Book 23 Notes from The Iliad

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The Iliad Book 23

The Greek armies pull away from Troy and Achilles has the Myrmidons proceed three times in battle formation to honor Patroclus. Thetis gives the Greeks a great desire to grieve. Achilles drops the body of Hector beside his fallen comrade. Everyone removes their armor and attend Achilles' feast. Before the feast, Achilles tells Agamemnon that he will not clean the blood from his body until he has laid his friend to rest. He then says that he will consent to the feast only if Agamemnon has his men build a pyre at dawn. Achilles lies down to sleep on the beach and Patroclus appears to him:

"Sleeping Achilles? You've forgotten me, my friend.
You never neglected me in life, only now in death.
Bury me, quickly - let me pass the Gates of Hades.
They hold me off at a distance, all the souls,
The shades of the burnt out breathless dead,
Never to let me cross the river, mingle with them...
They leave me to wander up and down, abandoned, lost
At the house of death with the all-embracing gates."
Book 23, lines 81-89

Patroclus also reminds his friend that his own death awaits him and he request that when his time comes they should be buried in the same urn.

At dawn the Greeks cut trees and begin to build the pyre. The myrmidons prepare as if going to battle. Achilles cuts a lock from his hair and places it on the body. The Myrmidons do the same. The troops are dismissed and the chief mourners remain to complete the pyre. The fire does not burn well so Achilles makes an offering to the gods. Iris goes to the North and West winds and has them keep the fire burning throughout the night. Achilles weeps as "a father weeps when he burns his son's bones, dead on his wedding day." (Book 23, lines 254-255) The next morning the fires are put out with wine and the bones of Patroclus are put in an urn sealed with fat. Achilles brings out prizes for the funeral games. The chariot race is the first game with a woman for first place, a tripod for second a mare for third, a cauldron for fourth and a two handed jar for fifth. Eumelus, Menelaus, Diomedes, Antilochus and Meriones enter the race. Nestor advises Antilochus to hang tight to the turning post. As the race goes on, Idomeneus and Ajax Oilean wager who is going to win, but Achilles stops them. Diomedes wins the race, followed by Antilochus, Menelaus and Meriones. Eumelus' chariot team falls in the race. Out of pity Achilles proposes to give second prize to Eumelus, but Antilochus staunchly claims his prize. Menelaus accuses Antilochus of unfair play during the race. Antilochus offers Menelaus his prize, but Menelaus lets him keep it. Achilles gives Eumelus the armor of Asteropaeus as a consolation prize. Achilles gives Nestor the fifth place prize because he is unable to enter any of the contests. Nestor recalls the game victories of his youth, including his skill at spear-throwing, in which could beat even Phyleus and Polydorus (2). After recounting his victories, Nestor blesses Achilles:

"You never forget my friendship, never miss a chance
To pay me the honor I deserve among our comrades.
For all that you have done for me Achilles,
May the immortals fill your cup with joy!"
Book 23, lines 722-725

Achilles prepares for the boxing match with a heavy mule for the winner and a cup with handles for the loser. He invites challengers to the boxing champion Epeus. Euryalus stands as challenger and Diomedes offers to be his second. The two men prepare for battle. Epeus knocks Euryalus out. Achilles sets the prizes for wrestling with a large tripod for the winner and a woman for the loser. Ajax and Odysseus volunteer for the competition. They struggle for a long time in a stalemate and Achilles declares that neither will win. The two share the prizes.

Achilles brings out the prizes for the foot race: a silver bowl for first, handed cup for second, and a half bar of gold for third. Odysseus, Oilean Ajax and Antilochus race. Odysseus wins, Ajax comes in second because he slips in horse manure and Antilochus comes in last. Achilles sets out the spear and armor of Sarpedon as prizes for the duel. Telamon Ajax and Diomedes volunteer. The two batter each other, but are eventually stopped by the crowd, Achilles splits their prizes. Then he brings out the shot for the shot put setting an iron ingot as the prize. Polypoetes wins this competition. A pair of double axes are offered as prizes for the archery contest. Achilles tethers a live dove at the top of a mast. The man who hits the tether gets single axes, the dove, double. Teucer hits the tether and Meriones hits the dove. The prizes are brought out for the spear throwing competition, but when Agamemnon volunteers, Achilles says that the contest is already his:

"Atrides - well we know how far you excel us all:
No one can match your strength at throwing spears,
You are the best by far!
Take first prize and return to your hollow ships
While we award this spear to Meriones.
If that you please your heart. That's what I propose."
Book 23, lines 986-991

Agamemnon agrees and gives his prize away to his herald.

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