Iliad Book 18: Divine Armor and the Death
Funeral scene on dipylon Krater dating from the
8th century BCE. You can see Greek funerary ceramic pots
with this same scene at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Preface: the name of Achilleus
The argument has been made, and persuasively in my view,
that Achilleus' name means "pain to the people." The Greek concept
of a hero is, at least in part, a man of pain: who inflicts pain
(on the enemy and on his own people) and who suffers pain.
Fight over the body of Patroklos; Antilochos leaves to take
news of Patroklos' death to Achilleus.
1. Achilleus' mourning
Pay particular attention to Achilleus' first response to
the news of Patroklos' death: he throws dust on his head,
stretches out on the ground, and befouls his tunic with dust.
Mourning often includes symbolic or actual disfigurement; it can
be seen as a ritual gesture of sympathetic death.
From this point until Book 24, Achilleus essentially ceases
to participate in normal human functions: he doesn't eat, he
barely sleeps, he abstains from sex.
2. Mourning for Achilleus
Compare the scene painted by the poem, in which Achilleus
is lying on the ground with Thetis holding his head and the
Nereids are standing around them mourning, with the scene pictured
above. What kind of scene is this?
Consider Thetis' question to Achilleus; even in her most
intimate moments with her son, she cannot identify with his
3. Achilleus at the wall
At one of Achilleus' most MORTAL of moments, he is endowed
with seemingly IMMORTAL attributes which frighten the Trojans away
from the fight over Patroklos' corpse: the aegis of Zeus, fire
leaping from his head, a terrifying scream.
Watch for increasing "cosmological disruptions" in the
remainder of the Iliad (e.g., in Book 18 Hera forces the
sun down; later horses will cry and even talk, a river fights
Note that what the narrator describes is not the finished
armor, but Hephaistos' creative work as he makes it.
Pay special attention to the shield, which has celestial
bodies at the center, the ocean running around the outer edge, and
scenes from all of civilized life depicted on it. When Achilleus
goes into battle, a mortal in immortal armor, he literally has
'the whole world in his hands'.