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Book 18

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 18 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 18 | Summary

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Summary

Achilles has a bad feeling that Patroclus is dead even before Menelaus's messenger arrives. Upon hearing the news, Achilles tears his hair in sorrow and curses "anger that drives the sanest men to flare in outrage." He will beat down his rage at Agamemnon and return to the fight. The only thing to live for is killing Hector. Achilles's mother, Thetis, laments that he must die soon after Hector. Thetis tells him not to go into battle until she returns. She will bring him new armor made by the god of fire in the morning.

Meanwhile, Hector and Trojan fighters hotly pursue Patroclus's body, preventing the Achaeans from escaping. Athena lends Achilles powers of the gods, and his bloodcurdling war cries from the Achaean wall sends panic through the Trojans. Patroclus's body is brought inside the camp, and the Achaeans mourn. Achilles vows Patroclus will not be buried until he kills Hector. Fearing the consequences of Achilles's return, Polydamas recommends the Trojans return to Troy that night rather than camping on the plain, but Hector replies in pride that he will never run from Achilles.

Thetis asks Hephaestus, the god of fire, to make her son new armor. Because she helped him in the past, he gladly makes a breastplate, helmet, greaves, and a spectacular shield decorated with images of the heavens and the earth, peace and war, and life and death.

Analysis

Patroclus's death changes everything for Achilles. He realizes his rage against Agamemnon has led to the death of his greatest friend. He had asked the gods for death for the Achaeans, but he never thought that someone close to him would be one who paid the price. Suddenly that anger doesn't seem so important anymore. He briefly wishes that all anger could be abolished from the world, but he is not capable of letting go of anger himself. Instead he redirects all his rage, supplemented by grief, at Hector, seeming completely indifferent to Agamemnon in future encounters.

The shield that Hephaestus creates for Achilles is an instrument of war but also a symbol of life. It is covered with scenes that show the scope of human existence. The physical world is represented in depictions of sky, earth, and sea. The two cities contrast wartime and peacetime. Conflict exists even in the peaceful city, but it is being resolved through civil channels rather than violence. The scene of the second city depicts the desperation and chaos of war. Significantly, it is the only place the gods appear on the shield. Images of a field being plowed, wheat being reaped, and grapes being harvested represent the cycle of the seasons. A herd of cattle attacked by two lions echoes many similes used to describe rampaging warriors, connecting war to everyday life. The final scene of young men and women dancing in a circle is an image of life and renewal—all things come around again. War looms large in the narrative, but the shield widens the focus to reveal the larger context of life for which the war is being fought.

When Hera makes the sun go down, it is the first nightfall since the beginning of Book 11. Patroclus's attack to drive the Trojans back and the aftermath of his death have happened in one long and bloody day. After so many significant battles, the evening provides a welcome break in action. Both armies gather for the night, with very different moods in each camp. The Achaean camp is somber, dominated by mourning for Patroclus's death. The Trojan camp, led by Hector, is optimistic—a tragic irony because fate decrees that the army will be defeated and Hector will die before returning to Troy.

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