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Book 16

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 16 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 16 | Summary

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Summary

Patroclus tells Achilles how badly the battle is going and scolds him for his rage. If he will not relent, Achilles should at least let Patroclus take his armor and troops into battle. Tragically, Patroclus is begging for his own death. Achilles agrees but tells Patroclus he should only drive the Trojans back from the ships, not follow them to Troy. As the Trojans finally set fire to a ship, Patroclus dons Achilles's armor and Achilles musters his Myrmidons.

The fresh fighters turn the tide of battle, and Hector and the Trojans break and run. In Achilles's chariot Patroclus sweeps through the retreating Trojan army. Sarpedon turns to face Patroclus, and they get out of their chariots to duel. Zeus wants to save his son from his fate to be killed by Patroclus, but Hera argues every god would then want to follow his example. Zeus agrees but weeps as Sarpedon dies. Hector and other Trojans return to fight a fierce battle to protect his body.

However, Zeus decides to glorify Patroclus before he dies by driving Hector back to Troy, and he makes Hector retreat. The Achaeans get Sarpedon's armor, but Zeus sends Apollo to take his body home for burial. Patroclus chases the Trojan army to the walls of Troy, but Apollo holds him off. After he kills Hector's chariot driver and many others, Apollo strikes him in the back, knocking his armor and weapons away. A young Trojan spears him in the back, and Hector finishes him off with a spear to the gut. As he dies, Patroclus warns Hector of his fate that Achilles will bring him down.

Analysis

As the story finally returns to Achilles in Book 16, his rage may be waning a bit, but his injured pride is still as fresh as ever. He continues to act without humanity, showing no concern for the fate of the Achaean army—in stark contrast to Patroclus, who is in tears over their plight. Patroclus accuses him of being born not of gods and mortals but of the ocean and rocks, forces with no feelings. Homer also creates a sense of tragic irony related to Patroclus's fate. Achilles prays for his success and safe return, but the poet reminds the audience the second part of that prayer will not be answered.

Battles over fallen comrades become more significant in Book 16. The desire to protect Sarpedon's body motivates Hector to return to battle where Hector and Patroclus face off in a literal tug-of-war over the body of Hector's driver. Patroclus eventually wins these face-offs and gains the glory of stripping the bodies of armor. Zeus wants him to achieve glory in battle before he dies.

As Patroclus rises in glory, Hector seems to diminish. He retreats without being wounded twice in this section. Although Homer says Zeus forces the second retreat to allow Patroclus his glory, Hector's earlier retreat from the ships, abandoning his fleeing army, seems out of character with his earlier conduct. (Even a few short lines earlier he was guarding the retreat.) Patroclus's death is strangely unheroic—for both him and Hector. Apollo knocks his armor and weapons away, allowing him to be stabbed in the back by one of the youngest Trojans. As Patroclus points out, Hector only delivers the coup de grâce—the gods did most of the work.

Zeus's decision not to save Sarpedon illuminates the relationship between the gods and fate. Apparently, fate can be changed because Zeus considers making an exception for Sarpedon. However, even the king of the gods cannot block an established fate without consequences. If he saves his son, the gods will fail to respect him and think they can do the same, leading to all sorts of problems.

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