The Iliad Book 23 Summary

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

This lesson provides an overview of book 23 of Homer's 'The Iliad'. In this chapter, we see Achilles mourn and honor Patroclus by overseeing his friend's funeral and proceeding funeral games.

Farewell to Patroclus

Upon return to the Achaean camp, Achilles asks the Myrmidons to ride their chariots past Patroclus so they can all mourn him 'as the dead should be mourned'. They all ride around the corpse three times, while Achilles cries out that he has kept his vow to slay Trojans and drag Hector's corpse to the Achaean camp. Later that evening, the men feast with Agamemnon; however, Achilles refuses to wash the blood from his body until his friend's burial is complete.

Funeral of Patroclus
Funeral of Patroclus

A Special Dream

When Achilles is finally able to fall asleep, Patroclus visits him in a dream. He is being denied entrance past Hades' gates and suggests Achilles is neglecting him now that he is dead. He asks that Achilles make quick of his funeral, so he may pass on, but also that he may have his ashes buried close to Achilles' so they can be together again when Achilles dies. Upon awaking from this dream, Achilles and his men gather the wood, ropes, and offerings needed for Partoclus' funeral pyre. Achilles kills twelve, noble Trojan sons, sacrifices sheep, cattle, and horses, and then prays to the gods to give him wind so the pyre will burn. All night his slain friend burns, until nothing but ashes are left to be saved in a golden urn.

The Chariot Race

Once the funeral is complete, the funeral games are arranged to celebrate their great fallen warrior. Achilles prepares a chariot race with rich prizes for the victors. Even though this is not a battle, the gods and goddesses still interfere to make sure their preferred mortal wins. The participants, Eumelus, Diomedes, Menelaus, Antilochus, and Meriones, engage in drama from the get-go.

Right away, we see smack talk and divine intervention, or intervention from the gods, come into play! The god Apollo tries to knock Diomedes out of the race by loosening the whip from his hand, but the goddess Athena sees this and quickly intervenes! Not only does she give the whip back to Diomedes, she also strengthens his team and breaks the yoke on Eumelus' chariot.

Meanwhile, Antilochus ignores Menelaus' warnings that he is coming too close on a narrow stretch, and this pushes Menelaus out of the way, allowing Antilochus to place second behind Diomedes. Meriones comes in fourth, just behind Menelaus; Eumelus comes in last of all. Since he should have come in second place, and Achilles feels somewhat sorry for him, Eumelus is given a prize anyways.

Chariot Racing
Chariot Racing

Boxing and Wrestling

To continue the funeral games, Achilles sets out more prizes and first arranges for a boxing match. The first to step forward is Epeius, who claims he can beat any man who dares to challenge him. One man, Euryalus, rises to the challenge. He is known for defeating every Cadmeian opponent at Oedipus' funeral games. During these games, though, he comes out the loser.

For the wrestling match, warriors Ajax the Great and Odysseus step forward. After going after one another's strengths, the men bring about awe from all who watch their match. When neither is able to come out on top, Achilles calls a draw and awards both men prizes.

Quick, Run!

For the foot race we have Ajax the Lesser, Odysseus, and Antilochus. In a moment of comedy, we see Athena step in to answer Odysseus' prayers for help as he is coming in second to Ajax. She swiftly swoops in to give him strength, while also causing Ajax to slip and fall in bull poo that was left over from Achilles' sacrifice to the gods. While Ajax comes in second, with a mound of dung on his face, Antilochus honors the older generation and notes no one would have been able to beat Odysseus, unless, perhaps, Achilles. Grateful for the flattery, Achilles awards extra gold to Antilochus.

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