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The Death of Patroclus in The Iliad

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  • 0:04 Summary & Characters Part 1
  • 1:12 The Fall of Patroclus
  • 2:58 Significance of…
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

The death of Patroclus is one of the most powerful scenes in Homer's 'Iliad.' This lesson will summarize the events surrounding the hero's end, and explain its significance for the epic as a whole.

Summary & Characters Part 1

In The Iliad, for ten long years, the Greek forces lay siege to the city of Troy, without conquering it. By Book 15, Trojan forces have counterattacked the Greeks, breaking through a wall that protected their ships anchored on the shore outside of Troy. Patroclus can't stand it, and is determined to vanquish the Trojans. He begs his dear friend, the great warrior Achilles, to lend him his armor so he can battle the Trojans. This isn't just any armor: Achilles is a demigod, or half-man, half-deity, and considered fierce and essentially invincible in battle.

Achilles is angry at the leader of the Greek troops, Agamemnon, and refuses to fight. Patroclus thinks that if he wears Achilles' armor, he will fool the Trojans into believing it is actually Achilles doing the fighting, and they will be terrified. Achilles reluctantly agrees to lend his friend the armor.

There's a twist, however. The god Zeus has declared that Patroclus will be killed by the Trojan hero, Hector. Achilles warns Patroclus only to defend the Greek ships, and not to go after the Trojans. Zeus' prophecy spells doom for Patroclus, but he forges ahead anyway.

The Fall of Patroclus

Out on the battlefield, feeling especially brave with the help of Achilles' armor, Patroclus goes on a bit of a killing spree. He leads a group of Greeks known as the Myrmidons against the surprised Trojans, who flee. Despite Achilles' warning, Patroclus can't help himself, and he chases after the Trojans all the way to the gates of their city.

A battle scene from The Iliad
A battle scene from The Iliad

Throughout The Iliad, gods and goddesses intervene in the action, and this scene is no exception. The god Apollo sides with the Trojans, like Zeus, and Apollo steps in to stop Patroclus, who is wounded. At the end of Book 16, Hector kills Patroclus, fulfilling Zeus' prophecy. Hector is bold, telling Patroclus as he kills him that ''here the vultures shall eat you. / Wretch! Achilleus, great as he was, could do nothing to help you.'' With his last breaths, however, Patroclus gives his own prophecy, telling Hector: ''You yourself are not one who shall live long, but now already / death and powerful destiny are standing beside you, / to go down under the hands of Aiakos' great son, Achilleus.''

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