The Iliad
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Book 21-22

Summary: Book 21

Achilles is able to rout the Trojan forces, splitting their ranks. He pushes half of them into a river known as Xanthus to the gods. The mortals call it Scamander. Achilles is merciless in his slaughter of a son of Priam, Lycaon, on the riverbank. Asteropaeus, the Trojan, is granted new strength by the god of the river, and he challenges Achilles valiantly. However, Achilles cuts him down, too. Achilles is vengeful, and he does not intend to spare any Trojans as they have cut down Patroclus. The river’s channels become clogged as a result of all the corpses that he consigns to the river. Achilles agrees to cease putting bodies in the water when the river god protests. He never promises to cease killing them, though. The Trojans have the river’s sympathy, and that body of water asks for Apollo’s help. However, when the river’s plea is heard by Achilles, he attacks it. The river is never able to get the upper hand, and it pulls Achilles to a floodplain downstream. He almost kills Achilles, but is prevented from doing so by the intervention of the gods. Hera has sent Hephaestus, and he sets fire to the plain, causing the river to boil until it gives up. There is now a great deal of confusion among the gods as they observe and quarrel about human warfare. Aphrodite and Ares are defeated by Athena. Apollo is challenged by Poseidon, but he refuses to engage in fighting over mortals. Artemis, his sister, attempts to push him into fighting by taunting him. Hera hears her doing this, and she pounces on her. In the meantime, Priam observes the human violence and death on the battlefield. He opens Troy’s fates for his troops, who are fleeing. Achilles chases them and almost takes Troy, but Agenor, the Trojan prince, challenges him to a fight. Achilles’ combat with Agenor and with Apollo (who disguises himself as Agenor after Agenor is taken to safety) gives the Trojans enough time to get back to Troy.

Summary: Book 22

Hector is now the sole Trojan outside of Troy. Priam is looking over the battlefield from the Trojan ramparts, and he urges Hector to come inside. Hector, however, now feels that it would be shameful to go into retreat, as he gave the foolish order the night before for the Trojans to camp outside the city’s gates. Achilles finally comes back from his pursuit of Apollo (who is disguised as Agenor). Hector then confronts him. Initially, the great Trojan thinks about attempting to negotiate with Achilles. However, he quickly realizes that his cause is hopeless and he flees. He runs the circumference of the city three times, with Achilles chasing him the whole time. . Zeus thinks about saving Hector, but Athena makes him see that it is his time to die. Zeus puts Achilles’ and Hector’s fates on a golden scale. Hector’s fate sinks downward. As Hector makes his fourth circle around the walls of the city, Athena makes her appearance before him. She is disguised as Deiphobus, his ally. She convinces him that they can take Achilles if they work together. Hector stands still and turns around to see his opponent. He and Achilles throw their spears at one another, but neither is successful in hitting his opponent. Hector asks Deiphobus to give him a lance, but he sees that his friend has disappeared. He quickly realizes that the gods have deceived him. Desperate to achieve glory, he charges towards Achilles. However, he is still in Achilles’ old armor, that was taken from the dead body of Patroclus. Achilles is acutely aware of the weak points of the armor. He shows his skill in making a perfect thrust of his spear, and it goes through Hector’s throat. Hector is near death, and he asks Achilles to bring his body to the Trojans to be buried. However, Achilles decides to allow the scavenger birds and dogs maul the Trojan. Hector’s corpse is surrounded by the other Achaeans and stabbed. Achilles drags the body through the dirt by attaching it to his chariot. In the meantime, King Priam and Queen Hecuba above the city’s walls see the destruction of their son’s body and are overcome with grief. Andromache hears their cries from her chamber and she runs to see what is wrong. When she witnesses the corpse of her husband being treated in this way, she collapses in grief.


In Books 21 and 22, the gods’ feuds continue to have parallels to the disputes of the mortals. However, as the human fighting becomes ever more severe, it seems that the gods’ conflicts become more superficial and meaningless. The gods do not pretend to try to have an impact on the issues underlying the human fights. Two of the gods declare that they will not fight over the humans. One of these who swears this, however, does do exactly that. It appears that the gods’ disputes are not about the mortals but are rather manifestations of animosities that seeing the human fighting has awakened in them. While the disputes among the gods may seem not properly explained within the epic’s plot, they create a greater sense of variety to the work’s pacing and rhythm. They also give the work the feel of taking place on a cosmic scale and stage. However, one of the most serious and deadly encounters in the poem soon overtakes these rather lighthearted episodes. This encounter is the duel between Achilles and Hector. Homer employs devices such as irony and prophecy to create an imposing sense of pathos. The speech Priam makes to compare a hero’s glorious death with that of a humiliated old man in a destroyed city is interpreted as especially poignant if we are aware that Priam will soon experience the kind of death he describes, in Troy’s ruins. As Andromache expresses sadness about the misery that Astyanax will be forced to experience in the absence of a father, a pervasive sense of irony strengthens her words’ tragic effect. Astyanax’s life without a father will be but brief, as his life ends soon after Troy falls. This part of the poem shows great skill in the control of the plot. There is interweaving of the events in complex patterns. For example, the weighing of Achilles’ and Hector’s fates reminds us of but inverts Book 8’s weighing of the fates, when the Trojans’ fate rises above the Achaeans. Hector is forced to fight to his death in these episodes for the purpose of regaining the honor that he has lost. He feels shame after he gives the reckless order to his troops to camp outside the walls of the city, as the men have to flee as a result. Additionally, the glorious moment that Hector earlier experienced, when he is able to take Achilles’ armor from the body of Patroclus, causes the moment of his undoing to come more quickly. This is because Achilles will know where the armor has vulnerabilities. These interconnections between events appears to indicate that the universe is balanced or cyclical. When there is one swing of the pendulum, another comes as a result. The actions an individual takes can comes back to haunt him. Achilles and Hector’s final duel is a duel not only between heroes but of heroic values. Achilles is shown to be inferior in his integrity even though he has better endurance and strength. The way he abuses Hector’s body shows his nature. This is made even worse by how he lets his army’s rank and file take part in the desecration. We have witnessed that Achilles takes part in indignities like this on a routine basis, and he does this out of uncontrolled rage. By contrast, whatever flaws Hector may have displayed in earlier books are redeemed by his behavior here. The way he refuses to go back to Troy’s walls and their safety after seeing the deaths that have been caused by his foolhardy orders show his maturity and eagerness to face the consequences of his actions. He chooses the honor of battle over desperately trying to negotiate shows his profound integrity and personal dignity. When he tries to convince Achilles to enter an agreement that the winner should be respectful to the loser’s corpse demonstrates his character. Hector’s final attempt at glory with the charge of Achilles even after he finds that he has been abandoned by the gods and that he will soon die makes him seem even more courageous and heroic. While it’s true that Hector dies in this scene, his values (including respect, self-restraint, and integrity) can be said to survive him. In fact, Achilles later comes to understand these values after recognizing that he has been self-centered and brutal.

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