Patroclus and Achilles: The Truth Behind Their Relationship
Patroclus and Achilles had a one-of-a-kind relationship, and it was one of the major themes in Homer’s epic novel, The Iliad. Their closeness triggered a debate on what kind of relationship they had and how it affected events in Greek mythology.
Continue reading to find out more about it.
What Is the Relationship of Patroclus and Achilles?
Patroclus and Achilles relationship is a deep bond because they grew up together, and this has been viewed and interpreted by others as a romantic relationship rather than purely platonic. Although, there is no certainty regarding what the proper label is to put on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles.
The Beginning of Their Story of Patroclus and Achilles
In Greek mythology, the story of Patroclus and Achilles started when they were both young boys. Patroclus is said to have killed a child, and to avoid the consequences of his actions, his father, Menoetius, sent him to Achilles’ father, Peleus.
This is in the hope that Patroclus will be able to start a new life. Patroclus was made to be Achilles’ squire. Given that Patroclus was more experienced and much more mature, he served as a guardian and guide. Hence, Patroclus and Achilles grew up together, with Patroclus always watching over Achilles.
Some historians say that the two of them were practicing pederasty, in which an older man (the erastes) and a younger man (the eromenos), typically in his teens, are in a relationship. This was socially acknowledged by the ancient Greeks, whereas gay partnerships with lovers who were too similar in age would be condemned. Hence, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was viewed by others to satisfy this definition perfectly.
Patroclus and Achilles in The Iliad
Given that Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, is the earliest surviving and most accurate narrative of their lives, it served as the foundation for the many different interpretations and depictions of the characters of Patroclus and Achilles.
There was no direct written information on whether Patroclus and Achilles engaged in a romantic relationship, but there were several parts in which their closeness was presented as different from how they treated others. For instance, Achilles is said to be sensitive toward Patroclus, but with other people, he is condescending and harsh.
In addition, in Book 16, Achilles even hopes that all of the other troops, both Greek and Trojan, will die so that he and Patroclus can take Troy by themselves. Furthermore, when Patroclus is killed by Hector in Book 18, Achilles reacts with intense sorrow and anger and claims that he cannot continue to live until he is able to have his revenge on Patroclus’ killer.
For Patroclus’ part, according to the poem, he made a final request to Achilles by speaking with him as a ghost. This request was to put their ashes together when Achilles died and to let them rest eternally together. After this, Achilles conducted a heartfelt funeral ceremony for Patroclus.
Therefore, it is clear that Patroclus and Achilles shared a very close, intimate relationship. However, there is nothing overtly romantic or something that can be considered a sexual interaction that was stated in the Iliad.
The Death of Patroclus
The death of Patroclus is one of the most tragic and devastating scenes in the Iliad. It highlights both the consequences of irresponsibility and how helpless humans are in the face of the gods. According to The Iliad, Achilles refused to fight the war because Agamemnon was there. Achilles and Agamemnon had a previous conflict when they were awarded women as a prize. However, when Agamemnon was made to surrender the woman, he decided to get Briseis, the woman who was awarded to Achilles.
Patroclus convinced Achilles to allow him to lead and command the Myrmidons into battle when the Trojan War had switched against the Greeks and the Trojans were endangering their ships. In order for Patroclus to pass as Achilles, he wore the armor that Achilles inherited from his father. He was then instructed by Achilles to go back after driving away the Trojans from their ships, but Patroclus did not listen. Instead, he continued to chase down the Trojan warriors all the way to the gates of Troy.
Patroclus was able to kill numerous Trojans and Trojan allies, including Sarpedon, a mortal son of Zeus. This enraged Zeus, who stalled Hector, the commander of the Trojan army, by making him temporarily a coward so that he will flee. Seeing this, Patroclus was encouraged to pursue him and was able to kill Hector’s chariot driver. Apollo, the Greek god, injured Patroclus, which made him vulnerable to being killed. Hector quickly killed him by thrusting a spear through his abdomen.
How Achilles Felt After the Death of Patroclus
When the news of the Patroclus’ demise reached Achilles, he was furious, and he beat the ground so hard that it summoned his mother, Thetis, from the sea to check up on her son. Thetis discovered her son grieving and outraged. Thetis, worried that Achilles might carelessly do something to avenge Patroclus, persuaded her son to wait at least one day.
This delay enabled her to have sufficient time to ask the divine blacksmith, Hephaestus, to recreate the armor that Achilles needed because the original armor that Achilles inherited from his father was used by Patroclus and ended up being worn by Hector when the latter killed Patroclus. Achilles gave in to the request of his mother, but he still made an appearance on the battlefield and stayed there long enough to scare the Trojans who were still fighting over Patroclus’ lifeless body.
As soon as Achilles received the newly constructed armor from Thetis, he got ready for war. Before Achilles joined the battle, Agamemnon approached him and settled their differences by returning Briseis to Achilles.
It is not certainly clear, however, whether this was the reason why Achilles agreed to make up, but what was implied was that Achilles would fight the war not just for the Achaeans, but with the death of Patroclus, he had a different reason for joining the battle, and that was to seek revenge. After receiving assurance that his mother will look after Patroclus’ body, Achilles proceeded to the battlefield.
Achilles and The Trojan War
Before Achilles joined the war, the Trojans were winning it. However, as Achilles was known to be the best fighter of the Achaeans, the tables started to turn when he joined the battle, with the Greeks on the winning side. In addition to Achilles’s commitment as he was determined to seek revenge on Hector, the best warrior in Troy, Hector’s arrogance also contributed to the Trojans’ downfall.
Hector’s wise counselor, Polydamas, advised him to retreat into the city walls, but he refused and decided to fight to bring honor to him and Troy. In the end, Hector was driven to face death at the hands of Achilles, and even after that, Hector’s body was dragged and treated with such disdain that even the gods had to step in to stop Achilles.
Achilles was determined to get to Hector, and along the way, he killed many Trojan warriors. The two best fighters from each side, Hector and Achilles, fought one on one, and when it was evident that Hector would lose, he tried to reason with Achilles, but Achilles wouldn’t accept any explanation as he was blinded by his rage and goal of killing Hector to avenge the death of Patroclus. As Achilles knew the weakness of the stolen armor that Hector was wearing, he was able to spear him in the throat, thereby killing him.
Before he died, Hector made a final request to Achilles: to give his body to his family. Achilles did not just refuse to return Hector’s body, but he further disgraced him by desecrating his body. Achilles attached Hector’s lifeless body to the rear of his chariot and dragged him around the walls of the city of Troy.
This demonstration of the depth of Achilles’ rage toward Hector has been viewed by many as proof of his love for Patroclus, as he went to great lengths just to avenge the death of Patroclus. Further analysis of his actions would reveal that it might also be because he felt guilty for allowing Patroclus to don his shield, making the Trojans think it was him.
However, it is thought that maybe if Achilles did not refuse to fight in the battle in the first place, Patroclus would not have died. But then again, it was Patroclus’ fate to be killed by Hector and, in turn, for Hector to be killed by Achilles in return.
For the twelve days following Hector’s death, his body was still attached to Achilles’ chariot. During these twelve days, the battle that had been going on for almost nine years was halted as the Trojans mourned the loss of their prince and hero.
The Greek gods Zeus and Apollo finally intervened and commanded Thetis, Achilles’ mother, to persuade Achilles to stop and receive a ransom to return the body to his family.
In addition, Priam, Hector’s son, begged Achilles for the body of Hector. He persuaded Achilles to think of his own father, Peleus, and if what happened to Hector happened to him, imagine how his father would feel. Achilles had a change of heart and empathized with Priam.
On the other hand, even if it was still against his will, he let the Trojans retrieve Hector’s body. Soon after, both Patroclus and Hector were given their proper funerals and were buried accordingly.
Patroclus and Achilles’ With Different Interpretations
The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus might be seen in two different ways. Even though they were all based on Homer’s The Iliad, various philosophers, authors, and historians analyzed and placed the written descriptions into context.
Homer never explicitly depicted the two as lovers, but others like Aeschylus, Plato, Pindar, and Aeschines did. It can be seen in their writings from the archaic and Greeks ancient periods. According to their works, throughout the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the relationship was portrayed as romantic love between people of the same sex.
In Athens, this kind of relationship is socially acceptable if the age difference between the couples is significant. Its ideal structure consists of an older lover who will serve as the protector and a younger one as the beloved. However, this posed a problem for the authors because they needed to identify who should be the older and the younger two.
The Myrmidons by Aeschylus: Interpretation of Patroclus and Achilles’ Relationship
According to the fifth-century BC work “The Myrmidons” by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, who is also known as a father of tragedy, Achilles and Patroclus were in a same-gender relationship. As Achilles exhausted everything he could to exact revenge on Hector for Patroclus’ death, he was assumed to be the guardian and protector or erastes, whereas Patroclus was given the role of eromenos. Needless to say, Aeschylus believed Patroclus and Achilles lovers are one of a kind.
Pindar’s Take on Patroclus and Achilles’ Relationship
Another believer in the romantic relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was Pindar. He was a Theban lyric poet of the Greeks during ancient times who made suggestions based on his comparison of the relationships between the two men, which includes that of the young boxer Hagesidamus and his trainer Ilas, as well as Hagesidamus and Zeus’ lover Ganymede.
In the Symposium by Plato, the speaker Phaedrus cites Achilles and Patroclus as an illustration of a divinely sanctioned couple around 385 BC. As Achilles possessed traits typical of the eromenos, such as beauty and youth, as well as virtue and combat prowess, Phaedrus contends that Aeschylus was wrong in asserting that Achilles was the erastes. Instead, according to Phaedrus, Achilles is the eromenos who revered his erastes, Patroclus, to the point where he would die to exact revenge for him.
Patroclus and Achilles’ Relationship in Symposium
Xenophon, a contemporary of Plato, had Socrates argue in his own Symposium that Achilles and Patroclus were simply chaste and devoted comrades. Xenophon also cites other examples of legendary comrades, like Orestes and Pylades, who were renowned for their joint achievements rather than any erotic relationship.
Aeschines was one of the Greek statesmen who was also an Attic orator. He argued for the importance of pederasty and cited Homer’s depiction of the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. He believed that even though Homer did not explicitly state it, educated people should be able to read between the lines and comprehend that the proof of the romantic relationship between the two can easily be seen in their affection for each other. The most substantial evidence was how Achilles mourned and grieved the death of Patroclus and the final request of Patroclus that their bones should be buried together so they could rest eternally together.
The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller, an American novelist, wrote a novel about Patroclus and Achilles Song of Achilles. The Song of Achilles has received an award for her magnificent work. It is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad from Patroclus’ point of view and is set in the Greek Heroic Age. With a focus on their romantic relationship, the book covers Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship from their first encounter to their adventures during the Trojan War.
The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was one of deep, intimate closeness. There were two interpretations of it: one is that they share a platonic, pure friendship love, and the other is that they are romantic lovers. Let us summarize what we have learned about them:
- Achilles and Patroclus grew up together. They were already together when they were still young boys as Patroclus was made Achilles’ squire. This explains the depth of the bond between the two.
- In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles and Patroclus relationship is one of the main themes of the legends surrounding the epic battle at Troy.
- Aided by the gods, Hector was able to kill Patroclus on the battlefield. His death made a significant impact on the results of the war. Some interpreted the death of Patroclus as “fate,” but as clearly depicted in the poem, and it was brought on by his carelessness and arrogance, which angered the gods. Thus, events were manipulated to lead him to his death.
- Achilles grievously mourned the passing of Patroclus and vowed to seek revenge. He was determined to kill Hector. He was not satisfied with just killing him, he further disrespected Hector’s body by desecrating it.
- Achilles was only persuaded when Hector’s son, Priam, begged and reasoned with him. He thought of his father and empathized with Priam. Finally, he agreed to release Hector’s body.
One of the many proofs for those believing that Achilles and Patroclus had a romantic relationship was the way Achilles reacted when he learned of the death of Patroclus. Another one was Patroclus’ request to put their bones together when Achilles died. These two instances would make you question their relationship.