The Iliad and the Fate Of Patroclus

The Iliad and the Fate Of Patroclus

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The Iliad and the Fate Of Patroclus

   Throughout The Iliad Of Homer, the constant theme of death is inherently

apparent.  Each main character, either by a spear or merely a scratch from an

arrow, was wounded or killed during the progression of the story.  For Zeus' son,

Sarpedon, it was a spear through the heart, and for Hector, it was the bronze of

the mighty Achilles through his neck which caused his early demise.  It seems

that no one could escape an agonizing fate.  Of these deaths, the most

interesting and intriguing death of all is that of Achilles' dear friend

Patroclus.  Although his life was taken by the mighty Hector's spear, who was

truly liable for his death?  The intricate story line of The

Iliad makes many possible answers available, but only one possibility

accurately explains the actions and events that led to this gruesome episode.

Patrocles was responsible for his own death.


     First of all, Patrocles was responsible for his own death because he

requested his insertion into the battle, fully knowing that the Achaeans were

being unmercifully defeated.  In Book XVI , Patroclus said,


               " Send me forth now at the head of the Myrmidon host

                  That I may be a light of hope to the Danaans.

                  And let me strap on my shoulders that armor of yours

                  That the zealous Trojans take me for you and quickly

                  Withdraw from the fighting."


     Because Achilles refused to help the Achaeans battle the Trojans, a

discontented Patroclus took the matter into his own hands by requesting

activation into battle disguised as Achilles in the hope of sending the Trojans

into a full retreat from the sight of him.  It is apparent that Patroclus was

willing to fight although the odds were greatly against him.  His vehemence

towards the Trojans coupled with his disappointment of Achilles gave him the

drive to conquer the Trojan army with or without the aid of Achilles.  In doing

so, Patroclus took an enormous risk that the Trojans would fall for his trick, a

risk with his life as the stakes.  Essentially, while pleading to Achilles for

battle, it was his own dark death for which he plead.

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      Next, because Patroclus ignored Achilles' warnings before battle, the

blame for his death can only be placed upon himself.  In Book XVI, Achilles said,



               " Do not, I tell you, get carried away

                  In the heat of conflict and slaughter and so lead the


                  Toward the city.  For one of the gods everlasting may


                  To descend from Olympus and fight against you - Apollo,

                  For instance, who works from afar and dearly loves

                  All Trojans.  Come back, then, when once you have saved


                  Vessels, and let others go fighting across the plain."


In explanation, Achilles was saying that he wanted Patroclus to lead the

Myrmidons in an attack against the Trojans to drive them away from the ships.

Once that was done, he wanted Patroclus and the army to return because imminent

death surrounded Troy, antagonized by Zeus and Apollo.  However, Patroclus did

not heed this warning.  After going into battle and sending the Trojans into a

full retreat, Patroclus was overcome with fury over his slain comrade, Epeigeus,

and ordered a full scale attack upon the walls of Troy.


               " Then Patroclus, calling

                  Commands to the horses and to Automedon, drove

                  In pursuit of the Trojans and Lycians, blind foolhardy


                  That he was!  For had he obeyed the careful orders

                  of Peleus' son Achilles, he surely would then

                  Have escaped the miserable doom of murky death."


This passage in Book XVI foreshadowed how this grave mistake would lead to

Patroclus' death.  Because of his overwhelming desire to take revenge for the

many Achaeans defeated in battle, Patroclus failed to realize the accompanying

consequences to his suicide mission.  No one else made the decision to attack,

therefore, only Patroclus is to blame for his narrow minded decision which led

directly to his untimely demise.


      Finally, because of Patroclus' inferiority to Achilles in battle, he was

responsible for his own death. An example can be derived from a passage in Book

XVI from Apollo to Patroclus,


               " Fall back Zeus - descended Patroclus! It is not fated

                  That by your spear this town of the gifted Trojans

                  Shall be laid to waste, nor even by that of Achilles,

                  A man far batter than you."


This passage suggests the inferiority of Patroclus compared to Achilles.  If

Achilles was not fated to sack the city of Troy, how was Patroclus supposed to,

being only half the warrior that Achilles was?  Patroclus should have known this,

but his mind was clouded with anger and grief so he decided to do even what

Achilles could not and perished. Therefore, his inferiority to Achilles shown

through.  Another example took place after Patroclus defeated Hector's driver,

Cebriones.  While trying to strip the armor from the body, Patroclus and Hector

began to fight over the corpse.  Instead of following Achilles' orders and

returning to the ships, Patroclus went for the nucleus of the Trojan army and

tried to defeat Hector, as no other Achaean could do.  His fury overcame him and

inferiority to Achilles caused him to die.  Patroclus picked a fight with an

enemy aided by a god, and fell from glory with a combination of blows from

Apollo, Euphorbes, and Hector.  This inferiority to Achilles may have been the

primary reason that Patroclus' life came to an end that day at the hands of the

Trojan army.


      In conclusion, among the various themes of The Iliad of Homer, death is

one of the most apparent and moving themes to consistently appear throughout the

story.  Each death was described in full, graphic detail to more emphasize the

individual people and events for which this siege was taking place.  Each man

had a family and a story behind his life and death.  For Patroclus, however,

life was cut short by his poor decisions and unyielding fury toward the Trojans.

These, accompanied by his battle skills, greatly inferior to those of Achilles,

caused Patroclus to disregard Achilles' warnings of what fate the battle might

hold and attack Troy as well as Hector.  If these decisions had not been made,

Patroclus could have ridden beside Achilles in their sack of Troy.  Thus,

because of Patroclus' over - zealous and inferior battle decisions and behaviors,

it is apparent that he is solely responsible for his own death.


Works Cited and Consulted:

Homer: Iliad. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1994.

Schein, Seth L. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer's Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
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