The Iliad Book 19 Summary

Instructor: Erin Burke

Erin has taught college level english courses and has a master's degree in english.

This lesson will summarize Book 19 of Homer's 'The Iliad.' In Book 19, Achilles mourns Patroclus's death and focuses all his rage toward the Trojans. He puts on his god-made armor and prepares to go into battle at last.

Achilles mourns the death of Patroclus.
Achilles Mourning Patroclus Death

A Visit From Mom

As the day breaks, Achilles' goddess mother, Thetis, rushes toward her son. He grieves over Patroclus's body at the Greek ships. Thetis delivers Achilles' newly-made armor, which is a gift from Hephaestus, the god of fire. As such, it is greater than regular earthly armor. The only mortal worthy of it is Achilles, nearly a god himself. Indeed, the other soldiers can't even look at the armor, turning away from its brilliant glare. Achilles looks at it unflinchingly, and his rage grows stronger.

He's also overcome at the thought of his dear friend Patroclus's body decaying. Pitying her son, Thetis tells him not to worry. She preserves Patroclus's body with ambrosia and nectar. Even strapping Greek heroes need their mommy from time to time!

Clearing the Air With Agamemnon

Remember that pesky feud between Achilles and Agamemnon way back in Book 1? When Agamemnon took Achilles' spoils of war, including the beautiful girl Briseis? Suddenly that doesn't seem so important to Achilles. His stubborn anger with Agamemnon has led the Greeks to the mess they are currently in. Enough, says Achilles. He's over it. In light of what has happened to his best friend, the petty feud over a girl and some treasure means nothing. All that matters is defeating the Trojans and avenging Patroclus's death.

The long-suffering Greeks are thrilled to hear that Achilles has finally come around. They've spent this entire time fighting without their strongest and best man. Agamemnon speaks next, and blames Zeus for clouding his judgement and driving him to take Achilles' treasures. Agamemnon steps up and promises to return everything he took, including Briseis. Achilles waves the offer off. To him, nothing matters now except revenge.

A Pause Before the Fight

Achilles is ready to charge, but Odysseus reins him in. He points out that a long and intense battle awaits, and the Greeks need to eat and drink first. Agamemnon agrees, but Achilles resists. He contends they should battle now and only feast when they win and deserve it. And he, for one, will definitely not be eating a thing.

Achilles seems nearly godlike in his single-minded determination and his lack of concern for earthly needs. Odysseus plays the age card and tells Achilles he knows a thing or two. Sending hungry men to battle is not a good idea, and he argues that the men will be stronger and fight better if they are fortified.

The Greeks disperse to eat and drink. In the meantime, the treasure from Agamemnon's tents has been brought back to Achilles, including Briseis. Briseis sees the body of Patroclus and weeps over it, remembering him as a kind man. Next it is Achilles' turn to lament Patroclus's death. In a heart-wrenching scene, Achilles addresses his dead friend. He remembers how many times Patroclus prepared food for them during the battle. He can't believe that that person now lies before him, lost forever. Achilles asserts that he is more grieved by the loss of Patroclus than he would be for his own father.

So great is Achilles' grief that even powerful Zeus pities him. Zeus commands the goddess Athena to use her powers to nourish Achilles since he refuses to eat voluntarily. Athena obeys.

The Moment We've Waited For

Finally, it is nearly time for the Greeks to go back into battle, with Achilles among them. The Greek fighters come swarming out of their ships like a blizzard. Achilles starts to armor up for battle. His rage is intense - his teeth grind, his eyes blaze. He puts on the god-made armor and helmet and draws his spear, which was his father's. This spear is so heavy that no other man has the strength to lift it.

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