Who is Patroclus in The Iliad?

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

The death of Patroclus in Homer's ''The Iliad'' sets off a chain reaction of further violence. But why? Who is Patroclus, and why is he so important to Achilles? Please read on for an explanation of just who Patroclus is and why he is so important!

Who is Patroclus?

Patroclus is Achilles's only close friend in the story of The Iliad. Achilles shares his deepest thoughts and concerns with Patroclus, and Patroclus gives Achilles the emotional support that Achilles needs to be a strong leader for the Greek forces.

Patroclus wants to help the Greeks turn the tide of the war against the Trojans, and Achilles reluctantly lets Patroclus go to war. Achilles asks Patroclus to hold back the Greeks, but not to pursue them if they retreat. However, when Patroclus goes to battle, he drives the Trojans back to Troy, where after the interference of a Greek god on the side of the Trojans, he is eventually killed by Hector.

An image of Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus.
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Why is Patroclus Important?

Though Achilles is arrogant and dismissive of other people, he is extremely close with Patroclus. The men share an intimate friendship, and Achilles is reluctant to let Patroclus go to battle because it is such a dangerous, life-risking mission.

Patroclus's death drives Achilles into an emotional rage that leads to a series of events and many deaths, the most iconic of which is Achilles's killing of Hector, after which Achilles drags Hector's corpse behind his chariot in revenge for Patroclus's death.

Patroclus exists in the story because he is a disposable character in the sense that his primary role as a character is to be a catalyst for the actions of other characters or as a symbol for an important idea.

Patroclus exists to illustrate the ways in which the Greek gods interfered with human affairs. Patroclus is killed because of the interference of a god on the side of the Trojans. In fact, the Greek gods have taken sides and are the real entities that decide who will win between the Greeks and the Trojans. Ultimately, the gods control the outcome of the war because of their power, and no matter what the humans do, ultimately their fates are out of their hands.

Patroclus also exists because his death spurs Achilles into action. Achilles is one of the major protagonists, or main characters, of the story. His close relationship with Patroclus means that Patroclus's death is enough of a driver to push Achilles into decisive action that pushes the plot forward and gives Achilles a reason to act.

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