Books 17-20

BOOK 17 - The Battle for Patroclus' Body

After his death, fierce fighting breaks out over Patroclus' body, as both sides realise the importance of winning it. Menelaus immediately rushes to the corpse and stands over it. He is challenged by Euphorbus, the first Trojan to strike Patroclus and a young man whose first day of battle it is. The youth attacks Menelaus, who has already killed his brother, and is himself brought down, stabbed at the base of the throat by Menelaus' spear. His death is notable for the pathos with which Homer describes it, given that he is such a minor figure in the Trojan ranks and in the poem itself.

Menelaus is now driven back from the body, and Achilles' armour, which Patroclus is wearing, is stripped off by the Trojans and put on by Hector. As he does this, Zeus looks on and pities him his approaching death.

Further fighting occurs over the corpse and the struggle is eventually won by the Achaeans, who manage to get hold of it and convey it back to their ships, with the Trojans in hot pursuit. During all of this, Antilochus is dispatched by Menelaus to tell Achilles the grim news of Patroclus' death.

BOOK 18 - The Divine Armour of Achilles

Achilles receives the news of Patroclus' death and is overcome with grief. His mother, Thetis, hears his cries and, gathering the other Nereids around her, she leads them in lamentation for her lot as mother of a hero who now must die young. Leaving them behind, she goes to him and tries to comfort him. He is full of self- recrimination for the anger that has led to Patroclus' death and is interested only in visiting vengeance upon Hector, despite the fact that this will lead without doubt to his own death. Resigned to his decision, Thetis reminds him that he no longer possesses any armour and promises that she will obtain divine armour for him from Hephaestus himself and that she will deliver it the next morning.

In the meantime, the Trojans make another attempt to capture Patroclus' body and are almost successful, until Hera dispatches Iris to instruct Achilles to appear at the ditch and scare them off. This he does, shouting three times and with his head surrounded by a flame placed there by Athena. The Trojans are terrified and fall back, enabling Patroclus' body to be secured once and for all. Finally, Hera brings the day to an end by sending the sun down.

The Trojans camp again on the plain, after Hector and subsequently the rest of the army have rejected Poulydamas' exhortation to return to the city, given the imminent re-entry of Achilles to the fray. The Achaeans, meanwhile, spend the night mourning the loss of Patroclus.

On Olympus, Thetis comes to the house of Hephaestus and requests that he make armour for Achilles. We are treated to an in-depth description of the scenes depicted on the shield, which are representative of the whole variety of human life. Thus, we find the first (inmost) circle shows the earth, the heavens, and the sea (483-9). The second shows city life, both in times of peace, at a marriage celebration (491- 496) and a law case (497-508), and in times of war, during a siege (509-519), during an ambush of a herd (520-34) and in the ensuing melee (535-540). The third shows rural life, during Spring (541-49), Summer (550-556), Autumn (561-7) and Winter (573-89). The fourth shows a dance (590-606). And the fifth (outmost) circle shows Ocean. Therefore, we see on the shield a microcosm of the world.

BOOK 19 - The Reconciliation

The next morning, Thetis brings the divine armour to Achilles. He calls an assembly, where he tells Agamemnon that he is ending his anger, since it is wrong to continue to be in a stubborn rage forever, and voices his desire to go to war immediately. Agamemnon replies that he is not to blame, but that Zeus and Fate and Erinys blinded him on that day in the assembly. To further exonerate himself he tells a story of Zeus himself being afflicted by this blindness (which he personifies as the goddess Ate). As appeasement, he offers all the gifts that Odysseus related to Achilles, when he came with the embassy. Achilles displays his lack of interest in the gifts and once more expresses his desire to go to war as soon as possible. Now Odysseus voices his opinion, saying that men cannot fight all day on empty stomachs and that, anyway, it would be right for Agamemnon to display the gifts before the whole army.

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