The Iliad

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Achilles Character Analysis

Achilles is the protagonist of the Iliad, and the story centers on his rage anger against Agamemnon. The son of the immortal sea-nymph Thetis and the Phthian king Peleus, Achilles is by far the greatest warrior of the Trojan War. Achilles’ mother Thetis tells him that he has a choice of two fates: either he can die a young and glorious death at Troy, or he can return home and live a long but unremarkable life. Achilles chooses the former. When Agamemnon takes the girl Briseis away from him, Achilles’ honor is wounded, and he refuses to fight. After the death of Patroclus, Achilles emerges from battle and slays many Trojans, including Hector.

Achilles Quotes in The Iliad

The The Iliad quotes below are all either spoken by Achilles or refer to Achilles. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Iliad published in 1998.
Book 1 Quotes

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighter’ souls, but made their body carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

Related Characters: Achilles, Zeus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 1.1-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, at the beginning of the poem, Homer establishes the task ahead of him. Homer will describe the history of the great hero Achilles, who fought alongside his peers the Achaeans (in modern terms, the Greeks) against the Trojans, commanded by the great king Agamemnon.There's a lot to notice here. First, consider that the first word of the poem is "rage." The Iliad is a poem about the savagery and brutality of war, which could be considered the "rage" between different kingdoms. But the poem is also about the rage of individuals: great men like Achilles, who were inspired by their emotions to fight in battle, often achieving great glory in the process. Homer, it's been suggested, both approves of rage and questions what its purpose is. Rage, he says, results in one thing: death (the "carrion feasts"). Yet Achilles's rage also ensures that he'll be remembered forever--as evidenced by the Iliad itself. Finally, it's crucial to notice that Homer is asking the goddess (sometimes translated as "muse") of poetry for inspiration. Homer doesn't see himself as a writer in the modern sense of the word: he's not inventing a story to entertain his audience. Instead, Homer sees himself as merely transcribing the poetry of the gods--an epic, larger-than-life story about the greatest Greeks of history.

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Someday, I swear, a yearning for Achilles will strike
Achaea’s sons and all your armies!

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker)
Page Number: 1.281-282
Explanation and Analysis:

Achilles quarrels with Agamemnon, the king of the Achaeans. As a result of their quarrel, Achilles refuses to fight alongside his Achaean peers: he wants to humiliate Agamemnon in the upcoming battles with the Trojan enemy. In this scene, Achilles warns Agamemnon and the other Achaean soldiers that they're going to miss him while he's gone. The next time they're fighting the Trojans, he insists, they'll wish he was there to protect them.

Achilles's speech demonstrates his arrogance and "swagger"--he knows he's valuable to the Achaean war effort, and he doesn't shy away from saying it. And Homer also emphasizes Achilles's rage--the quality he began his poem discussing. It's because of Achilles's anger with Agamemnon that he refuses to fight: he's so concerned with individual honor and respect that any slight from the king is enough to discourage him from battle (and his sulking arguably causes hundreds of lives to be lost--those he could have saved).

O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you?
All I bore was doom…
Doomed to a short life, you have so little time.

Related Characters: Thetis (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 1.492.494
Explanation and Analysis:

Achilles (still seething from his argument with Agamemnon) approaches his mother, the sea goddess Thetis. Achilles asks Thetis to punish Agamemnon for his disrespect, and Thetis agrees to ask Zeus for help in punishing Agamemnon. And yet Thetis is saddened by Achilles's request. She knows that a prophecy was made long ago: Achilles will either die young and gloriously, or he'll live a long, peaceful, and forgettable life. In short, then, Achilles is asking Thetis to arrange for her own son to fight in battle and die.

Thetis is understandably upset that she's doomed to lose her son. And yet she doesn't dispute Achilles's wishes: she knows that the prophecy is set in stone, and she even seems to believe that Achilles is better off dead and glorious than he is alive and unknown.

Book 2 Quotes

I and Achilles…Ah if the two of us
could ever think as one, Troy could delay
her day of death no longer, not one moment.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 2.448-452
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Agamemnon expresses some regret for having argued with Achilles. Agamemnon knows that Achilles is enormously valuable to the Achaean war effort: the Acheans really can't win the war with Troy without him. Agamemnon makes an interesting point: if he and Achilles could just work together, the Trojan War would be over in a day.

Agamemnon makes an interesting point about leadership. The implication of the passage is that Greece isn't big enough for two giant egos: Agamemnon and Achilles are bound to fight because they're both proud, powerful men. (The critic Franco Moretti has argued that the disagreement between Achilles and Agamemnon symbolizes the divisions between soldiers and governors in all complex societies.) And notice also that Agamemnon isn't speaking to a big group--he's just talking to Odysseus (another hero with a big ego). Agamemnon knows that he can't apologize to Achilles: he's too proud and noble for that. The best he can do is express his regret privately.

Book 9 Quotes

I say no wealth is worth my life...a man’s life breath cannot come back again.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker)
Page Number: 9.488-495
Explanation and Analysis:

Agamemnon has sent a team of negotiators to Achilles's tent, hoping to convince Achilles to fight with the Achaeans once again and help them defeat the Trojans for good. The team offers Achilles treasure and wealth in return for his military services, but Achilles ignores the treasure. He points out that treasure is useless if he's going to die in the Trojan War--which, according to prophecy, he will, if he chooses to fight.

In short, Achilles sums up the futility of war. Even though Achilles is speaking from the vantage point of immortality and heroism, his criticism of Agamemnon's negotiating techniques could apply to any soldier. No amount of money, Achilles argues, can convince a soldier to sacrifice his life for battle--life is the most valuable thing of all, and treasure is worthless when one is dead.

By modern standards, Achilles' words seem reasonable and even noble. By the standards of Homer's audience, however, they're very different. Achilles is expected to embrace danger and battle and die in the process, gaining immortality in the process--Homer's audiences expect Achilles to die gloriously, contrary to what Achilles says here. One of the major challenges of reading the Iliad is judging the poem according to a modern moral code while also recognizing that the poem's original audience would have interpreted it very differently.

Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies . . .
true, but the life that’s left me will be long,
the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker), Thetis
Page Number: 9.497-505
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Achilles lays out the two options before him: he can either fight in the Trojan War and die young, gaining glory and immortality in the process, or he can sail back home and live a long happy life, and be forgotten by history.

Achilles's choice illustrates the differences between honor and happiness. Happiness is personally satisfying, but short-lived: Achilles could enjoy the rest of his life, but his enjoyment wouldn't help anyone else (except perhaps the people back home). On the other hand, honor is selfless and immortal: Achilles would make a great sacrifice by dying on the battlefield, and he would be rewarded for his sacrifice by being remembered forever. Ultimately, the Iliad sees honor as the more important value (although many modern readers of the poem might argue that happiness and peace are better than war and immortality). Also note that the "immortality" Achilles discusses is partly realized by the Iliad itself: thanks to Homer, we're still talking about Achilles thousands of years later.

Book 21 Quotes

Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so?
Even Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you.
And look, you see how handsome and powerful I am?
The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life
a deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you,
death and the strong force of fate are waiting.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker), Hector, Patroclus
Page Number: 21.119-124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Achilles at his most nihilistic. Achilles has tracked down Lycaon, one of the sons of Priam (whom Achilles had previously captured and sold into slavery). Lycaon begs for his life, but Achilles mockingly tells Lycaon that better men than he have lost their lives during the war.

Achilles knows that he's going to die: therefore, he sees the world in the grimmest, most cynical terms. He has no mercy for his opponents in battle--they must die, the same as Achilles himself. Furthermore, Achilles is still furious over the death of Patroclus, and wants revenge at all costs. And yet Achilles' mockery of Lycaon simply isn't dignified: he's toying with his victim, savoring the act of murder instead of just getting it over with. For all his strength and skill, Achilles is often portrayed as an angry, cruel soldier.

Book 22 Quotes

Achilles went for him, fast, sure of his speed
as the wild mountain hawk, the quickest thing on wings,
launching smoothly, swooping down on a cringing dove
and the dove flits out from under, the hawk screaming...his fury
driving him down to beak and tear his kill—
so Achilles flew at him, breakneck on in fury
with Hector fleeing along the walls of Troy.

Related Characters: Achilles, Hector
Page Number: 22.165-172
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Achilles and Hector have prepared to fight one another. And yet when Hector catches sight of Achilles in all his glory, he loses his nerve and runs away. Achilles wins up chasing Hector around the walls of Troy, hoping to catch him and kill him.

Hector's behavior is at once cowardly by the standards of the ancient world, and entirely sympathetic. He knows for a fact that he can't beat Achilles, who is fated to kill him, and therefore has to accept the fact that he's going to die in battle. Hector has tried to come to terms with his own mortality, and yet he can't, at least not right now. He runs in this scene, but Hector then proves his valor by ultimately facing Achilles, and thus accepts his own glorious death.

Book 23 Quotes

But one thing more. A last request—grant it, please.
Never bury my bones apart from yours, Achilles,
let them lie together…
just as we grew up together in your house.

Related Characters: Patroclus (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 23.99-102
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the ghost of Patroclus, the beloved friend of Achilles, appears before Achilles and asks him to provide his body with a proper burial. Patroclus, who loved Achilles, wants to be buried next to his friend for the rest of history.

Patroclus's request to Achilles is important for a number of reasons. First, it emphasizes the importance of burial practices in the poem: such practices will become crucial to the plot in the final Book. Second, Patroclus's clear love and respect for Achilles raises questions about the exact nature of his "love." It's been suggested that Patroclus and Achilles enjoyed a same-sex love affair, of a kind that was relatively common in ancient Greece. Other scholars of Homer suggest that the relationship between the two men isn't meant to be sexual at all--it's just a deep, powerful friendship. In either case, the passage testifies to the importance of friendship and love to Achilles, even after he's passed into immortality.

Book 24 Quotes

Those words stirred within Achilles a deep desire
to grieve for his own father…And overpowered by memory
both men gave way to grief. Priam wept freely
for man-killing Hector, throbbing, crouching
before Achilles’ feet as Achilles wept himself,
now for his father, now for Patroclus once again,
and their sobbing rose and fell throughout the house.

Related Characters: Achilles, Hector, Patroclus, Priam
Page Number: 24.592-599
Explanation and Analysis:

In the climactic scene of the poem, Achilles confronts King Priam, the ruler of Troy and the father of Hector--the man Achilles has just killed on the battlefield. Priam only asks that Achilles surrender Hector's mangled body so that Priam can provide it with the proper funeral rites. Achilles initially refuses to turn over Hector's body: he's still so furious about the death of Patroclus that he wants to cause pain and grief to his enemies, the same grief that Achilles himself feels. And yet something happens in this scene: Priam touches Achilles' heart, reminding Achilles that Achilles' death will cause his own father (Peleus) tremendous sadness. Overcome with grief for his family and for himself, Achilles joins Priam in weeping. Immediately afterward, Achilles will agree to turn over Hector's body, recognizing that even his enemies deserve the chance to care for their dead family members.

At the end of the poem, the tone has moved from rage to compassion. Achilles is no longer hellbent on revenge for the death of Patroclus--rather, he seems to see the limits of revenge, cruelty, and brutality. By connecting with another man--ironically, the leader of his opponents on the battlefield--Achilles discovers the deep sadness and sympathy that unites him with all other human beings.

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Achilles Character Timeline in The Iliad

The timeline below shows where the character Achilles appears in The Iliad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
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...begins by asking the Muse to help him sing the story of the rage of Achilles. The outcome of Achilles’ anger is the will of Zeus, but it also killed a... (full context)
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...Apollo hears his prayer, and the Achaeans begin to die from disease. Ten days later Achilles calls a meeting of the troops. He declares that unless Apollo is appeased they will... (full context)
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...insists that he must be repaid for his loss, or else he will be dishonored. Achilles tells him that all the treasure has already been divided, and that they will repay... (full context)
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Agamemnon tells him that he doesn’t care if Achilles leaves, and that he will take Achilles’ own spoil of war, the girl Briseis, by... (full context)
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Agamemnon calls two heralds and tells them to go to Achilles’ camp and take away Briseis. When they arrive, Achilles welcomes them and lets the heralds... (full context)
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Weeping, Achilles prays to his mother Thetis, a sea goddess, to help him get revenge on Agamemnon.... (full context)
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...kneels before him, asking him to honor her son by granting the Trojans victory while Achilles remains out of the battle. Zeus is angered, and says that helping the Trojans would... (full context)
Book 2
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Zeus is kept up at night trying to devise the best plan to honor Achilles by harming the Achaeans. He decides to send a treacherous dream to Agamemnon. The dream,... (full context)
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...will show their true bravery. Agamemnon agrees and also expresses some regret for quarreling with Achilles, stating that the argument came from Zeus, and that Troy would fall “if the two... (full context)
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...sail for each army. Great Ajax is singled out as the best Achaean soldier after Achilles. (full context)
Book 4
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...the battle from above, and cries out for the Trojans to fight back, noting that Achilles is not fighting. However, Athena spurs the Achaean forces onward. Homer finishes the book with... (full context)
Book 8
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...many more Achaeans will die. He says that Hector will not quit the fight until Achilles returns from his absence. (full context)
Book 9
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At the meeting of captains, Nestor proposes that Agamemnon make peace with Achilles in order to bring him back into battle. Agamemnon agrees with Nestor, stating again that... (full context)
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Agamemnon’s emissaries reach Achilles’ camp, where they find Achilles playing the lyre and singing. Achilles’ friend Patroclus is at... (full context)
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Achilles tells the embassy that his mother Thetis told him of two possible fates: either Achilles... (full context)
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Phoenix attempts to convince Achilles not to sail home. He recalls Achilles’ father Peleus sending Achilles off to battle. Phoenix... (full context)
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Achilles moves to adjourn the meeting, but Great Ajax speaks his turn. He tells Achilles that... (full context)
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The embassy returns to Agamemnon’s camp. The embassy gives Agamemnon the news of Achilles’ refusal. The soldiers are dispirited by the news. Diomedes says that Achilles is very proud,... (full context)
Book 11
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Achilles watches the course of battle from the top of his ship. Noticing Machaon’s injury, he... (full context)
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...which Nestor was present, reminding Patroclus of his role as a guide and advisor to Achilles. He urges Patroclus to help convince Achilles to fight, but also offers an alternate plan.... (full context)
Book 13
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...clash of wills between Zeus and Poseidon. Zeus favors the Trojans in order to give Achilles more glory, but Poseidon is determined to secretly protect the Achaean forces. In battle, Idomeneus... (full context)
Book 15
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...to lead the Trojan charge. Zeus tells Hera that his plan is simply to bring Achilles back into battle, and that Troy will eventually fall to the Achaeans. (full context)
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Patroclus, still tending to Eurypylus, hears the Trojans storm the ramparts and rushes back to Achilles. The Trojans and Achaeans are locked in combat in front of the ships, and neither... (full context)
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...are killed on both sides, but Zeus plans a further Trojan breakthrough, hoping to lure Achilles back into battle. Ajax valiantly defends the line from the top of the ships, using... (full context)
Book 16
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Patroclus returns to Achilles’ camp, crying with pity for the Achaean losses. Achilles tells him he has no reason... (full context)
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Achilles initially refuses Patroclus’ request, but ultimately agrees, under the condition that Patroclus will return after... (full context)
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...succeed in setting the ship on fire. Patroclus sees the blaze and quickly puts on Achilles’ armor. Achilles’ chariot is yoked and Achilles stirs up the Myrmidons, his troops. Achilles prays... (full context)
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...wasps that a boy has angered. The Trojans, seeing the fresh reinforcements and thinking that Achilles has returned, immediately begin to fear for their lives. Patroclus begins killing Trojans, and the... (full context)
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...retreat. As the Trojans flee, Patroclus pursues them across the plain, violating his promise to Achilles to return after defending the ships. Patroclus kills more Trojans and nearly storms the gates... (full context)
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...young Trojan Euphorbus. Hector pounces on Patroclus and finishes the kill. He tells Patroclus that Achilles cannot save him now. With his last breath, Patroclus predicts to Hector that Achilles will... (full context)
Book 17
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...him to come help defend Patroclus’ body from desecration. Before they can arrive, Hector strips Achilles’ armor from Patroclus’ body. Menelaus and Ajax reach Patroclus and stand guard over the body.... (full context)
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Achilles does not yet know that Patroclus has died. Achilles’ horses, immortal gifts from the gods,... (full context)
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...fighting. Menelaus finds Antilochus and asks him to relay the news of Patroclus’ death to Achilles. Antilochus, struck dumb at the news, rushes back to the Achaean camp. Menelaus and Meriones... (full context)
Book 18
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Antilochus races to Achilles’ camp to tell him of Patroclus’ death. Achilles, sitting by ships, realizes the Achaeans are... (full context)
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Achilles lets loose a “terrible, wrenching cry” that his mother Thetis hears. All of the sea... (full context)
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Achilles mourns his previous inaction, and says that he is now ready to accept his fate... (full context)
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...and Hector keeps pressing them closely. Hector is close to seizing Patroclus’ body. Iris informs Achilles that he must help defend Patroclus. Achilles tells Iris that he has no arms for... (full context)
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...withdraw back into Troy’s walls. He states that the Achaeans were difficult enough foes without Achilles, and now he is sure to return. Zues causes Hector to reject Polydamas’ advice, calling... (full context)
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At night, the Achaeans mourn Patroclus. Achilles begins to prepare Patroclus’ body for burial, but says he will not bury him until... (full context)
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...him for nine years after his fall from Olympus. Thetis speaks of her marriage to Achilles’ mortal father, and explains the situation of Achilles’ lack of armor. Hephaestus gladly agrees to... (full context)
Book 19
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As dawn rises, Thetis arrives at Achilles’ camp with the new armor. Achilles is still in deep mourning, lying face down beside... (full context)
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Achilles calls an assembly of the Achaean troops. Agamemnon comes to the meeting, and Achilles says... (full context)
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Achilles urges the Achaean captains to call their troops to battle as quickly as possible. Odysseus... (full context)
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Agamemnon’s gifts are brought to Achilles’ camp. Briseis, returned to Achilles, sees that Patroclus has died and mourns over his body.... (full context)
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All the Achaeans prepare for battle. Achilles arms himself, donning the magnificent armor forged by Hephaestus. Achilles’ team of horses is readied.... (full context)
Book 20
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Battle breaks out, and Achilles searches everywhere for Hector. Apollo, taking the form of the Trojan Lycaon, urges Aeneas to... (full context)
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Hera, seeing Aeneas approach Achilles, asks Athena and Poseidon to help her give support to the Achaeans. Poseidon replies that... (full context)
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Aeneas and Achilles prepare to fight. Achilles taunts Aeneas, recalling the time when Aeneas ran from his fury.... (full context)
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Achilles and Hector both marshal their men forward. Apollo speaks to Hector, instructing him not to... (full context)
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Achilles curses Hector for escaping, and blames Apollo for intervening. Achilles continues on his murderous warpath,... (full context)
Book 21
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Achilles pursues the Trojans to the ford of the river Xanthus. The Trojan force has split... (full context)
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Achilles also comes across Priam’s son Lycaon, who Achilles had previously captured and sold into slavery.... (full context)
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Achilles continues killing Trojans in the river, clogging the stream with blood and bodies. Xanthus, the... (full context)
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Xanthus flings the corpses out of his river while saving the Trojans still living. Achilles begins to fight the river, and Xanthus creates enormous waves to drown Achilles. Achilles runs... (full context)
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Achilles laments that if the river kills him, he will never gain the honor he desires.... (full context)
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Priam watches the carnage wrought by Achilles from the gates of Troy. He orders that the Trojan gates be opened in order... (full context)
Book 22
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Achilles chases the man he believes to be Agenor, but soon Apollo reveals himself to Achilles,... (full context)
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Priam sees Achilles coming and implores Hector to come inside the city walls. He asks Hector to pity... (full context)
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Hector waits for Achilles as he runs across the plain. He is ashamed of his decision to allow the... (full context)
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On their fourth circuit of Troy, Achilles cannot gain on Hector, but Hector cannot escape from Achilles’ speed. Zeus takes up his... (full context)
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Hector speaks to Achilles, asking that they both swear to honor each other’s bodies, no matter the outcome of... (full context)
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Hector and Achilles charge one another, and Achilles drives his spear into the weak spot at Hector’s neck.... (full context)
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Achilles briefly considers further battle, but soon realizes he must return to the Achaean camp to... (full context)
Book 23
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The Achaean troops return to camp. Achilles organizes an elaborate funeral for Patroclus, and the Myrmidons grieve for their losses. Hector is... (full context)
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Exhausted from combat and from grief, Achilles falls asleep. In the night, the ghost of Patroclus appears before Achilles, asking him to... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Achilles oversees a series of funeral games to celebrate the memory of Patroclus. The first event... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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The next event is the boxing match. Achilles lays out more prizes for the winners. The warrior Epeus is the victor, a specialist... (full context)
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...two chosen champions. They fight, but are separated before one man can injure the other. Achilles declares Diomedes the winner. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Book 24
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The funeral games end, but Achilles continues to be consumed by grief for Patroclus. Flooded with memories, he repeatedly uses his... (full context)
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The gods feel sorry for Hector and desire to rescue his body from Achilles. They ask the god Hermes to steal the body away, but Hera, bent on shaming... (full context)
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...Apollo addresses the gods. He tells them that Hector always respected the gods, and that Achilles has no decency for desecrating his body. Hera counters him, stating that Achilles is the... (full context)
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Thetis flies to Achilles side to comfort him. Achilles is still choked with sorrow. Thetis asks Achilles how long... (full context)
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...must travel alone to the Achaean ships to ransom Hector’s body. He is told that Achilles will not kill him. Priam orders that a wagon be readied with magnificent treasure. Hecuba... (full context)
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...suspicious and asks whom the stranger is. Hermes replies that he is an aide of Achilles, and lets Priam know that Hector’s body is still intact. Hermes guides Priam’s wagon through... (full context)
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Priam enters Achilles’ lodge and kneels, kissing Achilles’ hand. He asks for mercy, and beseeches Achilles to remember... (full context)
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Achilles fetches Hector’s body for Priam and apologizes to Patroclus for letting the body go. Achilles... (full context)