Summary of Homer's Iliad Book XXIII

Funeral Games for Patroclus

Statue of Achilles in London
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Achilles orders the Myrmidons to drive their chariots in battle formation, and they go three times around the body of Patroclus. Then they have a funeral feast.

When Achilles falls asleep, the ghost of Patroclus tells him to hurry up and bury him, but also to make sure their bones are interred in the same urn.

The next morning Agamemnon orders the troops to get timber. The Myrmidons cover Patroclus with locks of hair. Achilles cuts one long lock he had been growing for a river god back home, but since he will be dying soon, he cuts it for Patroclus, instead, and places it in his hands. After the men have brought the lumber, they go off to prepare a meal while the chief mourners deal with the pyre cutting piece on fat from sacrificed animals to cover the body. Various animals, including two of Patroclus' dogs, and stallions, honey, oil, and the 12 young Trojans are killed and added to the pile. Achilles has to plead with the gods for adequate wind for the pyre, but he gets it and the fire doesn't die down until morning. They douse the fire with wine and then Achilles picks out Patroclus' bones and puts them in a golden urn, with a protective layer of fat.

Achilles faces the army in a circle and says it's time for funeral games. The first game has the most elaborate prizes and is for chariot racing. Achilles says he will not compete because his horses are immortal, and so the competition would not be fair. The contenders are Eumelus, Diomedes, Menelaus, Antilochus, and Meriones. The other men make bets. Diomedes wins, but there is debate over second place because Antilochus fouled Menelaus.

The next event is boxing. Epeus and Euryalus fight, with Epeus winning.

Wrestling is the third event. Fairly typical, the prizes are a tripod worth 12 oxen for first prize, and a woman worth 4 oxen for the loser. Telamon's son Ajax and Odysseus fight, but the result is a stalemate and Achilles tells them to share.

The next event is a footrace. Oileus' son Ajax, Odysseus, and Antilochus contend. Odysseus is behind, but a quick prayer to Athena brings him to first place, with Antilochus in third.

The next contest is for the armor Patroclus had taken from Sarpedon. The fighters are to be in full battle gear and first wound wins. Telamon's son Ajax fights with Diomedes. Again, there is a draw, although Achilles gives Diomedes the long sword.

The next contest is to see who can throw a lump of pig iron the farthest. The prize is enough iron to last a long time making weapons and chariot wheels. Polypoetes, Leonteus, Telamon's son Ajax, and Epeus throw it. Polypoetes wins.

Iron is also the prize for an archery contest. Teucer and Meriones compete. Teucer forgets to invoke Apollo, so he misses. Meriones makes appropriate promises and wins.

Achilles then sets up more prizes for spear throwing. Agamemnon and Meriones stand, but Achilles tells Agamemnon to sit down because there would be no contest since no one is better than he is. He can just take the first prize. Agamemnon gives the prize to his herald.

Major Characters in Book XXIII

  • Achilles: Best warrior and most heroic of the Greeks. After Agamemnon stole his war prize, Briseis, Achilles sat out the war until his beloved comrade Patroclus was killed. Although he knows his death is imminent, Achilles is determined to kill as many Trojans as possible, including Hector whom he blames for Patroclus' death.
  • Myrmidons: Achilles' troops. Their name means ants and they were called Myrmidons because it is said that they were originally ants.
  • Ajax: The son of Telamon and Periboea, this Ajax is the one most people refer to when talking about Ajax. He was one of the foremost fighters in the Trojan War.
  • Ajax: Of Locris, son of Oileus. Bound by the Oath of Tyndareus and one of the Argonauts, he was in the belly of the Trojan Horse.
  • Antilochus: A son of Nestor.
  • Epeus: A son of Panopeus. A champion boxer.
  • Euryalus: A son of King Mecisteus. Under Diomedes and Sthenelus.
  • Odysseus: From Ithaca. One of the leaders of the Greeks who will vie with Ajax for the status of most worthy after Achilles.
  • Patroclus: Loyal friend and companion of Achilles in the Trojan War. The son of Menoetius.
  • Menelaus: Helen's Greek husband. Menelaus is not considered a good fighter.
  • Meriones: Son of Molus, a Cretan and the charioteer of Idomeneus.
  • Teucer: A half-brother of Ajax and a son of Telamon.
  • Polypoetes: Son of Pirithous. Co-commands the Lapiths.
  • Sarpedon: King of Lycia, son of Zeus.
  • Agamemnon: Lead king of the Greek forces, the brother of Menelaus.
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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Summary of Homer's Iliad Book XXIII." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, September 7). Summary of Homer's Iliad Book XXIII. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Summary of Homer's Iliad Book XXIII." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 4, 2023).