The Iliad

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The Iliad Book 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Achaean troops return to camp. Achilles organizes an elaborate funeral for Patroclus, and the Myrmidons grieve for their losses. Hector is left desecrated in the dust. The men eat a funeral feast, but Achilles will not wash the blood off of his body until Patroclus’ burial is finished.
Achilles’ grief for Patroclus is massive, and he provides multiple signs of his devotion and sense of loss. Achilles feels the loss of both a true comrade in arms and an incredibly close companion.
Themes
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Exhausted from combat and from grief, Achilles falls asleep. In the night, the ghost of Patroclus appears before Achilles, asking him to complete the funeral so that Patroclus may pass into the world of the dead. Patroclus asks for his bones to be buried together with Achilles’, so that they may never be separated. Achilles agrees, but when he tries to embrace Patroclus he cannot touch the ghost.
The appearance of Patroclus’ ghost demonstrates the unique bond between Patroclus and Achilles. The connection is so strong that Patroclus will return from the dead to speak to him. Their joint burial also suggests the strength of their remarkable bond. Patroclus's request also emphasizes the importance of a proper burial, as only it allows a soul's passage to the afterlife—this is what is being denied to Hector.
Themes
The Gods Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The next day, an Achaean force led by Meriones cuts timber for Patroclus’ funeral pyre. The men prepare for the funeral, putting on their arms and building Patroclus’ pyre. A massive sacrifice is made to the gods, including the twelve Trojans that Achilles took captive the previous day. At first Patroclus’ pyre does not burn, but Achilles prays to the gods of the west and north wind. Iris delivers Achilles’ prayer, and soon the pyre is set ablaze. The next day, Patroclus’ bones are collected and placed in an urn, and the Achaeans build him a burial mound. Achilles asks to be buried in the same tomb.
With the construction of Patroclus’ pyre, the mourning for Patroclus begins to draw to a close. Achilles’ sacrifice, including twelve Trojans, is an effort to show the magnitude of his sorrow. At moments, Achilles seems nearly like a god, as when Iris takes his message for him to the gods of the wind, who immediately comply with his wishes. Yet Achilles glory is connected not to immortality but a complete acceptance of his own death, demonstrated again by his request to be buried in the same tomb. Achilles knows he will dies not just soon, but during the war.
Themes
The Gods Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Achilles oversees a series of funeral games to celebrate the memory of Patroclus. The first event is the chariot race, and Achilles lays out rich prizes for the victors. Eumelus, Diomedes, Menelaus, Antilochus, and Meriones participate in the race. Apollo, still angry with Diomedes, knocks his whip out of his hand, but Athena gives it back to him. Eumelus is the most famous driver, but Athena breaks his yoke, allowing Diomedes to take the lead. The drivers approach the race’s turn.
The funeral games mark the end of the period of grieving for Patroclus. These events restore order to the Achaean army, which had been held in the suspension of Achilles’ sorrow. The games provide a peacetime-like lull after the strife of Patroclus’ death, though of course the gods still meddle.
Themes
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
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Antilochus, despite having slower horses, outmaneuvers Menelaus on the narrow track. As the racers turn back to the finish line, Idomeneus is the first to see Diomedes coming, though Little Ajax argues with him, claiming Eumelus is in first. Achilles calms the quarreling captains. Diomedes wins the race, followed by Antilochus and Menelaus. Achilles gives Eumelus a prize for his bad luck, and Menelaus makes Antilochus swear that he did commit a foul during the race. Antilochus says he will not swear, but Menelaus lets him have his prize anyway.
During the games, Achilles seems more like the king than Agamemnon. Achilles distributes prizes and mediates disputes, taking his place as the foremost of all the Achaeans.
Themes
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
The next event is the boxing match. Achilles lays out more prizes for the winners. The warrior Epeus is the victor, a specialist in boxing. The next event is wrestling, where Great Ajax’ strength is pitted against Odysseus knowledge of holds. Neither man is able to gain an advantage, so Achilles tells them to share the prizes.
Although the events of the games have their roots in warfare, they seem thoroughly domesticated. For instance, unlike the wrestling match between Odysseus and Ajax, there are no ties on the battlefield.
Themes
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
The next event is the footrace, where Odysseus, Little Ajax, and Antilochus are the participants. Ajax is winning, but Athena helps Odysseus by causing Ajax to slip and fall. Ajax finishes second and Antilochus last. In the next event, the men duel in full armor. Great Ajax and Diomedes are the two chosen champions. They fight, but are separated before one man can injure the other. Achilles declares Diomedes the winner.
Even in a sporting event such as footrace, the gods still intervene in the lives of mortals. The mock combat provides another peacetime mirror of war, and as with the wrestling match, one does not simply a declare a winner on the battlefield.
Themes
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
Next, the men compete to throw a lump of iron. The captain Polypoetes wins the competition. Next, the men compete in archery, attempting to shoot at a dove tied to a cord. Meriones wins the competition, and Teucer comes in second because he did not pray to Apollo. Last, the men begin the spear throwing competition. Achilles intercedes, telling Agamemnon that he is the greatest spearmen by far. Agamemnon is automatically awarded first prize.
The archery competition is another example of the importance of respecting the gods, no matter how small the task seems to be. In the case of the spear throwing contest, Achilles restores order to the games and the army, giving his due deference to Agamemnon.
Themes
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon