Iliad: The Deeds and Death of Patroclus

Despite the further efforts of Phoenix, Ajax, and Odysseus (The Story of Old Phoenix), Achilles stands firm: he will not fight. After further battles (The Adventure of Diomed and UlyssesThe Wounding of the ChiefsThe Battle at the Wall, and The Battle at the Ships), Achilles' companion Patroclus is in despair and begs that Achilles allow him to go fight, even if Achilles still refuses to take part. The story you are about to read begins with that conversation of Patroclus with Achilles.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Iliad unit. Story source: The Iliad retold by Alfred J. Church (1907).

The Deeds and Death of Patroclus 

PATROCLUS stood by Achilles, weeping bitterly. And Achilles said to him: "What is the matter, Patroclus, that you weep? You are like a girl-child that runs along by her mother's side, and holds her gown and cries till she takes her up in her arms. Have you heard bad news from Phthia? Yet your father still lives, I know, and so does the old man Peleus. Or are you weeping for the Greeks because they perish for their folly, or, maybe, for the folly of their King?"

Then Patroclus answered: "Be not angry with me, great Achilles. The Greeks are in great trouble, for all the bravest of their chiefs are wounded, and yet you still keep your anger, and will not help them. They say that Peleus was your father and Thetis your mother. Yet I should say, so hard are you, that a rock was your father and your mother the sea. If you will not go forth to the battle because you have had some warning from the gods, then let me go, and let your people, the Myrmidons, go with me. And let me put on your armour; the Trojans will think that you have come back to the battle, and the Greeks will have a breathing space."

So Patroclus spoke, entreating Achilles, but he did not know that it was for his own death that he asked. And Achilles answered: "It is no warning that I heed, and that keeps me from the battle. Such things trouble me not. But these men were not ashamed to stand by when their King took away from me the prize which I had won with my own hands.

"But let the past be past. I said that I would not fight again till the Trojans should bring the fire near to my own ships. But now, for I see that the people are in great need, you may put on my armour, and lead my people to the fight. And, indeed, it is time to give help, for I see that the Trojans are gathered about the ships, and that the Greeks have scarce standing ground between their enemies and the sea. And I do not see anywhere either Diomed with his spear, nor King Agamemnon; only I hear the voice of Hector, as he calls his people to the battle. Go, therefore, Patroclus, and keep the fire from the ships.

"But when you have done this, come back and fight no more with the Trojans, for it is my business to conquer them, and you must not take my glory from me. And mind this also: when you feel the joy of battle in your heart, be not over-bold; go not near the wall of Troy, lest one of the gods meet you and harm you. For these gods love the Trojans, and especially the great archer Apollo with his deadly bow."

So these two talked together in the tent. But at the ships Ajax could hold out no longer. For the javelins came thick upon him and clattered on his helmet and his breastplate, and his shoulder was weary with the weight of his great shield. Heavily and hard did he breathe, and the great drops of sweat fell upon the ground. Then, at the last, Hector came near and struck at him with his sword. Him he did not hit, but he cut off the head of his spear. Great fear came on Ajax and he gave way, and the Trojans put torches to the ship's stern, and a great flame rose up into the air. When Achilles saw the flames, he struck his thigh with his hand and said: "Make haste, Patroclus, for I see the fire rising from the ships."

Then Patroclus put on the armour—breastplate and shield and helmet—and bound the sword on his shoulder, and took a great spear in his hand. But the great Pelian spear he did not take, for that no man could wield but Achilles only. Then the charioteer yoked the horses to the chariot. Two of the horses, Bayard and Piebald, were immortal, but the third was of a mortal breed.

And while he did this, Achilles called the Myrmidons to battle. Fifty ships he had brought to Troy, and fifty men in each. And when they were assembled he said: "Forget not, ye Myrmidons, what you said when first I kept you back from the battle, how angry you were, and how you blamed me, complaining that I kept you back against your will. Now you have the thing that you desired."

(800 words)

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