my family, and you speak in boast about it, and having made his wife a widow in the inmost part of her new bridal bedchamber you place unspeakable grief and sorrow upon his parents. Indeed I might become a respite from grief for them in their wretched state if I bring your head and armor and cast them in the hands of Panthoos and brilliant Phrontis. (17.34–40)
Here yet again we see the close correlation between kleos and akhos, boasting and lament.
A final way that the poetics of lament infiltrate Iliad 17 is in its use of apostrophe. As I discuss in the commentary with reference to 17.1, Patroklos and Menelaos are linked in this book in that they are the two characters to elicit the most sympathy from the narrator in the Iliad through the use of apostrophe. Patroklos is addressed in the second person eight times in the Iliad, while Menelaos is twice addressed in the second person in this book (at 679 and 702), and seven times in the Iliad as a whole (Yamagata 1989, Edwards 1991:3 and ad 17.679–80, Jong 2004:16). These moments are usually quite dramatic moments in the story. In Patroklos’ case they cluster around his impending death. In Menelaos’ case, four of the instances occur when he has a near brush with death (4.127, 4.146, 7.10, 13.603). A fourth occurs in the midst of a dispute with Antilokhos during the funeral games of Achilles (23.600). The remaining two are in book 17, at 17.679 and 702. In the first of these two instances, Menelaos is looking everywhere for Antilokhos, whom he wants to deliver the news of Patroklos’ death to Achilles. In the second, Menelaos feels compelled to leave the Pylians (who are now particularly hard pressed without Antilokhos) in order to return to defending Patroklos’ corpse. These two examples from 17 bookend a particularly emotional passage, in which Meleaos informs Antilokhos of the death of Patroklos.
As Barbara Graziosi has shown, apostrophe is one of many devices used with the Iliad to convey the impression that “although the narrative is firmly and uncontroversially set in the past, the poet experiences the past as present” (Graziosi 2013:19) and the poet “sees what he sings” (33). An example she highlights is the case of Melanippos, who is addressed as he dies. I quote the passage with Graziosi’s translation here:
ὣς ἐπὶ σοὶ Μελάνιππε θόρ᾽ Ἀντίλοχος μενεχάρμης τεύχεα συλήσων· ἀλλ᾽ οὐ λάθεν Ἕκτορα δῖον, ὅς ῥά οἱ ἀντίος ἦλθε θέων ἀνὰ δηϊοτῆτα.
So Antilochus, steadfast in battle, leapt on you, Melanippus, intent on stripping your armor. But glorious Hector saw him, and came running up through the fighting to meet him. (Iliad 15.582–584)
Graziosi notes that it seems unlikely that the poet has a special affinity for this minor Trojan warrior, but what the passage reveals is that the poet is experiencing his death as if he were present and is involving himself in it (Graziosi 2013:20).
It may be that such direct addresses have their origin in the poetics of lament, which, as Alexiou has described in her seminal study (1974/2002), exhibits a three-part structure consisting of a direct address, a narrative of the past or future, and then a renewed address accompanied by reproach and lamentation. Alexiou notes that the laments of Iliad 24 all conform to this three-part pattern (Alexiou 1974:133; see also Lohmann 1970:108-12 and Foley 1991:168-74). If this idea is correct, the direct address of characters echoes for the audience the address of the dead in songs of lament, and maintains some of the dynamic of sorrow conveyed in lament. Is there any reason to attach such coloring to the examples of apostrophes in the Iliad 17? And if so, how can we reconcile the fact that Menelaos does not die in our Iliad or even the Trojan War?
It must be noted that there has been historically some controversy (outlined in Yamagata 1989) as to the poetic significance of these apostrophes, with some seeing their origin in metrical convenience as opposed to a desire on the part of the poet to express special sympathy. But such explanations imply that poets working with the epic tradition were constrained by epic diction and forced to express themselves other than how they would wish because of it. In fact, as Milman Parry and Albert Lord show through their field work, the formulaic diction in which oral poets compose evolved over centuries to serve their needs (not the other way around), and functions in that way much like a living language, with its own vocabulary and structure. In Lord’s discussion of the training of the singer, he observes that the singers learn the language of oral performance of poetry holistically, as a child learns a language. Thought, meter, and language are not separate in the process of composing-in-performance (Lord 1960/2000:31–36). In this kind of system, the poet deploys formulas because they express what he wants to say, not because they are metrically convenient. The formulas would never have been created or retained in the system if they did not enable composition, no more than a word would remain in English usage if it no longer conveyed meaning to English speakers. John Foley, whose work has continued the comparative study of the South Slavic oral tradition that Parry and Lord began (see e.g. Foley 1999:37–111), has built on this idea to arrive at his general dictum that “oral poetry works like language, only more so” (Foley 2002:127–128). As in language generally, Foley argues following Lord, the poet’s thought, not meter, is the driving force of expression. I am therefore persuaded by those who see a special affinity for these characters in the poem as we now know it, though I acknowledge the controversy and admit that not all instances of apostrophe are easily explained.
The ancient scholarship preserved in the scholia of Homeric manuscripts support this view. At Iliad 4.127, where Menelaos is first directly addressed by the narrator, in the scholia of the Venetus B and Townley manuscripts, among others, we find the comment: προσπέπονθε δὲ Μενελάῳ ὁ ποιητής. διὸ συνεχέστερον αὐτῷ διαλέγεται, ὡς καὶ Πατρόκλῳ, Εὐμαίῳ, Μελανίππῳ. (“The poet feels an affinity with Menelaos. Because of their greater connection he converses with him, as with Patroklos, Eumaios, [and] Melanippos.”) In those same manuscripts we also find the following at 16.787 (where Patroklos is addressed):
ἡ ἀποστροφὴ σημαίνει τὸν συναχθόμενον· σοὶ γάρ, ὦ Πάτροκλε, τῷ οὕτως ὑπ’ Ἀχιλλέως ἀγαπωμένῳ, τῷ πᾶν εἰς σωτηρίαν τῶν Ἑλλήνων πραγματευσαμένῳ, τῷ Νέστορος φιλοπόνως ἀνασχομένῳ, τῷ Εὐρύπυλον φιλοστόργως ἰασαμένῳ, τῷ ὑπὲρ τῶν Ἑλλήνων δακρύσαντι καὶ τὸν σκληρῶς διακείμενον Ἀχιλλέα πείσαντι, τῷ κατὰ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ ψυχῆς τὴν ἔξοδον κατορθώσαντι. ταῦτα πάντα ἔνεστιν ἐπαναφέροντας ἐπὶ τὴν ἀποστροφὴν ὁρᾶν τὸ ἐν αὐτῇ περιπαθές.
The apostrophe indicates that [the poet] is grieved along with him. “For you, Patroklos”: the one loved by Achilles in this way, the one who did everything for the salvation of the Greeks, the one who was painstakingly patient with Nestor, the one who healed Eurypylos with loving tenderness, the one who shed tears on behalf of the Greeks and persuaded Achilles when he was unyielding, the one who brought about his marching out to battle at the expense of his own life. It is possible for those referring all of these things back to the apostrophe [i.e., for those being reminded of all these things by the apostrophe] to see the deep emotion in it.
The scholiast has in mind a particular poet who feels a personal connection to the characters who are directly addressed, but of course it is not necessary to assume that apostrophes represent the emotional response of a single poet. Apostrophe may have its origin in such an emotional response by one or more poets, but apostrophe became embedded in the formulaic system over time, and that system is not the work of one man (Parry 1932:7–8 = Parry 1971:330). I submit that we do not need to draw a strict distinction between the emotional coloring or significance of apostrophe and the metrically useful formulaic language that accrued around it over time. It may be that for certain characters a metrically useful group of apostrophes were created within the system over several generations or more of epic poets. When any one of those poets deployed those apostrophes, the accrued emotional resonance was still felt by both the poet and his audience, who were themselves steeped in the poetics of both epic and lament (having no doubt been present at many a performance and many a funeral). For the reasons I have already stated, it is important not to conflate metrical utility with a lack of meaning or resonance.
That apostrophe retained an emotional coloring that expressed special sympathy for certain characters is likewise supported by the way that Roman poets, themselves steeped in the Homeric tradition, deployed apostrophe. A number of scholars have explored the way that Virgil and Lucan use apostrophe to express sympathy with their characters and guide the emotional and critical response of the reader (see especially Block 1982 and Behr 2005 and 2007:1–32). Francesca Behr explains apostrophe this way:
In Greek, apostrophe means a “turning away from.” In the ancient sources it designates a declaimer’s “turning away” from his presentation of facts and from the jury to address either the defendant or some absent entity (e.g., Quint. 4.1.63–70; 9.3.24). More generally, and especially in poetry, apostrophe designates the textual space in which the narrator talks directly to his characters. The strength of apostrophe resides in the emotional intensity which the trope contributes to the text… As Edward Corbett has suggested, apostrophe is a figure of pathos “calculated to work directly on the emotions,” and its most evident result is to guide the response of the listener. (Behr 2007:1–2)
(Behr cites here Corbett 1971:460 as well as Horace, Ars Poetica 99ff., Cicero, De Oratore 189ff., and Quintilian 4.1.63.) Elaine Fantham finds a similar dynamic at work in her discussion of lament in Virgil and Lucan, before concluding her discussion with an analysis of the function of lament in Statius’ Thebaid:
Just as these recurring speeches of mourning by the poet and his personages are a measure of the dead heroes’ worth, so their iteration drives home Statius’s message that this worth has been misused, and the grief is greater than the glory. There is no glory in this war. These heroes have died for nothing… Lament has triumphed over heroics and put them to shame. (Fantham 1999:231–232)
To this we can compare Behr (2007:24): “with Virgil’s apostrophe we have the impression that celebration and lament do not belong together anymore.” Behr’s work as a whole demonstrates that the critical use of lament observed by Fantham has a counterpart in Lucan’s use of apostrophe. For such a critical stance to be possible in these later Roman poets who were the successors of Virgil, we must assume an emotional coloring to apostrophe, one that is inherited from Homeric epic and, quite possibly, the Greek lament tradition.
Of Homeric apostrophe in general, Elizabeth Block (1982:16) has noted that Menelaos, Patroklos, and Eumaios “exhibit characteristic traits of vulnerability, loyalty, and a vague but poetically essential weakness.” For reasons explored elsewhere in this essay and in my note on 17.1 (where I explore both Patroklos’ and Menelaos’ characterization as “gentle” in the poem and in the scholia), I concur with her assessment. As we have seen, Patroklos is particularly vulnerable in book 16 without the other half of his fighting pair, Achilles, and Achilles fears for him when he goes into battle without him. So too is Menelaos feared for at various points in the Iliad, especially by Agamemnon, who is in many ways the equivalent of Achilles for him in terms of their status as a pair in the Iliad. (See, e.g., 5.565–567 and 7.94–122 and my note on 17.1.)
Of the apostrophes to Patroklos in book 16 in particular, Block has written (1982:17):
Because the narrator articulates and thereby encourages the audience’s sympathy for Patroklos, the audience apprehends the depth of the conflict that Achilles feels both before and after Patroklos’ death, not by judging it, but through direct involvement. This pervasive and emphatic sympathy for Patroklos thus characterizes Achilles more finely than direct narration, for in sharing rather than judging it the audience shares in Achilles’ choice, and tragedy.
Can we uncover a similar “involvement” for the audience in Menelaos’ actions in Iliad 17? I would argue that by means of the apostrophes to Menelaos, coming as they do with the delivery of the news of Patroklos’ death to Antilokhos (and thereby Achilles), the emotional stakes of Menelaos’ actions and decisions—whether he will successfully locate Antilokhos or not, whether to stand by the Pylians or return to Patroklos’ corpse—are raised. The entire passage is one of heightened emotion, and indeed it is the delivery of this news to Antilokhos that is the emotional climax of this book, which has up to this point depicted an all out and never ending struggle to claim the body of the “best of the Achaeans.” Both the Trojans and Achaeans have given everything they have, to no avail. The only one who can end the stalemate is Achilles. The notification of Antilokhos is the first step in a fifth and final call for help pattern within Iliad 17, and a third and final call for help to Achilles within the Iliad as a whole. It is the call he will ultimately answer, at the cost of his own life. The notification of Antilokhos initiates a chain of grief that will lead directly not only to Achilles’ own unspeakable sorrow, and but also to the deaths of countless Trojans and their leader Hektor, and finally to the sorrow of the Achaeans, the Nereids, Thetis, and the Muses when Achilles himself dies. That the emotions of the narrator break through at this moment in the form of direct address underscores the grief that is in the process of unfolding.
####Bibliographical note: In order not to make this introductory essay unduly long, I have not outlined at length the theoretical underpinnings on which my reading of book 17 relies. For that I recommend Dué and Ebbott 2010:13–29 and Dué 2019, but I will note here that my understanding of the composition and transmission of the Homeric epics relies on the fieldwork and scholarship of Milman Parry and Albert Lord on oral poetry and the evolutionary model for the text fixation of the Homeric epics articulated by Gregory Nagy (most recently in Nagy 2020; extensive analysis of this model can be found in González 2013). I have also not addressed two related strains of scholarship with direct relevance to Patroklos, namely the central tenet of Neoanalysis which holds that our Iliad is modeled on and borrows from a pre-Iliadic version of the Aithiopis (or a postulated Memnonis), and the recent arguments by Bruno Currie (2016:147–222), who posits an allusive relationship between the Homeric epics and Ancient Near Eastern epic. Jonathan Burgess (1997 and 2009:73–92) has compellingly argued that Achilles’ killing of Hektor after the death of Patroklos is not a transference to the Iliad of the story narrated in the Aithiopis, in which Achilles kills Memnon after the death of Antilokhos. I see no need to repeat his lucid argumentation, even though I myself do not draw as sharp distinctions between what Burgess calls a “typical” motif and a supposedly “transferred motif” as he does. In my view, both stories reflect a deeply ingrained story pattern deployed by poets in this tradition in varying degrees of expansion and compression, and in that way, both stories may have “resonated” (in either poem) in the ways that traditional storytelling and formulaic diction make possible. (For a similar view, see Fenik 1968:236 and passim. Fenik differs from me in that he sees a single oral poet as being responsible for the form of the Iliad as we know it, but he is far more keenly aware than most of the typical patterns and structures both large and small on which any oral poet must have drawn in order to compose an Iliad. On Neoanalysis and the poems of the Epic Cycle, see, in addition to Fenik 1968:229–240, Beecroft 2020 and Dué and Marks 2020.) As for Currie’s arguments about allusion, I am afraid his understanding of the composition and transmission of both Ancient Near Eastern epic such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Homer epics is so incompatible with the oral and evolutionary model to which I subscribe that I don’t see how there can be meaningful dialogue between our work. Currie’s arguments depend on fixed poems and the intentionality of individual author poets for the Iliad and Odyssey. Dué 2019 and all of my published works advocate for an understanding of the Iliad and Odyssey as multiform, co-evolving epics that were composed again and again in performance, and whose “texts” became increasingly fixed over many centuries, but were never entirely rigid.
Bakker, E. 2013. The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey. Cambridge.
–––. 2020. “The Language of Homer.” In Pache 2020: 70–79.
Barnes, T. 2011. “Homeric ἀνδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 131: 1–13.
Beecroft, A. 2020. “Homer in Twentieth (and Twenty-First) Century Scholarship.” In Pache 2020: 544–546.
Behr, F. 2005. “The Narrator’s Voice: A Narratological Reappraisal of Apostrophe in Virgil’s Aeneid.” Arethusa 38: 189–221.
–––. 2007. Feeling History: Lucan, Stoicism, and the Poetics of Passion. Columbus.
Beissinger, M., J. Tylus, and S. Wofford, eds. 1999. Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World: The Poetics of Community. Berkeley.
Bird, G. 2020. “Meter.” In Pache 2020: 173–175.
Block, E. 1982. “The narrator speaks: apostrophe in Homer and Virgil.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Society 112: 7–22.
Brown, B. 2016. The Mirror of Epic: The Iliad and History. Berrima.
Brügger, C. 2018. Homer’s Iliad: The Basel Commentary. Book XVI. Trans. B. Millis and S. Strack. Göttingen.
Burgess, J. 1997. “Beyond Neo-analysis: Problems with the Vengeance Theory.” American Journal of Philology 118:1–19.
–––. 2009. The Death and Afterlife of Achilles. Baltimore.
Burkert, W. 1992. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. trans. W. Burkert and M. Pinder. Cambridge, MA.
Carter, J. B., and S. P. Morris, eds. 1995. The Ages of Homer: A Tribute to Emily Townsend Vermeule. Austin.
Clay, J. 2011. Homer’s Trojan Theater: Space, Vision, and Memory in the Iliad. Cambridge.
Collins, D. 1998. Immortal Armor: The Concept of Alkē in Archaic Greek Poetry. Lanham, MD.
Corbett, E. 1971. Classical rhetoric for the modern student. Oxford.
Currie, B. 2016. Homer’s Allusive Art. Oxford.
Danforth, L. 1982. The Death Rituals of Rural Greece. Princeton.
Davies, A., and W. Meid, eds. 1976. Studies in Greek, Italic, and Indo-European Linguistics Offered to Leonard R. Palmer. Innsbruck.
Dué, C. 2002. Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis. Lanham, MD, 2002.
–––. 2006a. The Captive Woman’s Lament in Greek Tragedy. Austin, TX.
–––. 2006b. “The Invention of Ossian.” Classics@ 3.
–––. 2019. Achilles Unbound: Multiformity and Tradition in the Homeric Epics. Center for Hellenic Studies and in print, Cambridge, MA.
Dué, C., and M. Ebbott, eds. 2010. Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush: A Multitext Edition with Essays and Commentary. Washington, DC, and in print, Cambridge, MA.
–––. 2012. “Mothers-in-Arms: Soldiers’ Emotional Bonds and Homeric Similes.” War, Literature & the Arts 24 (2012).
Dué, C., and J. Marks. 2020. “The Homeric Question.” In Pache 2020: 585–589.
Edwards, A. 1984. “Aristos Achaiōn: Heroic Death and Dramatic Structure in the Iliad.” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 17: 61–80.
Fantham E. 1999. “The Role of Lament in the Growth and Eclipse of Roman Epic.” In Beissinger, Tylus, and Wofford 1999: 221–235.
Fenik, B. 1968. Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad: Studies in the Narrative Techniques of Homeric Battle Description. Hermes Einzelschriften 21. Wiesbaden.
Foley, J. 1991. Immanent Art: From Structure to Meaning in Traditional Oral Epic. Bloomington, IN.
–––. 1998. “Individual Poet and Epic Tradition: Homer as Legendary Singer.” Arethusa 31: 149–178.
–––. 1999. Homer’s Traditional Art. University Park, PA.
–––. 2002. How to Read an Oral Poem. Urbana and Chicago, IL.
Gaca, K. 2008. “Reinterpreting the Homeric Simile of Iliad 16.7–11: The Girl and Her Mother in Ancient Greek Warfare.” American Journal of Philology 129: 145–171.
Giannakis, G., ed. 2014. Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics. Leiden.
González, J. 2013. The Epic Rhapsode and His Craft: Homeric Performance in a Diachronic Perspective. Washington, DC.
Graziosi, B. 2013. “The poet in the Iliad.” In Marmodoro and Hill 2013: 9–38.
Greene, T. M. 1999. “The Natural Tears of Epic.” In Beissinger, Tylus, and Wofford 1999: 189-202.
Griffin, J. 1980. Homer on Life and Death. Oxford.
Hedreen, G. 1991. “The Cult of Achilles in the Euxine.” Hesperia 60: 313–330.
Horrocks, G. 1997. “Homer’s Dialect.” In Morris and Powell 1997: 193–217.
–––. 2010. Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers. 2nd ed. Malden.
Householder, F. and G. Nagy. 1972. Greek: A Survey of Recent Work. The Hague.
Janko, R., ed. 1992. The Iliad: A Commentary. Vol. 4. Books 13–16. Cambridge.
Kakridis, J. 1949. Homeric Researches. trans. A. Placotari. Lund, Sweden.
Lang, M. 1995. “War Story into Wrath Story.” In Carter and Morris 1995: 149–62.
Lentini, G. 2013. “The Pragmatics of Verbal Abuse in Homer.” Classics@ 11.
Lohmann, D. 1970. Die Komposition der Reden in der Ilias. Berlin.
Lord, A. 1960/2000. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, MA. 2nd ed, 2000. ed. S. Mitchell and G. Nagy. Cambridge, MA.
Lowenstam, S. 1981. The Death of Patroklos: A Study in Typology. Königstein.
Kim, E. The Fugitive: Murder and Exile in the Age of Heroes. University of Washington dissertation, 2018.
Marmadoro, A. and J. Hill, eds. 2013. The Author’s Voice in Classical and Late Antiquity. Oxford.
Martin, R. 1989. The Language of Heroes: Speech and Performance in the Iliad. Ithaca.
Morris, I., and B. Powell, eds. 1997. A New Companion to Homer. Leiden.
Morris, S. 1997. “Homer and the Near East.” In Morris and Powell 1997:599–623.
Muellner, L. 2020. “Achilles.” In Pache 2020: 99–102.
Murnaghan, S. 1999. “The Poetics of Loss in Greek Epic.” In Beissinger, Tylus, and Wofford 1999: 203-20.
Nagy, G. 1976. “The Name of Achilles: Etymology and Epic.” In Davies and Meid 1976: 227–30.
–––. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore. Revised ed. with new introduction 1999.
–––. 1996a. Poetry as Performance. Cambridge.
–––. 1996b. Homeric Questions. Austin.
–––. 1999. “Epic as Genre.” In Beissinger, Tylus, and Wofford 1999: 21-32. –––. 2010. Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley.
–––. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge MA.
Pache, C., ed. 2020. The Cambridge Guide to Homer. Cambridge.
Panayotou-Triantapyllopoulou, A. 2014. “Arcado-Cypriot.” In Giannakis 2014: 154–158.
Purves, A. 2019. Homer and the Poetics of Gesture. Oxford.
Reinhardt, K. 1960. Tradition und Geist: Gesammelte Essays zur Dichtung. ed. C. Becker. Göttingen.
Schein, S. 1984. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad. Berkeley.
Scheliha, R. von. 1943. Patroklos: Gedanken über Homers Dichtung und Gestalten. Basel.
Schmidt, M. 1969. “Der Zorn des Achill. Ein Stamnos des Triptolemosmalers.” In Zazoff 1969: 141–152.
Sultan, N. 1999. Exile and the Poetics of Loss in Greek Tradition. Lanham, Md.
Van Thiel, H., ed. 2014. Scholia D in Iliadem. 2nd ed. Köln.
Vermeule, E. 1979. Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry. Berkeley.
Vidan, A. 2003. Embroidered with Gold, Strung with Pearls: The Traditional Ballads of Bosnian Women. Cambridge, MA.
Watkins, C. 1995. How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. New York.
West, M. 1997. The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry. Oxford.
Whitman, C. 1958. Homer and the Heroic Tradition. Cambridge, MA.
Willcock, M. “Mythological Paradeigma in the Iliad.” Classical Quarterly 14 (1964): 141-54.
–––. “Ad Hoc Invention in the Iliad.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 81 (1977): 41-53.
Wilson, D. 2020. “Ancient Near Eastern Epic.” In Pache 2020: 103–105.
Wofford, S. 1992. The Choice of Achilles: The Ideology of the Figure in the Epic. Stanford.
Yamagata, N. 1989. “The Apostrophe in Homer as Part of the Oral Technique.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 36: 91–103.
Zazoff, P., ed. 1969. Opus Nobile: Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Ulf Jantzen. Wiesbaden.