The Iliad


Books 23–24

Summary Books 23–24

Summary: Book 23

At the Achaean camp, Achilles and the Myrmidons continue their mourning for Patroclus. Achilles finally begins to accept food, but he still refuses to wash until he has buried Patroclus. That night, his dead companion appears to him in a dream, begging Achilles to hold his funeral soon so that his soul can enter the land of the dead. The next day, after an elaborate ceremony in which he sacrifices the Achaeans’ twelve Trojan captives, Achilles prays for assistance from the winds and lights Patroclus’s funeral pyre.

The day after, following the burial of Patroclus’s bones, Achilles holds a series of competitions in Patroclus’s honor. Marvelous prizes are offered, and both the commanders and the soldiers compete. The events include boxing, wrestling, archery, and a chariot race, which Diomedes wins with some help from Athena. Afterward, Achilles considers stripping the prize from the second-place finisher, Antilochus, to give as consolation to the last-place finisher, whom Athena has robbed of victory so that Diomedes would win. But Antilochus becomes furious at the idea of having his prize taken from him. Menelaus then adds to the argument, declaring that Antilochus committed a foul during the race. After some heated words, the men reconcile with one another.

Summary: Book 24

Remember your own father, great godlike Achilles—
as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age!
See Important Quotations Explained

Achilles continues mourning Patroclus and abusing Hector’s body, dragging it around his dead companion’s tomb. Apollo, meanwhile, protects Hector’s corpse from damage and rot and staves off dogs and scavengers. Finally, on the twelfth day after Hector’s death, Apollo persuades Zeus that Achilles must let Hector’s body be ransomed. Zeus sends Thetis to bring the news to Achilles, while Iris goes to Priam to instruct him to initiate the ransom. Hecuba fears that Achilles will kill her husband, but Zeus reassures her by sending an eagle as a good omen.

Priam sets out with his driver, Idaeus, and a chariot full of treasure. Zeus sends Hermes, disguised as a benevolent Myrmidon soldier, to guide Priam through the Achaean camp. When the chariot arrives at Achilles’ tent, Hermes reveals himself and then leaves Priam alone with Achilles. Priam tearfully supplicates Achilles, begging for Hector’s body. He asks Achilles to think of his own father, Peleus, and the love between them. Achilles weeps for his father and for Patroclus. He accepts the ransom and agrees to give the corpse back.

That night, Priam sleeps in Achilles’ tent, but Hermes comes to him in the middle of the night and rouses him, warning him that he must not sleep among the enemy. Priam and Idaeus wake, place Hector in their chariot, and slip out of the camp unnoticed. All of the women in Troy, from Andromache to Helen, cry out in grief when they first see Hector’s body. For nine days the Trojans prepare Hector’s funeral pyre—Achilles has given them a reprieve from battle. The Trojans light Hector’s pyre on the tenth day.

Analysis: Books 23–24

The games at Patroclus’s funeral serve primarily as a buffer between two climactic events—the death of Hector and his burial. Accordingly, they serve little purpose in the story’s plot. Some of the competitions, however, especially the chariot race, provide some drama, but none of the events of Book 24 hinge on their outcome. In a scene that strongly echoes the incident that provokes Achilles’ initial rage at Agamemnon, Achilles—ironically—tries to strip the second-place charioteer, Antilochus, of his rightfully won prize. Just as Antilochus finishes second to Diomedes, so does Achilles rank second to Agamemnon; Antilochus, as Achilles does earlier, refuses to suffer the injustice and humiliation of having his achievements go unappreciated. Unlike the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, however, this matter is settled peacefully and has no lasting results for any of the characters. Ultimately, the games function for the reader much as they do for the characters—as a diversion from grief.