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Death of Patroclus: Mythology, Overview

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  • 0:00 Patroclus and Achilles
  • 0:43 Agamemnon and Briseis
  • 1:31 Patroclus the Hero and…
  • 3:35 The Vengeance of Achilles
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Trenton Mabey

Trenton has a master's degree in global history and has developed college Asian history courses.

The death of Patroclus turned the tide of battle in the Trojan War. The lesson explores the critical moment of the Trojan War and the role Patroclus played in the Greek victory over Troy.

Patroclus and Achilles

Homer's epic poem the Iliad records the events of the Trojan War. The war lasted ten years with the Greek army laying siege to the city of Troy. As a warrior, Patroclus was not considered one of the greats like his best friend Achilles, but Patroclus played a major role in the Greek victory over the Trojan host. The death of Patroclus was one of the major turning points in the ten-year siege, and it prompted the hero Achilles to challenge the Trojan hero Hector to single combat.

Achilles was considered the greatest of the Greek warriors. Patroclus was his best friend and companion. Achilles fought fearlessly. When Achilles led the Greek army into battle, the Greeks prevailed.

Agamemnon and Briseis

After a successful campaign against the Trojan town of Lyrnessus, Achilles claimed the queen Briseis as his prize of conquest. The leader of the Greek army, Agamemnon, had claimed the daughter of a priest of Apollo as his prize of conquest. The priest of Apollo requested her release but Agamemnon refused. Agamemnon's refusal angered the god Apollo, who caused a plague to afflict the Greek army. Agamemnon relented and released the woman.

Angry at having to give up his prize, Agamemnon claimed Briseis instead. Achilles was obviously furious and refused to participate in the next battle. With Achilles sidelined, the Trojan army, led by Hector, attacked the Greek army. The Greek army could not stop the Trojan advance and were forced to retreat to their wall.

Patroclus the Hero and His Death

Agamemnon tried to entice Achilles to fight again by sending three of the Greek heroes to return Briseis and offer other incentives for Achilles to enter the battle. Achilles refused to fight for the Greeks.

As the Trojans pushed toward the Greek ships, Patroclus tried another tactic. He asked to borrow Achilles armor so he could enter the battle looking like Achilles. He said that the Achilles' helmet would hide his face and no one would realize it was not Achilles. His goal was to inspire the Greek army and turn the tide of battle. Achilles reluctantly agreed and loaned Patroclus his armor, but he also asked Patroclus to be careful. He warned Patroclus to only push the Trojan army away from the ships and not get carried away with the battle.

Patroclus' plan was successful. Seeing Patroclus dressed as Achilles entering the battle, many of the Trojan army immediately began to retreat. The Greek army was inspired and pushed the Trojan army back toward the city walls. Patroclus led the Greek army in their assault of the Trojan army, forgetting the warning of Achilles. Then Apollo intervened, sneakily wounding Patroclus, who was then confronted by the Trojan hero Hector.

The two fought. Hector wounded Patroclus further and discovered the deception when he knocked the helmet off Patroclus' head. Hector then killed Patroclus. The Greek warriors Menelaus and Ajax engaged Hector in battle to protect the body of Patroclus.

Hector stripped the armor of Achilles from the body and claimed it as his prize. Upon hearing of Patroclus's death, Achilles appeared on the battlefront with no armor on at all. He let loose a roar of grief that caused a panic in the ranks of the Trojan army. This gave the Greek army enough time to carry the body of Patroclus back to the Greek encampment.

The recovery of the body allowed the Greek army to properly conduct funeral rites for Patroclus. One of these rites included competitive games. The purpose of the games was to bring together enemies in a common celebration. The funeral games for Patroclus served as a healing opportunity for the Greek army.

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