HOMER: The Iliad [Book XVII]

In Book XVII of Homer’s Iliad, the Greeks and Trojans fight over the corpse of Patroclus. The Trojans desire to carry the corpse back to Troy in order to ransom it for the corpse of Sarpedon, whom the Greeks recently killed. The Greeks, on the other hand, naturally desire to give Patroclus a proper burial.

The battle rages. One side and then the other gains the advantage, until finally the Greeks manage to drag the corpse back to their tents, but not before Hector steals Patroclus’ armor, which is actually Achilles’ armor. Hector’s theft will keep Achilles out of the war, at least for a little while longer.

Funereal rites were very important to the Ancient Greeks. If a person did not receive proper burial, then their souls would wander forever along the River Styx and never gain entrance into the Underworld, where they would find rest. Thus, the struggle for Patroclus’ body is a critical point in the epic and Homer accordingly dedicates an entire book to its narration. It is important to remember the value that the Ancient Greeks placed on funeral rites because at the end of the epic there is another important struggle over a corpse, a struggle that will ultimately bring the story to a close. Until then, stay tuned.

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