Summary of Iliad Book XVI

What happens in the sixteenth book of Homer's Iliad

Achilles With Patroclus
Achilles with Patroclus.

This is a crucial book and a turning point because in it Zeus sits idly by knowing his son Sarpedon will be killed, and Achilles' friend Patroclus is also killed. Zeus knows that the death of Patroclus will force Achilles to fight for the Greeks (Achaeans/Danaans/Argives). This will allow Zeus to fulfill his promise to Achilles' mother, Thetis, to give glory to Achilles.

While the fighting goes on around the ship of Protesilaus, Patroclus goes crying to Achilles. He says he is crying for the wounded Greeks, including Diomedes, Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Eurypylus. He prays that he may never be so cruel as Achilles. He asks that Achilles at least let him go to fight with the Myrmidons wearing Achilles' armor so that the Trojans might mistake him for Achilles and strike fear into the Trojans and give the Greeks a respite.

Achilles again explains his grudge against Agamemnon and his determination to keep his promise to rejoin the battle when it reached his own (50) ships, but now that the fight is so near, he will let Patroclus wear his armor to scare the Trojans and win honor for Achilles, and get Briseis and other gifts for Achilles. He asks Patroclus to drive the Trojans from the ships but no more or he will rob Achilles of his glory and will risk having one of the gods attack Patroclus.

Ajax is holding his ground despite incredible odds, but it is finally too much for him. Hector comes upon Ajax and severs the point of his spear, thereby letting Ajax know the gods are with Hector, and it is time for him to retreat. This gives the Trojans the opportunity they need to throw fire at the ship.

Achilles sees the burning and tells Patroclus to put on his armor while he gathers the Myrmidons.

Achilles tells the men that now is the chance to let loose their pent-up rage against the Trojans. Leading them are Patroclus and Automedon. Achilles then uses a special cup to make an offering to Zeus. He asks Zeus to grant victory to Patroclus and let him return unharmed with his comrades. Zeus grants the part that makes Patroclus succeed in his mission of driving back the Trojans, but not the rest.

Patroclus exhorts his followers to fight well to bring glory to Achilles so that Agamemnon will learn the error of not respecting the bravest of the Greeks.

The Trojans assume that Achilles is leading the men and is now reconciled with Agamemnon, and since Achilles is fighting again, they are afraid. Patroclus kills the leader of the Paeonian (Trojan ally) horsemen, Pyraechmes, causing his followers to panic. He drives them from the ship and puts out the fire. While the Trojans fall back, the Greeks pour out of the ships in pursuit. It is not a rout since the Trojans continue to fight. Patroclus, Menelaus, Thrasymedes and Antilochus, and Ajax son of Oileus, and other chieftains kill Trojans.

Ajax continues to try to assault Hector with a spear, which Hector dodges with his ox-hide shield. Then the Trojans fly and Patroclus pursues them. He cuts off the escape route of battalions near him and drives them back to the ships where he kills many.

Sarpedon rebukes his Lycian troops into fighting the Greeks. Patroclus and Sarpedon rush at each other. Zeus looks on and says he would like to rescue Sarpedon. Hera says Sarpedon is fated to be killed by Patroclus and if Zeus steps in, the other gods will do likewise to save their favorites. Hera suggests instead that Zeus sweep him (once he is dead) from the field to Lycia for proper burial.

Patroclus kills Sarpedon's squire; Sarpedon aims at Patroclus, but his spear kills one of the Greek's horses. Two other horses of the chariot go wild until they are entangled in the reins, so Automedon cuts the dead horse away, so the chariot is once again fit for battle. Sarpedon throws another spear that misses Patroclus and Patroclus throws a return missile which kills Sarpedon. The Myrmidons gather Sarpedon's horses.

The remaining leader of the Lycians, Glaucus, prays to Apollo to heal the wound in his hand so he can fight along with the Lycians. Apollo does as asked so that the Lycians can go to fight for the body of Sarpedon.

Glaucus tells Hector that Sarpedon has been killed and that Ares has done it using the spear of Patroclus. He asks Hector to help prevent the Myrmidons from stripping Sarpedon's armor. Hector leads the Trojans to the body of Sarpedon and Patroclus cheers on the Greeks to strip and dishonor the body.

The Trojans kill one of the Myrmidons, which enrages Patroclus. He kills Sthenelaus the son of Ithaemenes and the Trojans retreat, but then Glaucus recovers and kills the richest Myrmidon.

Meriones kills a Trojan, priest of Zeus of Mt. Ida. Aeneas misses Meriones. The two taunt each other. Patroclus tells Meriones to fight and shut up. Zeus decided the Greeks should get the body of Sarpedon, so he makes Hector fearful, recognizing the gods have turned against him, so he flees on his chariot with the Trojans following. The Greeks strip the armor from Sarpedon. Then Zeus tells Apollo to take Sarpedon away, anoint him and give him to Death and Hypnos to take him back to Lycia for proper burial. Apollo obeys.

Patroclus pursues the Trojans and Lycians instead of obeying Achilles. Patroclus kills Adrestus, Autonous, Echeclus, Perimus, Epistor, Melanippus, Elasus, Mulius, and Pylartes.

Apollo now helps the Trojans, keeping Patroclus from breaking the walls of Troy. Apollo tells Patroclus it is not his lot to sack Troy.

Patroclus draws back to avoid angering Apollo. Hector is inside the Scaean gates when Apollo, in the guise of a warrior named Asius, asks him why he has stopped fighting. He tells him to drive towards Patroclus.

Hector ignores the other Greeks and goes straight to Patroclus. When Patroclus throws a stone, it hits Hector's charioteer Cebriones. Patroclus springs on the dead driver and Hector fights with him over the corpse. The other Greeks and Trojans fight, equally matched till nightfall when the Greeks grow strong enough to pull out the body of Cebriones. Patroclus kills 27 men, and then Apollo strikes him so that he grows dizzy, knocks the helmet from his head, breaks his spear, and makes his shield fall off.

Euphorbus, son of Panthous, strikes Patroclus with a spear but does not kill him. Patroclus draws back within his men. Hector sees this move, advances, and putting a spear through Patroclus' belly, kills him. Patroclus dying says to Hector that Zeus and Apollo have made Hector the victor, although he shares the mortal share of death with Euphorbus. Patroclus adds that Achilles will soon kill Hector.

Next: Major Characters in Book XVI

  • Patroclus - loyal friend and companion of Achilles in the Trojan War. The son of Menoetius.
  • Achilles - best warrior and most heroic of the Greeks, although he is sitting out the war.
  • Asius - a Phrygian leader and brother of Hecuba.
  • Hector - champion of the Trojans and son of Priam.
  • Sarpedon - king of Lycia, son of Zeus.
  • Apollo - god of many attributes. Favors the Trojans.
  • Iris - messenger goddess.
  • Glaucus - a son of Antenor who was spared at the end of the Trojan War.
  • Zeus - king of the gods. Zeus attempts neutrality.
    Known as Jupiter or Jove among the Romans and in some translations of the Iliad.

Profiles of Some of the Major Olympian Gods Involved in the Trojan War

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book I

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book VIII

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book X

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book XIII

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book XV

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book XXI

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book XXII

Summary and Main Characters of the Iliad Book XXIII

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Summary of Iliad Book XVI." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Summary of Iliad Book XVI. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Summary of Iliad Book XVI." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).