The Iliad, Book XXIII

Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII
Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII Book XIII Book XIV Book XV 
Book XVI Book XVII Book XVIII Book XIX Book XX Book XXI Book XXII

The Funeral Games of Patroclus

After the Greeks withdrew to their ships, three times Achilles drove his chariot past Patroclus’ body as a mark of respect and again mourned him, as did the rest of the Myrmidons. Achilles flung Hector’s body in the dust beside the funeral bier and provided a funeral feast.

Roman mosaic of Achilles dragging Hector’s body behind his chariot. Vatican Museum.

Patroclus’ ghost appeared to Achilles while he slept that night urging him to bury him and requesting that his remains and Achilles’ be buried together. On Agamemnon’s orders wood was collected from Mount Ida to build the funeral pyre. The Myrmidons put on their armour and drove their chariots in Patroclus’ funeral procession, carrying his body in the middle with Achilles supporting his head. Achilles cut off a lock of his hair which he had been growing to dedicate to the River Spercheus in his homeland if he returned safely and placed it in Patroclus’ hands.

After the chief mourners had built the funeral pyre and Patroclus’ body had been placed on its top surrounded by slaughtered animals and the twelve Trojan prisoners, Achilles lit the pyre and bade Patroclus farewell. When the fire went out he promised sacrifices and poured libations to Boreas and Zephyr and, after Iris had summoned them to come, they blew and made the flames blaze. Achilles wept for Patroclus all night. On the next morning Patroclus’ bones were collected and placed in a golden container to await those of Achilles and a grave mound was built in readiness. Meanwhile Hector’s body was anointed by Aphrodite and covered with shade by Apollo to protect it.

The Funeral Games of Patroclus, painting by Jacques-Louis David, 1778.

Then the funeral games for Patroclus began and there were prizes for all the winners. In the chariot race five charioteers competed: Nestor gave his son, Antilochus, useful advice; after interference from Apollo and Athena, Eumelus’ chariot crashed and Diomedes won; Antilochus and Menelaus contested second place and Antilochus narrowly took it with Idomeneus coming fourth. Eumelus came fifth after his crash but Achilles moved him to second place as he viewed him to be the best driver; however, when Antilochus objected, Achilles found another prize for Eumelus. Menelaus then objected to Antilochus’ reckless driving which had cost him a place and the argument was resolved by Antilochus apologising to Menelaus and giving him the mare he had won, which Menelaus generously gave back to Antilochus as he had apologised. Nestor was given the unclaimed fifth prize as a mark of respect for past victories.

Games in Honour of the Funeral of Patroclus, painting by Carle Vernet, 1758-1836.

In the boxing competition Epeius was superior to Euryalus; the wrestling competition between Ajax, son of Telamon, and Odysseus was a draw; Ajax, son of Oileus, Odysseus and Antilochus competed in the foot race: Ajax was ahead for the whole race until Athena tripped him, giving victory to Odysseus, and Antilochus, who was third, had his money prize doubled for his tribute to Odysseus’ prowess. Next came armed combat in which Ajax, son of Telamon, fought against Diomedes: a draw was declared, after the spectators called for the fight to be stopped, and the prize of Sarpedon’s armour was shared, but Achilles gave Diomedes a sword in addition as he had been gaining the upper hand. Polypoetes won the throwing of a lump of iron, Meriones won the archery competition and Agamemnon won the spear throwing competition uncontested, although, at Achilles’ suggestion, the prize of a spear was given to Meriones, the other competitor.