The Iliad, Book XI

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Nestor Encourages Patroclus to Take the Place of Achilles

On the next morning, Zeus sent Eris down to the Greek ships to summon and encourage them to fight and they forgot all thoughts of returning home. Agamemnon put on his splendidly decorated bronze armour and Athena and Hera thundered their approval and support while the Greek troops lined up outside the ditch.

When the Trojans had lined up on the high ground opposite with Hector moving amongst their ranks in encouragement, both sides joined battle. Agamemnon, leading the Greek assault, mercilessly killed many Trojans who retreated back to Troy. Zeus sent Iris to tell Hector to give ground himself and only rejoin the fighting when he saw Agamemnon wounded, at which point he should chase the Greeks back to their ships, killing as many as he could.

Detail of the Chigi Vase, a Proto-Corinthian olpe, c. 650-640 BC, depicting a Hoplite phalanx. (c) Sailko

Meanwhile Hector encouraged the Trojans to turn around and fight. Once Agamemnon withdrew, having been wounded in the arm, Hector led the Trojan attack, as instructed, and re-vitalised the Trojans, causing many fatalities on the Greek side while Diomedes and Odysseus in turn killed many Trojans. Diomedes stunned Hector with a spear blow to his helmet, causing him to retreat, but was himself wounded in the foot by an arrow shot by Paris and had to retreat. Odysseus found himself surrounded by Trojans but was fighting his way through them until he was wounded in the side and had to be rescued by Menelaus and Ajax. Ajax then went on a killing spree. Paris then wounded in the shoulder with an arrow the Greek doctor, Machaon, who was recused by Nestor.

As Hector led another assault, Ajax was unwillingly made to retreat by Zeus with a hail of weapons aimed at his back. Eurypylus ran up to support Ajax but, after Eurypylus was wounded in the thigh by another of Paris’ arrows, he called on the Greeks to save Ajax, which they did. Achilles, seeing the Greek retreat and Nestor conveying the wounded Machaon from battle, sent Patroclus to find out what was going on. This series of events was the beginning of the end for Patroclus.

Hoplites with Athena and Hermes. Side A from an Attic red-figure amphora, c. 530 BC. Louvre.

Nestor told Patroclus that all the main Greek leaders had been wounded; Nestor wished he was younger and he described to Patroclus one of his youthful exploits when he raided the Eleans and stole huge numbers of their livestock; when the Eleans attacked his town in revenge, Nestor was instrumental in bringing about a great victory for his people; he criticised Achilles for not helping the Greeks when they needed him; he reminded Patroclus of the advice his father, Menoetius, had given him before he left for Troy: to give Achilles sound advice; so he should advise Achilles now to return to the fighting; if Achilles refused to follow Patroclus’ advice, he should allow Patroclus to lead the Myrmidons into battle wearing Achilles’ own armour: the Trojans would then think he was Achilles and retreat and this would give the Greeks some much needed breathing space.

As Patroclus was returning to Achilles he met the wounded Eurypylus whom he helped to his ship and tended his wound. Eurypylus reinforced the message that disaster was threatening the Greeks.

Book X Book XII