HOMER: The Iliad [Book XVI]

In Book XVI of Homer’s Iliad, Achilles and his friend Patroclus watch as the Trojans draw near to the Greek ships. Patroclus begs Achilles to allow him to don Achilles’ armor and lead the Myrmidons, which are Achilles’ troops, into battle against the Trojans in order to save the Greek ships. Achilles grants his friend’s request. He orders Patroclus to drive the Trojans from the ships, but forbids him from pursuing the Trojans to the city walls, lest Apollo, the Trojan-loving god, kill him. Achilles pours a libation to the gods for the success of Patroclus’ expedition. Then Patroclus dons Achilles’ armor and leads the Myrmidons into battle.

Upon the appearance of Patroclus in Achilles’ armor, the Trojans are cast into a state of confusion and fear. Patroclus kills many Trojans and sends them fleeing back to their walls. Neglecting Achilles’ orders, Patroclus pursues the Trojans. As Patroclus chases the Trojans, the Trojan-loving god Apollo smites him in the back. Disoriented by the blow, Patroclus is unable to defend himself. The Trojan Euhphorbus strikes him in the back with a spear and then Hector delivers the fatal blow with a spear to his stomach. With his dying breath, Patroclus predicts that Achilles will avenge his death on Hector. “Hector, vaunt as you will, you too shall live but for a little season; death and the day of your doom are close upon you, and they will lay you low by the hand of Achilles.”

Patroclus’ fatal flaws are his pride and his lust for glory. Although Achilles and other Greek soldiers warn him that it is not his fate to conquer Troy, he defies their predictions and strives for the glory that would accompany the triumph over the Trojans. Patroclus’ attitude is one that is shared by many of the characters in the epic, characters who are held up by Homer as admirable heroes worthy of emulation. The reason why Patroclus’ pride and lust for glory are fatal flaws in himself, but not in other characters, is because he loses sight of the fact that he is human. “For all your bravery, you will not be able to make an end of every one who comes against you. You are only a mortal like myself, and if I were to hit you in the middle of your shield with my spear, however strong and self-confident you may be, I should soon vanquish you, and you would yield your life to Hades.”

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