The Iliad Book 18 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of Book 18 of Homer's 'The Iliad'. In this book, Achilles finds out about the death of his friend Patroclus. He is distraught and vows revenge on Hector. The battle rages on between the Trojans and Greeks.

Achilles Mourns Patroclus

As Book 18 of Homer's The Iliad opens, we see Achilles still sulking with the ships, refusing to fight. He has sent his friend Patroclus off in his place to the battle, and he wonders how his friend is faring. Sadly, the answer to that question is: not well. Not well at all. Hector has killed Patroclus and stripped him of his armor (which actually belongs to Achilles).

Achilles' grief is such that he cries out in agony, and his immortal mother, the goddess Thetis, hears him and comes to comfort him with an entourage of water nymphs. In his grief, Achilles vows revenge and declares, ''I have no desire myself to live and remain among men, unless I may kill Hector first with my own spear and make him pay the death-price.''

A Plan

As Achillies cries with his mom, the two armies are fighting over the body of Patroclus. The Trojans wish to steal it and defile it (Hector is especially excited to chop off his head and display it on a stake), while the Greeks hope to take it back to their camp to give it a proper burial. The treatment of dead bodies was very important in this culture, so this is an issue of much contention. Achilles wants to rush immediately into battle, kill Hector, and bring Patroclus's body to safety. Thetis wisely points out that he no longer has any armor or weapons since he gave them to Patroclus.

Good point, Achilles concedes, and he agrees to wait until Thetis is able to get him some new stuff. Meanwhile, Hera sends Iris to Achilles, asking him to rally the Greeks in battle. He mentions to her the thing about having no armor or weapons. No problem, she replies - just climb into this cloud and shout. Remarkably, this does the trick. Because of Achilles' shouts, the Trojans' ''hearts were filled with consternation,'' and the Greeks were able to rescue Patroclus's body while the Trojans dithered in fear.

Trojan Strategy

The Trojans are all really disappointed to see Achilles show back up in battle. He had been absent so long that they were hoping he wouldn't be back. Now they are all worried. Polydamas, one of Hector's good friends, recommends that they retreat inside the walls of their city that night. He argues this will make it harder for the Greeks to advance on them in the morning. He warns that if they sleep outside the walls, they are sure to be killed in great numbers. This is good advice, the narrator tells us.

Hector is indignant at the thought of retreat, however, declaring, ''I at least will never turn my back on battle.'' He speaks flowing words to rile up the rest of the Trojans, and Athena inserts herself as we read that she ''stole their sense away.'' So, with Hector's rousing words and Athena's divine meddling, the Trojans are persuaded to sleep outside their city walls, exposed to the coming onslaught of Greeks in the morning.

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