Books 21-24

BOOK 21 - Battle Amongst the Gods

The start of the book sees the contest between Achilles and the river Xanthus. Having forced the Trojans by whom he is opposed into the river, Achilles kills some, including Lycaon, a son of Priam, and Asteropaius, and takes twelve others captive to be human sacrifices at the funeral of Patroclus. Angered by this, Xanthus rises up and pursues him. Just as it looks as though Achilles is to be overwhelmed by the river, Hephaestus, at Hera's behest, raises a fire that prevents such an eventuality and nearly dries up Xanthus' stream entirely.

The gods now enter the fighting on a more active level. Ares and Aphrodite are taken out of the struggle by Athena, while Artemis' ears are boxed by Hera, which results in her escaping to Olympus and the lap of her father Zeus, to whom she complains tearfully. Zeus himself laughs to see all the other immortals involved in such frivolous conflict. Eventually, Apollo suggests to Poseidon that they withdraw, since it is not worth them fighting each other for the sake of mere mortals.

With the gods now absent, Achilles wreaks more havoc as he makes his way towards Troy. The Trojans flee to their city. Agenor is set against Achilles by Apollo, but rather than killing him, Achilles is deceived by Apollo into moving away from the city, which allows the remainder of the Trojans to make their way inside the city walls.

BOOK 22 - Hector and Achilles

When Achilles realises that he has been deceived by Apollo, he makes his way as quickly as possible back to the city. With all the other Trojans inside, Hector decides to stay outside Troy, in front of the Scaean gates. His shame and guilt at having rejected Poulydamas' suggestion the previous night that the Trojans return to the city, coupled with the arrival of the fated time for his death, cause him to seek single combat with Achilles. His father and mother, watching from inside the city, beg him not to fight, but he is not to be persuaded.

When he sees Achilles approaching, however, his courage fails him and he flees. Three times, Achilles pursues him around the walls of the city, watched by the citizens of Troy. Zeus is tempted to save him, but eventually takes out his golden scales, on which Hector's fate sinks down. At this point, Apollo ceases to help him, while, in contrast, Athena comes to the aid of Achilles. She tricks Hector into fighting, by pretending to be Deiphobus, his brother, come to help him. She then disappears, however, and Hector realises that his time is up. He charges at Achilles and is speared through the throat. Before breathing his last, he begs Achilles to return his body to his people in return for ransom and, like Patroclus, he prophesies his killer's death as he himself dies.

Achilles, having rejected his foe's plea for burial, now attaches Hector's ankles to his chariot and drags him back to the Achaean ships. This has all been observed by Priam and Hecabe, who, at this final insult, raise their lamentation to such a level that they are heard by Andromache, who has been performing her domestic duties. She makes her way swiftly to the city wall, where she sees Hector being dragged behind Achilles' chariot. She faints, and when she eventually comes to her senses, laments the loss of her husband and the fate of their son, Astyanax, who is now fatherless.

BOOK 23 - Patroclus' Funeral Games

Book 23 opens with lamentation for Patroclus. In contrast to his honoured treatment, Hector is thrust face down into the dust next to the bier by a distraught Achilles. Having feasted, the Achaeans sleep, including Achilles, who sleeps on the sea-shore with his Myrmidons. The ghost of Patroclus appears to him and asks that he might be buried as quickly as possible. Consequently, the next day, the Achaeans, at Achilles' command, prepare him a pyre, which, with some difficulty, they succeed in setting alight.

The remainder of the book focuses on the funeral games that Achilles holds for his friend, and at which he provides all the prizes. We see the heroes of the Achaean army taking part in a chariot race, a boxing- fight, a wrestling-match, a foot-race, a fight in full armour, a discus competition, an archery contest, a spear-throwing contest.

BOOK 24 - Achilles and Priam

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