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Summary of Iliad Book XVI

What happens in the sixteenth book of Homer's Iliad


Achilles With Patroclus

Achilles With Patroclus

Clipart.com Zeus and Hera

Zeus and Hera

Clipart.com Apollo


This is a crucial book and a turning point because in it Zeus sits idly by knowing his son Sarpedon will be killed, and Achilles' friend Patroclus is also killed. Zeus knows that the death of Patroclus will force Achilles to fight for the Greeks (Achaeans/Danaans/Argives). This will allow Zeus to fulfill his promise to Achilles' mother, Thetis, to give glory to Achilles.

While the fighting goes on around the ship of Protesilaus, Patroclus goes crying to Achilles. He says he is crying for the wounded Greeks, including Diomedes, Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Eurypylus. He prays that he may never be so cruel as Achilles. He asks that Achilles at least let him go to fight with the Myrmidons wearing Achilles' armor so that the Trojans might mistake him for Achilles and strike fear into the Trojans and give the Greeks a respite.

Achilles again explains his grudge against Agamemnon and his determination to keep his promise to rejoin the battle when it reached his own (50) ships, but now that the fight is so near, he will let Patroclus wear his armor to scare the Trojans and win honor for Achilles, and get Briseis and other gifts for Achilles. He asks Patroclus to drive the Trojans from the ships but no more or he will rob Achilles of his glory and will risk having one of the gods attack Patroclus.

Ajax is holding his ground despite incredible odds, but it is finally too much for him. Hector comes upon Ajax and severs the point of his spear, thereby letting Ajax know the gods are with Hector, and it is time for him to retreat. This gives the Trojans the opportunity they need to throw fire at the ship.

Achilles sees the burning and tells Patroclus to put on his armor while he gathers the Myrmidons.

Achilles tells the men that now is the chance to let loose their pent-up rage against the Trojans. Leading them are Patroclus and Automedon. Achilles then uses a special cup to make an offering to Zeus. He asks Zeus to grant victory to Patroclus and let him return unharmed with his comrades. Zeus grants the part that makes Patroclus succeed in his mission of driving back the Trojans, but not the rest.

Patroclus exhorts his followers to fight well to bring glory to Achilles, so that Agamemnon will learn the error of not respecting the bravest of the Greeks.

The Trojans assume that Achilles is leading the men and is now reconciled with Agamemnon, and since Achilles is fighting again, they are afraid. Patroclus kills the leader of the Paeonian (Trojan ally) horsemen, Pyraechmes, causing his followers to panic. He drives them from the ship and puts out the fire. While the Trojans fall back, the Greeks pour out of the ships in pursuit. It is not a rout, since the Trojans continue to fight. Patroclus, Menelaus, Thrasymedes and Antilochus, and Ajax son of Oileus, and other chieftains kill Trojans.

Ajax continues to try to assault Hector with a spear, which Hector dodges with his ox-hide shield. Then the Trojans fly and Patroclus pursues them. He cuts off the escape route of battalions near him, and drives them back to the ships where he kills many.

Sarpedon rebukes his Lycian troops into fighting the Greeks. Patroclus and Sarpedon rush at each other. Zeus looks on and says he would like to rescue Sarpedon. Hera says Sarpedon is fated to be killed by Patroclus and if Zeus steps in, the other gods will do likewise to save their favorites. Hera suggests instead that Zeus sweep him (once he is dead) from the field to Lycia for proper burial.

Patroclus kills Sarpedon's squire; Sarpedon aims at Patroclus, but his spear kills one of the Greek's horses. Two other horses of the chariot go wild until they are entangled in the reins, so Automedon cuts the dead horse away, so the chariot is once again fit for battle. Sarpedon throws another spear that misses Patroclus and Patroclus throws a return missile which kills Sarpedon. The Myrmidons gather Sarpedon's horses.

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