Textbook Leftovers

If we don’t end war, war will end us

Posted on: April 17, 2011

When we left our tale, the Trojans were rallying and the Greeks were falling back without Achilles. In Book Nine, the Greeks are frightened by a storm and decide to man up and get Agamemnon to apologize to Achilles. Agamemnon (surprisingly) agrees, and waxes eloquent about the extravagant gifts he will give (it begins to sound sarcastic after a while). At the end of his list of gifts, he says he’ll give all this if Achilles will submit to him – now is it just me or is that not an apology at all? The other Greeks think this is a swell idea, and send Ajax and Odysseus to talk to Achilles. This goes about as well you expect.

Achilles tells them in no uncertain terms that he hates Agamemnon and hates this selfish war. He will have no part of this, not for all the prizes that the king will offer. He has decided to sail for home. They all take their turns to soliloquize, but Achilles will not budge. After this wordy interlude, the Greek army girds its loins to fight on, but fail pretty miserably. Agamemnon, Diomedes, and Odysseus are all wounded, and Achilles refuses to relent.

Book Fifteen may be one of the most famous – it’s the one in which Patroclus – best friend (and maybe lover) of Achilles – dresses up in Achilles’ armor and leads the Myrmidons in battle. Again, you probably can guess how that goes… There’s a lot else going on here, of course – fighting amongst the gods and all that – but Patroclus is what you need to know about. He was killed by Hector, thus justifying the “foreshadowing” that Homer has been dropping about Hector’s impending death (because of course Achilles will Get Him For This). Hector takes the armor from Patroclus’ body, and the battle is joined again, leading to a small victory for the Greeks, but they still have to retreat to their ships.

Skipping ahead to Book Eighteen (even Norton doesn’t have the patience to read this whole thing), Achilles (who apparently didn’t sail out) is pacing around his camp, sure that disaster has struck. Antilochus arrives and informs him of the death of Patroclus. An elaborate mourning sequence takes place. Thetis tries to talk him out of it, but now, overwhelmed by guilt, he is determined to exact revenge upon Hector.

Polydamas (a Trojan soldier with the gift of prophesy) suggests rather strongly that they get the heck outta dodge (GTFO) before Achilles arrives at the battle, but Hector tells him to be quiet, we’re not retreating again (STFU). Meanwhile, on Olympus, the gods are yelling at each other again. Hephaestus forges a great shield for Achilles (and Homer spends more time describing it than it probably took to make).

Achilles finally accepts Agamemnon’s apology, and rejoins the army in full force, striking fear into the hearts of the Trojans. Soon all the Trojan army has retreated to the city, except for Hector. (You can see it coming, can’t you?)

Now we arrive at Book Twenty-Two, described as “The Death of Hector.” The gods are all playing their parts behind the scenes, and clearly Hector just isn’t the most popular one. Achilles chases him around the city three times before Hector grows some dignity and makes a stand. As we all (probably) already know, Hector is slain rather brutally by Achilles, but this does not satisfy his need for vengeance. The famous “rage of Achilles” has not been sated. Achilles ties Hector to his chariot and drags his body around the city. There is great mourning, and Andromache gets another scene, even sadder than the one before.

Patroclus is buried and the Greeks hold athletic games to celebrate him, and this brings us, at long last, to Book Twenty-Four. Apparently, whenever Achilles gets particularly sad about Patroclus’ death, he’ll take Hector out for a spin. Classy. Apollo still likes Hector, and makes it so that the corpse doesn’t decay, which must smell better, but is still really freaking creepy. Hera, Poseidon, and Athena are still pretty ticked off at Troy, and refuse to relent (the ladies are mad because of the “golden apple” thing, and who knows why Poseidon does anything). After Hector has been dead for 12 days, Apollo tries to reconcile the fight, and Zeus declares that Achilles must behave himself and give the body back, and Priam must ransom him (so that Achilles won’t get even more mad, basically). Iris tells Priam to go alone, and against counsel, he does. (It’s dangerous to go alone…) Priam seems to be an honorable and admirable man, verbally kicking some asses as he prepares to visit Achilles.

Priam is escorted by Hermes, and the two of them have quite a talk as they meander down to the Greek ships. Hermes refuses to be hosted by a mortal, though, and Priam meets Achilles alone. They speak, and weep together for all their beloved dead. Priam brings Hector back to Troy, and the women find their voices – Cassandra, Hecuba, Andromache, and even Helen lead the crowd in a vast mourning for the ravages of war. The Iliad ends with the burial of Hector, but not necessarily the ending of the war – Priam asked to be allowed to bury his son before the fighting started again, but they didn’t agree to peace.

The Odyssey picks up the story with Odysseus, at the closing of the war. These are the only real bits of the great Epic Cycle that we have. Originally, there seem to have been 8 books in the “series,” and only the ones written by Homer have survived – hence all the plot holes.

I’d be lying if I said I am eager to dig right into The Odyssey, haha. The Iliad is fascinating and beautiful, but also very difficult to read. SO – should I carry on and finish the Homeric Poems, or should we come back to this later and try something else?


2 Responses to "If we don’t end war, war will end us"

I say onward with The Odyssey! But if your eyes are screaming for a change of pace, feel free to skip on to something else 🙂

The thing that’ll really kill me in The Odyssey is that it’s by a different translator, who used more Greek-style names for the characters – so they won’t be the Latinised names that I am used to. Also, SO MANY WORDSSSSSS. LOL. I think I am gonna move on for a while, and come back later. But I do appreciate input nonetheless!

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