Book 23 - Summary, themes, motifs and symbols

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Summary

Lamentation for Patroklos follows immediately on the Trojan lament for Hektor, and the treatment of the two bodies is set in the darkest contrast. Hektor is flung face-down in the dust beside Patroklos' bier, destined for the dogs: and Achilleus, still distraught with grief, supervises the most elaborate and honorific funeral for Patroklos.

The remaining two-thrids of this long book describe the Funeral Games which Achilleus then holds in honour of Patroklos. By far the most extensive treatment is given to the first event, the chariot race, which is described in a brilliant narrative style, full of incident and personality. This section forms a sort of analogue to the main action of the Iliad, in which the heroic virtues and vices are more innocently channelled, and characteristic ingredients of the large-scale narrative are seen again in miniature - there is furious action, humour, divine intervention, a bittre quarrel, anger and apology, magnanimity, and a reminiscence from Nestor. Seven other events are described in less detail, always with a careful statement of the prizes. Achilleus himself does no take part )he is the president, and his participation would unbalance the competition): but the games afford a last look at the other major Achaian heroes, whose presentation as they compete is much in character.

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Summary Continued

The game allows a relaxation of tension between the emotions of Books 22 and 24, and they shows Achilleus in a new light - mature, digniied, generous of nature - in preparation for the Achilleus of the final book.

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Theme of Impermanence of Human Life

"So there does remain something of a man in the house of Hades, a ghost and semblance of him, but without real being at all"

This is a reminder that evolves despair as well as comfort. A Homeric audience is assured or can hope that a part of them remains once they are deceased. Despite this inference of some form of immortality being possible for a mortal, the 'ghost' of Patroklos for instance and hence, this form of immortality is only a short period of performence - temporary.

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Theme of Interaction between Fate and Freewill

"my father Peleus made his vow to you, that if I returned there to my dear native land I would cut off this hair for you ... you have not fufilled his wish ... let me give my hair to the hero Patroklos"

Through this passage, Hoemr reminds his audience of Achilleus' two possible fates, but following Patroklos' death, he no longer has a choice. His plans have now had to change in accordance with his confirmed fate. Also, Achilleus' address to the river Spercheios suggests that he partly blames the god as well as the other immortals for the death of his 'shield buddy'. This is because when the 'vow' made to his father was broken, they also failed Patroklos.

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Theme of Intervention of the Immortals

"Prayed to the two winds ... and promised them splendid sacrifce ... so that the bodies could be burned in the fire without delay"

"Iris heard his prayers and went quickly to carry his message to the winds"

This demonstrates Achilleus' dependence on the immortals to show favour so that the events will occur as he wishes for Patroklos. Despite having to promise 'splendid sacrifice' which suggests that their acts are not compassionate, they play an intergral part in Patroklos' funeral. The plot and narrative flow which shows that without their divine intervention the poem would stagnate.

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Theme of Pride

"Swear by the encircler and shaker of the earth that it was no deliberate foul of yours that blocked my chariot"

"Lord Menelaos ... you are y senior and better ... I shall give up my own accord the mare that I won"

This illustrates the theme of pride as Antilochos is forced to admit he is at fault and hence not entitled to the prize; he must abandon his pride in order to restore peace between him and his fellow warrior, Menelaos.

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Theme of Anger

"Achilleus cut the throats of ... twelve noble sons of the great-hearted Trojans"

Achilleus' slaughter of a group of opposition innocents shows the intensity of his anger. This violent act can be described as vengeful and merciless, highlighting Achilleus' dark qualities. It can be interpreted as a way of releasing his overwhelming emotions or expressing his anger.

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Theme of the Role of Women

"The whole gathering the Myrmidons cried out in lamentation, led by Achilleus ... Thetis roused in them all the desire for weeping"

This suggests that a contemporary audience viewed women, in particular mothers as more emotional. The implication is that a female presence or influence enable mens to express sentiments that are usually suppressed.

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Motif of Armour

"Achilleus ordered the war loving Myrmidons to arm themselves in bronze ... they set to and dressed in their armour"

This illustrates the theme of armour as Achilleus is telling the Achaians to dress in all their armour as if they were attending battle to go to Patroklos' funeral. This shows the importance of armour as it is honourable to wear battle clothing to respect a fallen warrior empasising the importance of the burial of a soldier.

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Motif of Burial

Patroklos claims that not burying him is "neglectful". When the Achaians bury Patroklos they "Skinned and prepared many sturdy sheep ... and Achilleus cut the throats of [dogs]"

The importance of the theme of burial is shown in this part of the Iliad as Patroklos is angry at his friend Achilleus as not burying him immediately is dishonourable as he cannot pass to the Gates of Hades. Also, the Achaians must carry out important funeral rites so that Patroklos is given a proper burial with the correct rites.

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Motif of Fire

The clouds "reached the fertile land of TRoy, and fell on the pyre, and the fire roared up in monstrous blaze"

This shows the importance of the theme of fire as Patroklos is unable to have a proper burial without the pyre burning. Fire is so essential for the bural that Achilleus prays to the North and West winds for the help to start a fire so Patroklos can have the prope honours of a burial and pass into the underworld.

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