The Iliad, Book XXIV

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

Hector’s Body is Returned

Achilles was unable to sleep that night as he thought about Patroclus. For eleven days he dragged Hector’s body three times round Patroclus’ tomb and then retired to his hut. Apollo protected the body from disfigurement and all the other gods felt pity for it except for Hera, Poseidon and Athena who hated Troy. Apollo, however, persuaded Zeus to make Achilles release the body to Priam for a ransom.

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector’s lifeless body in Troy, a fresco in the Achilleion, Corfu.

Zeus sent Iris to summon Thetis who was instructed to tell Achilles that the gods were displeased by his treatment of Hector’s body which he must release. Achilles agreed to do so. Zeus then sent Iris to tell Priam, who was in mourning for Hector, to go alone to Achilles, under Hermes’ protection, with gifts to retrieve his son’s body. Against the advice of his wife, and having criticised his nine remaining sons for surviving when the best of his sons had been killed, Priam set out in his chariot accompanied by a wagon filled with great treasures driven by Idaeus.

Hecuba persuaded Priam to make a libation to Zeus to secure a good omen that he would return and Zeus, in acknowledgement, sent a golden eagle flying from the right. Hermes, in disguise as a Myrmidon, reassured Priam that Hector’s body had not been damaged and took him safely to Achilles by making the Greek guards fall asleep, revealing his true identity when they arrived. Priam fell down in supplication before Achilles and, asking him to remember his own father, Peleus, begged him to return Hector’s body. Both men wept, Priam for Hector and Achilles for Peleus, whom he would never see again, and for Patroclus.

Hector brought back to Troy, detail from a Roman sarcophagus, c. 180–200 AD.

In respect and admiration because he had come to see the man who had killed so many of his sons, Achilles raised Priam to his feet, recounting how the gods give to mortals blessings and evils in equal measure, and, after unloading the ransom from the wagon, ordered women to wash and anoint Hector’s body. He then lifted it into the wagon, covering it with a tunic that came as part of the ransom, and asked Patroclus’ forgiveness for returning the body. He told Priam to eat and drink, laying aside his grief briefly, just as Niobe had done after her twelve children had been killed by Apollo and Artemis. Achilles agreed that the Greeks would not fight for twelve days while the Trojans conducted Hector’s funeral rites. While Priam was sleeping, Hermes appeared and persuaded him to leave before the other Greeks discovered his presence.

Cassandra saw her father approaching Troy with Hector’s body and summoned the Trojans to welcome their return. As Hector lay in state in the palace, his wife, Andromache uttered her lament, followed by his mother, Hecuba, and then Helen because Hector had always treated her kindly. The Trojans gathered wood for nine days for Hector’s funeral pyre and cremated him on the tenth day. Hector’s bones were gathered, wrapped in purple cloth and placed in a golden coffin by his surviving brothers. A mound was built over his grave, followed by a funeral feast in his honour.

Book XXIII Overview