The Iliad
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Book 23-24

Summary: Book 23

Achilles and the Myrmidons continue to mourn for the death of Patroclus at the Achaean camp. Achilles starts to eat gain, but he continues to refuse to wash until Patroclus has been buried. His dead friend comes to him in a dream that night. He asks Achilles to carry out his funeral quickly so that his soul is able to go to the land of the dead. The following day, Achilles holds a ceremony in which the twelve Trojan captives are sacrificed. He then asks for the assistance of the wind and lights the funeral pyre for Patroclus. Patroclus’s bones are buried the next day. After that, Achilles calls for a series of competitions to honor Patroclus. There are wonderful prizes offered, and both the commanders and soldiers take part. There is archery, wrestling, boxing, and a chariot race. Diomedes wins the chariot race with assistance from Athena. After this, Achilles thinks about taking the prize from the man who wins second place, Antilochus, to provide as consolation to the man who finishes last. This is because Athena has robbed him of his victory in order to benefit Diomedes. However, Antilochus becomes very angry at the prospect of his prize being stripped from him. Menelaus enters the argument,  saying that Antilochus behaved badly in the race. The men are able to reconcile with each other after a bit of quarrelling.

Summary: Book 24

Achilles continues in his mourning of Patroclus and abuse of the body of Hector. He drags Hector’s body around the tomb of his dead companion. Meanwhile, Apollo protects Hector’s corpse from rot and damage. He also wards off scavengers and dogs. Twelve days after the death of Hector, Apollo encourages Zeus to think that Achilles is obliged to allow the ransoming of Hector’s body. Thetis is sent by Zeus to deliver the news to Achilles, and Iris sets off to Prim to tell him to start the ransom. Hecuba anticipates that her husband will be cut down by Achilles, but Zeus sends an eagle as a favorable omen. Priam begins his journey with Idaeus, his driver, and a treasure-filled carriage. Hermes is disguised as a kind Myrmidon soldier. Zeus sends her to give Priam guidance through the camp of the Achaeans. After the chariot finds its way to Achilles’ tent, Hermes is revealed and he soon leave Priam and Achilles alone together. Priam is tearful and asks Achilles for Hector’s body. He asks that Achilles remember his own father, Peleus, as well as the love that they shared. Achilles weeps in memory of his father, as well as for Patroclus. He takes the ransom and gives his word that the body will be returned. Priam spends that night in Achilles’ tent. Hermes arrives in the middle of the night and wakes him up, giving him warning that he should not sleep with the enemy. Idaeus and Priam wake, and they put Hector in their chariot. They go unnoticed as they depart from the camp. All of Troy’s women, including Helen and Andromache, show their grief when they see Hector’s corpse. The Trojans take nine days to prepare for Hector’s funeral pyre. They have been given a break from the battle by Achilles. On the tenth day, the funeral pyre is lit.


The games held at the funeral of Patroclus have the primary purpose of being a buffer between two major events: Hector’s death and burial. Consequently, they have little purpose in the plot of the story. There is some drama created, however, by some of the competitions. This is especially the case with the chariot race. However, the outcome of the competitions have no impact on the events of Book 24. Achilles attempts to take the prize from Antilochus, the second-place charioteer, even though it was rightfully earned. This echoes the event that caused Achilles’ to feel his initial anger at Agamemnon. Antilochus comes second-place to Diomedes, and Achilles comes after Agamemnon. Like Achilles does earlier in the work, Antilochus refuses to tolerate the humiliation and injustice of his achievement being unacknowledged. However, in contrast to Achilles and Agamemnon’s conflict, this dispute has a peaceful resolution. The purpose the games for the reader is very much that it serves for the characters. It helps to divert attention from grief.

The ending of The Iliad ends in a similar way to how it began. Similarly to how Chryses behaves in Book 1, Priam now traverses enemy lines to ask the mercy of the man who possesses his child. However, at this time the prayer’s of the father are heard and granted. A temporary bond between Priam and Achilles is created by Priam’s decision to emtnion Peleus, Achilles’ father. Achilles is aware that his fate is never to go back to Phthia. This means that Peleus will one day play the role of the grieving father that Achilles has inflicted on Priam. Achilles’ rage is finally alleviated by the understanding that his own father will suffer what Priam is experiencing. This helps to create a sense of closure for the poem. Achilles and Priam’s bond is only transitory, though. There has been no change in alliances. Agamemnon would certainly capture Priam as a prisoner if he discovered him within the Achaean camp. Hermes reminds Priam that he and Achilles are still enemies. Patroclus is still the man to whom Achilles has his first loyalty. He must remind himself of his fact after he gives up the body of the man who killed Patroclus. Troy’s fate is still sealed. It is a city destined to be destroyed by the Achaeans. We are reminded of this by Andromache when she catches a glimpse of Hector’s corpse being brought into the city. Nevertheless, while it’s true that Priam and Achilles are still adversaries, their conflict has taken on a nobler character. This alteration appears to have its root in Achilles’ character development. At the beginning of the epic, he was an impulsive and temperamental man who was selfish and full of pride. In Book 24, we see that Achilles is able to be sympathetic to others. All through the poem, Homer demonstrates the fact that Achilles is unable to think beyond his own concerns. The fact that his pride is wounded causes him to be stubborn in letting the other Achaeans face defeat, and his anger at the fall of Patroclus causes him to show terrible disrespect for Hector’s body. However, at this point, Achilles shows respect for Priam’s wish to Hector’s body to be returned. He also lets the Trojan people enjoy a reprieve from fighting so that they may properly grieve and honor the man they consider a hero. The fact that Achilles’ rage has a central importance in the poem is shown in the fact that his change of character is what brings about the work’s conclusion. Homer opts to conclude his poem with the softening of Achilles’ wrath, not the fall of Troy or death of Achilles. The relative lack of importance given to the dramatic complex so that there may be a complex exploration of human emotion reflects the anticlimactic nature of The Iliad. The contemporary audience of this poem would have already known the outcome of the plot. Even readers today are able to learn quite quickly how things end. This means that the work lacks the element of suspense, and so it make sense for The Iliad to conclude when Achilles’ anger at Agamemnon is assuaged.

Have study documents to share about The Iliad? Upload them to earn free Studypool credits!