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The Iliad Book 16 Summary

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson focuses on Book 16 of 'The Iliad' by Homer. The battle rages on between the Trojan and Achaean forces, and Patroclus devises a scheme to free the Achaean ships from the Trojans.

Previous Events

The Iliad focuses on the Trojan War, which started when Paris kidnapped Helen, who was renowned for her beauty, and also was the wife of King Menelaus. Helen was so beautiful, in fact, that her face was immortalized by Christopher Marlowe as ''the face that launched a thousand ships.'' This description is accurate according to The Iliad, since the whole poem deals with the war that breaks out after Paris takes Helen from her husband.

Agamemnon leads the Achaean forces against the Trojans. Achilles, leader of the Myrmidons, is the Achaeans' greatest warrior. After a dispute with Agamemnon over the spoils of war - in this case, a young woman named Briseis - Achilles refuses to fight the Trojans any longer. Achilles feels insulted, and returns to his tent to sulk.

Book 16

Patroclus approaches Achilles and asks to join the fight in defense of the ships. Achilles agrees and lets Patroclus use his armor, but he cautions Patroclus not to attack the Trojans.

''Go then, Patroclus! Court fair honour's charms in Troy's famed fields, and in Achilles' arms: lead forth my martial Myrmidons to fight, go save the fleets, and conquer in my right.''

Achilles knows that the Trojans will see his armor and believe he has rejoined the fight. Achilles asks just one thing: ''But touch not Hector, Hector is my due.''

Patroclus then takes the Myrmidons into battle. After they kill and devour a stag, the Myrmidons are filled with blood lust. Even though the Myrmidons are ''gorged with slaughter still they thirst for more.'' Patroclus and the Myrmidons arrive just as the Trojans are beginning to set fire to the Achaean ships.

Meanwhile, Achilles beseeches the god Zeus, also known as Jove, to protect Patroclus and to save the ships. This is not as unusual as it may seem because various gods intervene in this war throughout The Iliad. The god grants only part of Achilles' request.

''Great Jove consents to half the chief's request, but heaven's eternal doom denies the rest; to free the fleet was granted to his prayer; his safe return, the winds dispersed in air.''

When the Trojans see Patroclus clothed in Achilles' armor, they believe Achilles has joined the battle. The Trojan forces begin to flee the battlefield in fear. Then a sudden storm appears and as the winds increase, the Trojans leave the ships. Zeus has provided the storm.

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