Patroclus

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For other uses, see Patroclus (disambiguation).
A cup depicting Achilles bandaging Patroklos' arm, by the Sosias Painter.

In Greek mythology, as recorded in Homer's Iliad, Patroclus (/pəˈtrkləs, pəˈtrɒkləs/; Ancient Greek: Πάτροκλος Patroklos “glory of the father”), was the son of Menoetius, grandson of Actor, King of Opus, and was Achilles' beloved comrade and brother-in-arms.

Patroclus' genealogy[edit]

Menoetius was a member of the Argonauts in his youth. He had several marriages, and in different versions of the tale four different women are named as the mother of Patroclus. The Bibliotheca names three wives of Menoetius as possible mothers of Patroclus: Periopis, daughter of Pheres, founder of Pherae; Polymele, daughter of Peleus, King of Phthia and older half-sister of Achilles; and Sthenele, daughter of Acastus and Astydameia. Gaius Julius Hyginus names Philomela as Patroclus' mother.

Menoetius was a son of Actor, King of Opus in Locris by Aegina. Aegina was a daughter of Asopus and mother of Aeacus by Zeus. Aeacus was father of Peleus, Telamon and Phocus.

Actor was a son of Deioneus, King of Phocis and Diomede. His paternal grandparents were Aeolus of Thessaly and Enarete. His maternal grandparents were Xuthus and Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus and Praxithea.

Life before the Trojan War[edit]

In his youth, Patroclus accidentally killed his friend, Clysonymus, during an argument over a game of dice. His father fled with Patroclus into exile to evade revenge, and they took shelter at the palace of their kinsman King Peleus of Phthia. There Patroclus apparently first met Peleus' son Achilles. Peleus sent the boys to live in the wilderness and be raised by Chiron, the cave-dwelling wise King of the Centaurs.

Patroclus was somewhat older than Achilles (Iliad XI, 780-790).

In a post-Homeric version, he is listed among the unsuccessful suitors of Helen of Sparta, all of whom took a solemn oath to defend the chosen husband against whoever should quarrel with him. At about that time Patroclus killed Las, founder of a namesake city near Gytheio, Laconia, according to Pausanias the geographer. Pausanias reported that the killing was alternatively attributed to Achilles. However Achilles was not otherwise said ever to have visited Peloponnesos.

Trojan War activities[edit]

The body of Patroclus is lifted by Menelaus and Meriones while Odysseus and others look on (Etruscan relief, 2nd century BC)

When the tide of war turned away from the Acheans, and the Trojans threatened their ships, Patroclus convinced Achilles to let him don Achilles' armor and lead the Myrmidons into combat. In his lust for combat, Patroclus pursued the Trojans all the way back to the gates of Troy, defying Achilles' order to break off combat once the ships were saved. Patroclus killed many Trojans and allies including the Lycian hero Sarpedon (a son of Zeus), and Cebriones (the chariot driver of Hector and illegitimate son of Priam). Patroclus was stunned by Apollo, wounded by Euphorbos, then finished off by Hector. At the time of his death, Patroclus had killed 53 enemy soldiers.[1]

After retrieving his body, which had been protected on the field by Odysseus and Ajax (Telamonian Ajax), the enraged Achilles returned to battle and avenged his companion's death by killing Hector. Achilles then desecrated Hector's body by dragging it behind his chariot instead of allowing the Trojans to honorably dispose of it by burning it. Achilles' grief was great and for some time, he refused to dispose of Patroclus' body; but he was persuaded to do so by an apparition of Patroclus, who told Achilles he could not enter Hades without a proper cremation. Achilles sheared off his hair, and sacrificed horses, dogs, and twelve Trojan captives before placing Patroclus' body on the funeral pyre.

Achilles then organized an athletic competition to honour his dead companion, which included a chariot race (won by Diomedes), boxing (won by Epeios), wrestling (a draw between Telamonian Ajax and Odysseus), a foot race (won by Odysseus), a duel (a draw between Ajax and Diomedes), a discus throw (won by Polypoites), an archery contest (won by Meriones), and a javelin throw (won by Agamemnon, unopposed). The games are described in Book 23 of the Iliad, one of the earliest references to Greek sports.

Relationship to Achilles[edit]

In the Iliad, the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles is a vital part of the story. The relationship contributes to the overall theme of the humanization of Achilles. While Homer's Iliad never once explicitly stated as such, in later Greek writings, such as Plato's Symposium, the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles is held up as a model of romantic love. However, Xenophon in his Symposium, had Socrates argue that it was inaccurate to label their relationship as romantic. Nevertheless, their relationship is said to have inspired Alexander the Great in his alleged romantic relationship with his companion Hephaestion.

Burial and later reports[edit]

The funeral of Patroclus is described in book 23 of the Iliad. Patroclus is cremated on a funeral pyre, and his bones are collected into a golden urn in two layers of fat. The barrow is built on the location of the pyre. Achilles then sponsors funeral games, consisting of a chariot race, boxing, wrestling, running, a duel between two champions to the first blood, discus throwing, archery and spear throwing.

The death of Achilles is given in sources other than the Iliad. His bones were mingled with those of Patroclus so that the two would be companions in death as in life and the remains were transferred to Leuke, an island in the Black Sea. Their souls were reportedly seen wandering the island at times.

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus meets Achilles in Hades, accompanied by Patroclus, Telamonian Ajax and Antilochus.

A general of Croton identified either as Autoleon or Leonymus reportedly visited the island of Leuke while recovering from wounds received in battle against the Locri Epizefiri. The event was placed during or after the 7th century BC. He reported having seen Patroclus in the company of Achilles, Ajax the Lesser, Telamonian Ajax, Antilochus, and Helen.

Modern sources[edit]

  • Evslin, Bernard (2006). Gods, Demigods and Demons. I. Tauris. 
  • Michelakis, Pantelis (2007). Achilles in Greek Tragedy. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. New York/London: Thames and Hudson.  pp. 57–61 et passim
  • Sergent, Bernard (1986). Homosexuality in Greek Myth. Boston: Beacon Press. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 114.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Patroclus at Wikimedia Commons
Spoken-word myths – audio files
Achilles and Patroclus myths as told by story tellers
Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer Iliad, 9.308, 16.2, 11.780, 23.54 (700 BC); Pindar Olympian Odes, IX (476 BC); Aeschylus Myrmidons, F135-36 (495 BC); Euripides Iphigenia in Aulis, (405 BC); Plato Symposium, 179e (388 BC-367 BC); Statius Achilleid, 161, 174, 182 (96 CE)