Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published August 26, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

And continuing from last week‘s Words Crush Wednesday, Patroclos has finally arrived in Nestor’s hut on Achilles’ errand.  Nestor is playing host to the wounded Machaon, son of Asclepios, when Patroclos arrives.

From Book XI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

While they were talking together comfortably, Patroclos appeared at the door.  The ancient man sprang up from his chair, and led him in and bade him be seated.  But Patroclos declined:

“No sitting for me, my lord!  I can’t think of it.  Formidable, hot-tempered, is he that sent me, to ask who the wounded man was that you were bringing in.  But I know him myself.  I see it is his honour Machaon.  Now I will go back and tell Achilles.  You know well enough, reverend sir, what he is like.  A terrible man!  He might easily find fault where there is none.”

Actually, I’m going to stop the quote there because it’s such a remarkable speech.  This is the nastiest stuff anyone says about Achilles (well, that any of the Achaians say about him, anyway) and it comes from the one person who loves him best, and who literally sacrifices his own life for him, and then post-mortem insists on their bones being buried in the same golden amphora so that they’ll never be parted.

So why does Patroclos say those things about Achilles here?  It is, to me, one of the larger mysteries of the character.  Is he annoyed at being sent on this errand?  (It is rather beneath his station.)  Is he ticked off that Achilles is being such a selfish brat about all this and getting so many good men killed?  (This one seems likely.)  Is he jealous because Achilles is sleeping with other slave girls now that Briseis is out of the picture, instead of just with Patroclos?  (Yeah, probably not.)  Or is he just being accurate about the fact that Achilles has a hair-trigger temper and will turn on anyone and everyone (except Patroclos) for absolutely anything?

Whatever his reasons, the irony is that this passage actually gives the impression–furthered by Aischylos in the Myrmidons–that Achilles was more in love with Patroclos than Patroclos was with Achilles, which I don’t think is the right way to look at their relationship; they’re more of a partnership of more-or-less equals, y’know?  Though the partnership relationship was somewhat alien in ancient times, I suppose; one did tend to be “more equal” than the other, as it were.  That happens in an age-class society, where even one year’s difference is a significant one.  But the age difference, in their case, was evened out by their class difference, since Patroclos was older and Achilles was more important, so…uh, yeah…I’m probably putting too much thought into this.  (Yeah, I do that.  Plus I don’t really want to go back to reading about the Gracchii right now, even though I really should.)


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