The funeral games end, but Achilles continues to be consumed by grief for Patroclus. Flooded with memories, he repeatedly uses his chariot to drag Hector’s body around Patroclus’ tomb. Apollo, pitying Hector, protects his body from harm and decay.
Although Patroclus has been buried, Achilles is consumed by Patroclus’ death. Achilles knows that his time short, and that Patroclus’ death is one of the last meaningful events in his life.
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 the Trojans, will not allow it because of her hate of all Trojans resulting from the Judgment of Paris, when Paris favored Aphrodite's beauty over that of Athena and Hera, eventually leading to the conflict with the Achaeans.
In the last book of the poem, Homer mentions for the first time the incident that began the war. Homer never describes the scene of the Judgment, but indicates that Paris’ choice led to Hera’s anger at this precise moment.
Twelve days after Hector’s death, 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 son of a god, and that he and Hector cannot be equals. Zeus agrees with Hera, but also indicates that the gods loved Hector dearly. He sends Iris to call Thetis to Olympus. When she arrives, Zeus instructs her to go to Achilles and to tell him to give Hector’s body back to Priam. Priam will give Achilles a ransom as payment.
Apollo's plea to the gods is one of decency: Hector always respected the gods, so the gods should ensure his body is respected in turn. Hera's response, though, points to a different way of looking at things. as the son of a goddess, Achilles is simply different than Hector, and is judged by a different set of standards. Zeus agrees with both sides, essentially, and be sending a messenger leaves the choice up to Achilles.
Thetis flies to Achilles side to comfort him. Achilles is still choked with sorrow. Thetis asks Achilles how long he will grieve, and then tells him of Zeus’ decree to release Hector’s body. Achilles agrees, saying that he will not resist the will of the gods.
Achilles is filled with anguish, but he overcomes that grief to show his respect to the gods.
Zeus sends Iris to Troy, letting Priam know that he 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 attempts to convince him that the journey is foolhardy, but Priam is determined to take back Hector’s body. Hecuba asks Priam to pray for a sign from Zeus first, and Priam agrees. Zeus sends an eagle to reassure them. Priam sets out in his wagon, accompanied by his old driver.
The gods decide to send Priam alone to ransom the body of Hector, creating a situation where the wisest of Trojans will meet with the strongest of the Achaeans, where the father of the slain will meet with the vengeful slayer. Priam is depicted as very vulnerable, and his vulnerability is emblematic of Troy’s weakness after the death of Hector.
Zeus tells Hermes to go to Troy and ensure Priam’s safe travel. Hermes appears to Priam in the form of a stranger, saying that Priam reminds him of his father. He offers to help Priam. Priam grows 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 Achilles’ gate and puts the sentries to sleep. He then reveals to Priam that he is a god sent to help him.
Hermes is the god who acts as a guide to heroes, and his presence is necessary in order to sneak Priam into Achilles’ camp undetected. Without Hermes’ help, Priam would surely be caught and killed by the Achaean forces. Hermes comment about Priam reminding him of his father emphasizes again that Priam is a father, with a father's great love for his dead son.
Priam enters Achilles’ lodge and kneels, kissing Achilles’ hand. He asks for mercy, and beseeches Achilles to remember his own father. Achilles is moved by Priam’s words and courage. The two men weep for their losses in the war. Achilles tells Priam that his father Peleus will never see him again. Achilles asks Priam to sit but Priam refuses, asking to ransom the body immediately. Achilles asks Priam not to anger him, as he might kill him if his temper flares.
As Priam has been led secretly into Achilles’ camp, he can speak with Achilles alone without the interference of politics. When Achilles sees his father in Priam, they both realize that they have borne losses. It is the first moment of compassion that Achilles has shown for another living person since the death of Patroclus. Achilles has accepted his own death, but in Priam's grief for Hector he can see how his own death will affect his father, and it moves him in a way he hadn't been since making his choice to act.
Achilles fetches Hector’s body for Priam and apologizes to Patroclus for letting the body go. Achilles asks Priam to dine with him, reminding him that even the sorrowful must eat. They eat together, looking each other over, and Priam asks to be put to bed. Achilles tells Priam to sleep outside so that he will not be discovered. Finally, Priam asks for eleven days of truce to mourn and bury Hector, to which Achilles agrees.
The meal between Achilles and Priam is a moment of silent unity as the two men share in each other’s grief. However, the moment is only temporary, and both men know that they will soon return to the state of war. The truce for Hector’s burial mirrors the burial of Patroclus.
Hermes wakes Priam from his sleep, advising him to leave the Achaean camp before he is discovered and killed. Priam, terrified, drives his wagon out of the camp and is not seen. Priam returns to Troy and the Trojans see Hector’s body borne on Priam’s wagon. The city is plunged into grief. Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen all cry out in grief for the loss of Hector, praising him for his bravery and kindness. The eleven days of lamentation pass, and Hector is finally buried by the Trojans.
Although the Iliad begins by outlining its subject as the wrath of Achilles, the poem ends with the burial of Hector. Hector is a different kind of hero than Achilles, less godlike but more connected to the people around him. All the people of Troy grieve his loss, and the three Trojan women testify to his humane qualities.