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The Song of Achilles

Recap & Book Summary



The Quick Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.

For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The one-paragraph version: Patroclus is an exile who meets Achilles when they are boys. Achilles is half-god (the son of a King and the sea-nymph Thetis, a lesser god) and fated to be a great warrior, ambitions encouraged by Thetis. As the boys grow up, they become lovers. In the Trojan War, Achilles sees his opportunity for fame and possibly immortality. However, his pride leads to Patroclus's death. In the afterworld, the two lovers are reunited.


Patroclus is a sickly and unathletic boy who is disdained by his father, King Menoitius. When he is an adolescent, he is instructed to present himself as a suitor to Helen, the beautiful daughter of the King of Sparta. In the process, Patroclus and all the other suitors is asked to make an oath promising to honor and defend her choice. She chooses Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon.

One day, Patroclus defends himself against a bully and accidentally kills the other boy, the son of a noble. As a result, Patroclus is exiled to Phthia where he becomes the companion to Achilles, the son of the King of Phthia. Achilles is also a half-god because his mother is Thetis, a sea nymph. It is prophesized that Achilles will be the greatest warrior of his time, and Thetis hopes for Achilles to be famous and thereby be granted immortality.

One day, Patroclus kisses Achilles, but they are spotted by Thetis. She responds by sending Achilles away to be trained by Master Chiron the centaur, who has trained many Greek heroes. However, Patroclus follows. They spend their teenage years at Mount Pelion and become lovers.

When Achilles is 16, King Agamemnon plans a war against Troy. Helen has been abducted by Prince Paris of Troy. To keep Achilles from going to war, Thetis hides Achilles away in the island of Scyros, disguising him as a girl. She also marries Achilles off to the King Lycomedes's daughter, and the girl soon becomes pregnant with Achilles' child. (Patroclus follows as well.)

Nevertheless, Odysseus is able to track Achilles down, and he tells Achilles that he will die in obscurity and waste his talents unless he fights in this war. Achilles decides to fight, and Patroclus agrees to go with him. In Troy, Achilles is easily the best warrior.

At one point, Patroclus asks Achilles to claim a captured girl, Briseis, as a war prize for her own protection. After a negotiation for the Trojans to give up Helen failures, the real fighting begins, which soon drags into a prolonged war. Achilles avoids killing Hector, eldest son of King Priam of Troy because there is a prophesy that Achilles will die at Troy, but not before Hector dies.

Nine years into the Trojan War, there is an incident where King Agamemnon claims the daughter of a High Priest and refuses to return her. It angers Apollo, who sends a plague. When Agamemnon is instructed to return the girl to stop the plague, Agamemnon demands Briseis from Achilles as a replacement. It is a grave show of disrespect towards Achilles, and Achilles intends to use it as grounds to kill or dethrone Agamemnon and secure his own legacy.

However, Patroclus has grown close to Briseis and warns Agamemnon to prevent him from violating Briseis. Instead, Agamemnon keeps Briseis in his custody, but otherwise treats her respectfully. Achilles is still determined to stop fighting for Agamemnon, and he plots with his mother to have Zeus force the Greeks to lose badly in the interim in order to force Agamemnon to beg for his return.

When the Greeks are losing badly, others try to negotiate with Achilles, but he demands an apology to soothe his wounded pride. The Trojans soon attack the camp. Listening to people denounce Achilles for refusing to help them, Patroclus comes up with a plan (with Achilles' permission) to dress up as him and lead the Phthian forces on the field. That way, Achilles can be seen as helping in the effort while still being able to make a point to Agamemnon that he has defied him. However, in carrying out this plan, Patroclus is killed by Hector.

To avenge Patroclus, Achilles finally rejoins the fight and kills Hector. As the fighting continues, Achilles is also killed, as had been prophesized, by an arrow loosed by Paris. Achilles and Patroclus's aches are mixed together for burial. Achilles' 12-year-old son, Pyrrhus, arrives and demands that Achilles' tomb be for him alone, which means Patroclus's remains would not be properly laid to rest, leaving him unable to enter the underworld.

Patroclus's soul instead reaches out to Thetis (who had always hated him and deemed him unworthy) who shares his memories of Achilles with her. She finally gives him a burial marker, and Patroclus and Achilles are reunited in the underworld.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

The sections heading don’t appear in the book. I’ve added them to this summary to make it easier to navigate.


Early Childhood
Exile to Phthia
Master Chiron and Mount Pelion
A Call to Arms and Scyros
Preparing for War
Raids
A Lengthy Campaign
Plague, Chryseis and Briseis
The Deaths of Patroclus and Achilles
Pyrrhus and the End of the Trojan War

Early Childhood

Chapter 1

As a boy, Patroclus is small, unathletic, slight and sickly. His father Menoitius is a king, but his mother is “simple”. When Patroclus is five, his father hosts the Olympic games. Patroclus watches as the winner among the young boys (later revealed to be Achilles Pelides) is crowned. The boy’s father, King Peleus, hugs the boy, and Patroclus’s father remarks that “that is what a son should be”.

Patroclus also thinks back on a happy memory of sitting with his mother on the beach.

Chapter 2

One day, Patroclus’s father directs him to present himself as a suitor to Helen, the beautiful daughter of Tyndareus, King of Sparta. They travel there, and arrive to find many other suitors there as well. Patroclus’s father, Menoitius, presents a gift of a gold mixing bowl to Tyndareus, and he brags about his riches. The other suitors presenting themselves include Menelaus, Ajax, Philoctetes and Idomeneus (King of Crete), among many others. Odysseus (King of Ithaca) is also there, but merely observing. (He is promised to Penelope, niece of Tyndareus.)

Odysseus suggests that Helen should choose, and the men should swear an oath to uphold that choice. Tyndareus and Helen agree to this, and a priest is brought in for the oaths. Helen then chooses Menelaus, whose brother Agamemnon is married to her sister Clytemnestra.

Exile to Phthia

Chapter 3

One day as Patroclus is in the field playing with a set of dice, the son of a noble tries to bully Patroclus, demanding that he give him the dice. Patroclus refuses and pushes the boy, causing him to fall. The boy hits his head on rocks and dies. Though Menoitius is king, killing the eldest son of a noble is an act that demands retribution, or else the nobles would riot. As a result, Patroclus is exiled, to be raised elsewhere with no inheritance or family name.

Patroclus is sent to Phthia, a tiny country reigned over by King Peleus. Peleus had been honored by the gods by being given a sea-nymph for a wife, Thetis. According to the story, Peleus had been instructed to force himself on her, which would bind her to him. Thetis had then been told by the gods that she must stay with him for a year, which she did. Afterwards, she swam off and left, only returning to visit their son, Achilles.

In Phthia, Patroclus meets Achilles as feels a jealous-fueled dislike of him, seeing his good looks and golden hair. Patroclus’s bed is in a barracks-styled room with other foster sons, more cast-off sons which King Peleus had taken in. When Patroclus is sent to military train the next day, he understands why King Peleus has taken in all these sons — in order to help build up an army. As the days pass, Patroclus is largely ignored by the other boys, and he continues to have nightmares about the boy he killed.

Chapter 4

At mealtimes, Achilles joins them to eat, and the other boys flock to him. A month into Patroclus’s exile, the other boys learn of the reason why he is here. They gossip about him and how he is bad luck.

One day, Achilles finds Patroclus and informs him that Peleus is considering punishing Patroclus for not attending morning drills. When Achilles suggests that Patroclus come up with an excuse, Patroclus boldly suggests that Achilles invite him to his lessons. That way, Patroclus doesn’t have to do the drills. Achilles thinks about it, agrees to the plan and leads Patroclus to his lyre lesson.

In the practice room, Patroclus sees his mother’s lyre, which had been sent to Phthia as part of the payment to Peleus for taking him in. During the lesson, Achilles plays beautifully while Patroclus listens. Afterwards, they go to talk to Peleus.

Chapter 5

Achilles tells his father that he wishes to have Patroclus for a companion (a “Therapon“), saying that he finds him “surprising”. Peleus says that they’ll both need to make their apologies to Amphidamas, the arms-master, and Achilles agrees.

Afterwards, Achilles tells Patroclus that he trains alone, and that here was a prophecy when he was born that he would become the best warrior of his generation.

At mealtime, Achilles announces that Patroclus will be moved into his room, and all the other boys wonder why Achilles has chosen Patroclus (“the most unlikely of us, small and ungrateful and probably cursed”) to show a special interest in. That night, Achilles teaches Patroclus how to help him juggle until the two get tired and go to sleep.

For a while Patroclus continues dreaming about the dead boy, but eventually the nightmares stop. And over time, Achilles and Patroclus tell each other more about themselves.


One day, Achilles suggests that Patroclus come with him to watch him train. As he watches, he sees how Achilles’ divine blood has given him the miracle of speed, moving faster than Patroclus’s sight could follow.

Chapter 6

Over time, the boys grow closer. A year into Patroclus’s exile, he tells Achilles about the death of the boy. When Achilles points out that he could have said he was defending himself or lied and said that he found him dead, Patroclus realizes his own “lack of cunning”. Achilles admits that he doesn’t know what he would have done, since no one has ever treated him like that.

Patroclus often joins Achilles in attending councils or dinners with Kings, though he never accompanies him to see Achilles’s mother Thetis. One day, Achilles says that Thetis wants to meet him. They go, and she regards him dismissively, telling Patroclus that Achilles will be a god and that Patroclus will “be dead soon enough”.

Afterwards, Patroclus thinks about the other half-gods who had been granted immortality — Heracles, Orpheus and Orion. But he notes that all of these men had been sons of Zeus and not a lesser god like Thetis. Achilles admits he doesn’t know how to become a god, but says that Thetis thinks if he becomes famous enough then it can happen.

Chapter 7

The boys soon turn 13, and the other boys are engaging in dalliances with serving girls and whatnot. At 13, it was expected Achilles would do the same, but he abstained. Peleus encourages Achilles to bed one of the girls, but he makes his excuses. Meanwhile, Patroclus start to finds himself having dreams of a sexual nature of Achilles.

One day at the beach, Patroclus finally kisses Achilles. Achilles looks surprised and runs away. The kiss, however, was seen by Thetis, who responds by sending Achilles away the next day. Achilles is going off to be taught by Master Chiron, who former taught Heracles and Perseus.

Master Chiron and Mount Pelion

Chapter 8

With Achilles gone, Patroclus is decides to escape. After a few hours, he comes upon Achilles, who apparently stayed and waited for Patroclus. Chiron, a Cenatur, is there, too, looking for Achilles Chiron allows them to ride on his back since Pelion is a long way away.

They eventually reach a cave where a bed is set up for Achilles. There are also surgical implements on the wall, and Patroclus expresses a desire to learn medicine to Chiron. Chiron also plans to teach them about things like forestry and other skills.

Chiron warns them that he knows Thetis wishes for Patroclus to be kept away from Achilles, but he says that he has not made up his mind on whether to honor her request. When Patroclus offers to leave to prevent trouble, Chiron tells him not to give up so easily on things.

Chapter 9

As the days pass on Mount Pelion, the boys help Chiron with chores, and he teaches them things along the way about things like hunting or plants or cleaning a wound or tracking animals.

One morning, Thetis shows up looking angry. Chiron sends Patroclus into the cave so he can speak with her. Achilles goes outside to speak with Chiron and Thetis as well. Much later in the day, Achilles and Chiron return to the cave, and they resume activities as usual. They don’t say anything about the conversation, merely that Thetis is be coming around more often.


In the Winter, Achilles asks about learning to fight, and Chiron spends the day training with them. Afterwards, he tells Achilles that he is the greatest warrior of all time, so there is nothing he can teach him, but he also warns him that “men will hear of your skill, and they will wish for you to fight their wars.”

When Achilles turns 14, the boys have been there for nearly a year and soon another year passes as well.

Chapter 10

When the boys are 15, Achilles comments how Patroclus is starting to look older. There are no mirrors there, but Achilles comments that Patroclus would “not be displeased” with his appearance.

When they are almost 16, Patroclus considers how it will be time for Achilles to marry soon since 16 is considered the last year of a boy’s childhood. Patroclus continues to have romantic feelings for Achilles, but tries to hide it. On Achilles’s 16th birthday, Patroclus gives him a gift of figs and a carving of a boy playing a lyre.

One night, after Achilles as concluded a visit with his mother, Achilles mentions to Patroclus that he asked Thetis whether she was able to see them there on the mountain. She responded that she could not, that was unable to watch over him. That night, Patroclus and Achilles kiss and pleasure each other.


One day, Achilles mentions how heroes in their stories (like Heracles, Theseus, Jason or Bellerophon) are never happy. Achilles decides that he will be the one to be both famous and happy.

Later that day, Achilles is summoned by his father back to the palace for some type of announcement. The messenger mentions that the Peleus recently received news from Mycenae, which is ruled over by King Agamemnon.

The boys back their things, and Chiron warns Achilles that he should think about “what you would do when men wanted you to fight”. With that, the two head back to Phthia.

A Call to Arms and Scyros

Chapter 11

Upon their return, both Thetis and Peleus greet Achilles, and Peleus ushers them into the great hall where many have gathered for his announcement. Peleus informs everyone that Queen Helen of Sparta, wife of Menelaus, has been abducted by Prince Paris of Troy. He says that Agamemnon has called for men to sail to Troy to rescue her, promising wealth and renown to any willing to fight.

Peleus plans to send a delegation from Phthia. He also says that Agamemnon has called upon those who once swore an oath to protect Helen’s marriage to fight for her now, naming Patroclus (“Menoitiades” meaning “of Menoitius”). Achilles says reminds Patroclus that it is not his name anymore because Patroclus’s father disowned him, and he says that they should ask Chiron for guidance.

Afterwards, Peleus talks to Achilles, encouraging him to go since Troy is a rich city and it’s a war that can bring him honor. He also mentions Patroclus’s oath. Still, neither Patroclus or Achilles wishes to go, and Peleus agrees to leave it to them to decide for themselves.

Afterwards, Achilles reassures Patroclus that if he does end up having to fight, that he will join him.

Chapter 12

The next morning, Achilles is nowhere to be found. Patroclus finds out that Thetis came to take him last night while he was sleeping.

A month passes. Thinking about Chiron’s urging to fight for the things he wants, Patroclus goes to Peleus and takes on the pose of a supplicant (which would compel Peleus, as a pious man, to accede to his request) to ask where Achilles is. Peleus reluctantly tells him he is on “Scyros”. Patroclus then asks for money for the journey, which Peleus agrees to.

Phoinix (Peleus’ most trusted counselor) gives Patroclus the money and agrees to take him to the island of Scyros. At Scyros, Patroclus requests an audience with King Lycomedes. Instead, Princess Deidameia meets with him. Patroclus gives his name as “Chironides”, meaning “Son of Chiron”. He asks about his friend, but Deidameia plays coy and says she has not decided whether or not to help him.

Deidameia also tells him that Scyros is where cast-off daughters are sent for fostering, which she refers to as “Deidameia’s women“, and over dinner the women perform for everyone. After the dance, Patroclus recognizes Achilles who is partnered with Deidameia, but is dressed as a female. Deidameia refers to Achilles as “Pyrrha“.

Achilles immediately embraces Patroclus, causing Deidameia to protest. Achilles (as Pyrrha) then introduces Patroclus as his husband. In anger, Deidameia then “outs” Achilles as a man, to Lycomedes’s surprise and confusion. Thetis then shows up, looking angry as well.

Finally, Achilles clarifies what is going on. Thetis did not want Achilles going to war. Instead, she hid him here, disguised as one of Lycomedes’s foster daughters. Thetis also married Achilles and Deidameia (and ordered them to consummate the marriage) in order to bind Lycomedes to them and ensure his cooperation. Deidameia also says that she is pregnant.

Upset, Patroclus starts to walk out. Achilles stops him, explaining that he only slept with Deidameia because his mother promised she would tell Patroclus where he was if he did it. Patroclus informs him that Thetis lied, instead he found out from Peleus. Achilles asks Patroclus for his forgiveness.

Later, Thetis has left and Lycomedes permits Patroclus to stay with them. He asks Achilles to promise to give the child is name, and Achilles agrees.

Chapter 13

As the days pass, Achilles continues to pretend to be a girl who is the wife of Patroclus. Deidameia continues pining fruitlessly for Achilles’ attention, but Achilles is cold towards her.

One morning when Achilles is off training, Deidameia calls Patroclus in to talk to him. She insults him and slaps him, but she also says she is leaving for her “confinement” tomorrow since they don’t want people to know she is pregnant given that her marriage is still a secret. Then, she cries and tries to seduce Patroclus. He wants to leave, but doesn’t want to embarrass her further by rejecting her, so he lets it happen.

Chapter 14

Deidameia leaves, and Achilles and Patroclus continue whiling away in Scyros. Meanwhile, there’s news of Agamemnon’s army heading to Troy. One day, a ship pulls up with a man who is looking for able-bodied men to join the army. Patroclus recognizes the scar on the man’s leg and realizes the man is Odysseus. Lord Diomedes, King of Argos, is with Odysseus as well.

Patroclus identifies himself as Chironides, and he declines to join the army. Odysseus says he’ll be around for a few days in case Patroclus changes his mind. That night, Odysseus and Diomedes have dinner with Patroclus and Lycomedes. They ask to see the women of the island, and they are all brought out, including Achilles in disguise.

Then, Diomedes instructs a servant to sound a trumpet, indicating disaster. Achilles immediately readies himself for battle, thus revealing himself. Odysseus and Diomedes then reveal that it was a ruse, since they have been looking for him. Achilles then removes his disguise and assents to speak with them. Odysseus instructs him to bring Patroclus as well (revealing that he knew who Patroclus was all along).

Chapter 15

Odysseus demands that Achilles join them in Troy or else they’ll make known that he has been dressing as a woman, something that would likely bring him great derision. Odysseus tells him it will be the greatest war of their time, his chance at fame. If Achilles does not fight in it, then his talents will go to waste, and he will die in obscurity.

As Odysseus talks, Thetis storms in angrily. Odysseus warns Thetis that his mission has been blessed by the goddess Athena. Odysseus also entreats her to tell Achilles what the knows. Thetis tells Achilles that what Odysseus said is true, but also that if Achilles goes to Troy he will certainly die there as a young man. With that, Thetis leaves to let him decide.

Despite Patroclus hoping that Achilles will refuse, Achilles agrees to go to Troy. He then asks Patroclus to join him, and Patroclus agrees.

Afterwards, Patroclus calls out to Thetis, asking to know how long Achilles has to live. She says she does not know, only that someone named Hector, the second best soldier after Achilles, will die before him. When Patroclus sees Achilles, he tells him to avoid killing Hector; it’s likely Achilles is the only one with the skill to kill him, and that way it will extend how long Achilles has to live. She also comments that Achilles is too trusting, and that Patroclus should do what he can to watch out for him.

Before they leave, Achilles tells Lycomedes that the child will be a boy, and that Thetis intends to claim his child and raise it once it is weaned. Lycomedes is unhappy to hear of this, thinking of his daughter bereft of both a child and husband.


On the ship, Odysseus and Diomedes verbally spar back and forth, a banter they both seem to enjoy. They also tell stories of their adventures, which Achilles enjoys listening to. At one point Achilles brings up the rumor that Achilles and Patroclus are lovers, but they deny it. Afterwards, Patroclus suggests they tone things down to stop the rumors, but Achilles says that “I have given enough to them. I will not give them this”.

Odysseus also tells Achilles about their allies and foes in the war. Achilles asks about Hector, who Odysseus says is the oldest son of King Priam of Troy and who is favored by Apollo.

As they sleep Patroclus thinks about how he has no desire to live after Achilles is gone.

Preparing for War

Chapter 16

They soon arrive in Phthia, where Achilles is greeted by a crowd. They now call him Aristos Achaion, which means “Best of the Greeks”. Achilles is to lead the Phthians in war, and Patroclus thinks about how Achilles no longer belongs to just him. Soon, Achilles is very busy with preparations.

Six weeks later, the Phthian regiment is ready to depart. Achilles also carries with him a fine spear crafted by Chiron as a gift. Together, the 50 ships depart with Achilles on the flagship.

Chapter 17

The first stop is Aulis, where all of Agamemnon’s forces are to assemble. There is a huge crowd. When Achilles is presented, his skin turns golden and the crowd gasps. Patroclus recognizes that Thetis must be using her powers to draw forth his divinity in order to bolster Achilles’ fame. Patroclus sees, too, that Achilles is enjoying the attention.

When Achilles approaches Agamemnon, he does not kneel or offer other shows of obedience. Instead, he merely tells him that he has “come to bring you victory”, making clear that he is here to offer his air but not to “pledge his allegiance” to him. Agamemnon seems perturbed, but welcomes him nonetheless.

Chapter 18

Soon, the troops are ready to leave, but the wind is uncooperative and still. Instead, they all wait in the camps and in the heat. After two weeks, Achilles asks his mother what is going on, and she says the lack of wind is a message from the gods. Months pass. Agamemnon’s priest soon determine that they have somehow offended Artemis.

As such, a sacrifice is required. A wedding is also planned, since weddings are pleasing to the gods. Agamemnon offers up his daughter Iphigenia in marriage to Achilles (since his marriage to Deidameia is a secret). With encouragement from Odysseus and Patroclus, Achilles accepts.

When Iphigenia arrives, she looks excited. But as she approaches Achilles, she’s suddenly dragged to the altar and slaughtered by Agamemnon and then burned. The winds then begin to blow.

Afterwards, Agamemnon explains that a great sacrifice was required and it was necessary. Agamemnon tells everyone that Iphigenia had agreed to it, but Patroclus had been up close and recognized the “startled panic” on her face.

That night, Patroclus accuses Odysseus of knowing what was to happen and letting it happen. Odysseus freely admits it, saying that the ruse was necessary for the girl’s mother to permit her to come. When Patroclus says that Achilles is upset over being implicated in her death, Odysseus advises Patroclus to “help him leave this soft heart behind” since Achilles will be expected to murder many men in Troy.

Chapter 19

The next day, the ships depart. On the ship, Achilles admits trepidation at the idea of killing people, thinking about the sight of Iphigenia being slain. A part of Patroclus is glad about Achilles’ reluctance, but he remembers what Odysseus said, and he reminds Achilles that these men at war will be trying to kill him. Then, Achilles spots a deadly water-snake near Patroclus, and he kills it instinctively and without hesitation.

When they finally near the beach of Meriones, there are Trojan soldiers gathered there and an alarm is sounded. In a chariot, they see a man who is unmistakably Hector who directs the men. In the ships, Agamemnon’s men are without orders and being told to simply hold their position.

Soon, Achilles begins heaving spears at the bowmen and arrows from the Trojans come raining towards the ships. Eventually, the Trojans give up the beach.

Raids

Chapter 20

Soon, the troops have set up camp along the stretch of beach. On a hill far away, they can see the tall stone walls of the city of Troy.

Achilles brings Patroclus to the first council meeting, where the kings discuss matters of logistics and strategy. Menelaus quickly offers to peacefully discuss things with the Trojan, though others would prefer a raid on the nearby lands as their opening salvo.

Agamemnon decides that a raid is the way to go. He, his brother and their forces will stand at the center with Odysseus and Achilles’ forces to his side, Ajax and Diomedes at the flanks and the rest filling out from there. Patroclus notes that Achilles is pleased with his prominent position.

When Achilles returns after the initial raid, he is covered in blood and talks triumphantly of his kills, which bothers Patroclus.

Chapter 21

After the raids, the spoils of war are then distributed proportionally based upon your standing in the army. Agamemnon is awarded first and Achilles is awarded second, but he shrugs it off since it’s clear to all Achilles is a superior soldier.

Three weeks in, a beautiful girl is up for grabs, signaling Agamemnon’s permission to take these women for their own uses. Seeing Agamemnon’s desire for her, Patroclus asks Achilles to claim her for himself. Achilles does so, and Agamemnon reluctantly agrees.

Afterwards, Achilles has a tent set up for her, and Patroclus leaves her there with food and clean clothes. The next day, Patroclus introduces himself, and the girl calls herself Briseis.

With the camp empty during the day for raids, Patroclus spends his time with Briseis, who helps with the cooking and other tasks. Soon, there are more captured girls seen around the camps, and Patroclus asks Achilles to claim as many as he can as they expand the tent to fit them all. Briseis comes up with the idea for Patroclus to to teach them all Greek.

A Lengthy Campaign

Chapter 22

Still, the war not had really begun since the raids were fought against farmers and tradesmen instead of soldiers. Finally, Menelaus and Odysseus are to go to Troy to negotiate with King Priam. That night, Achilles asks Patroclus about Helen choosing Menelaus. He speculates that Helen may have left willingly with Paris since Menelaus’s palace is too well-guarded for her to be taken without her consent.

When Odysseus and Menelaus return, they report that King Priam refused to return Helen, saying it was against her wishes and that she has “put herself under our protection”. Agamemnon says that then the only option is war and that every man, Patroclus included, is expected to fight.


Just before dawn, they assemble to march on Troy. Achilles instructs Patroclus to stay behind him. On the battlefield, there is a clash of bodies and steel. Patroclus does not attempt to kill anyone, merely watching as bodies fall around him.

Two months of “civilized” fighting pass by, with days of fighting interspersed with rests for funerals and festivals. The leaders soon realize the war will be long, though Achilles enjoys the fighting and “gloried in his own strength” when it gets difficult. Eventually, it’s acceptable for Patroclus to stop going and his battlefield visits dwindle to once a week, mostly as a companion for Achilles. Occasionally, Patroclus notices an ethereal presence near Achilles, that of Thetis watching over him.

In the distance, Patroclus would also see the Trojans, namely Paris and Hector leading their men. Achilles never tries to go near Hector, saying “what has Hector ever done to me?”

Chapter 23

One day Achilles meets with his mother, who tells him there is argument among the gods regarding the war. Thetis is also concerned that while Achilles has been promised fame, there’s no guarantee as to how much.

Thetis also worries that someone else will kill Hector and revel in that distinction. Achilles also admits that he can envision himself doing it, knowing his death is coming and feeling the subsequent relief.

Meanwhile, Patroclus has time on his hands and it’s suggested he could help out with Machaon the physician. Patroclus jumps right in, having been trained well by Chiron and having the patience to treat wounds with care.


At the camp, Achilles, Patroclus, Phoinix, Briseis, Automedon (a young charioteer they were given) and the other women become like a small family, sharing food and stories at night.

One night, Achilles asks Briseis about Hector. She says she doesn’t know much, but that he loves his wife Andromache, daughter of King Eetion of Cilicia, above all else and that she is beloved by the country people. Afterwards, Achilles tells Patroclus that he remembers raiding Cilicia and that he killed her family. He recalls that he left one son alive “so that their line would not die”.

Chapter 24

Fours years pass at war with no real progress and soon discontent spreads among the camps. Agamemnon has the disaffected soldiers whipping, but their numbers continue to grow. Soon, hundreds of men are refusing to fight.

In a miscalculation, Agamemnon kills a man who has spat at his feet, resulting in him enveloped in an angry mob. Achilles then shouts out to the men to try to calm the situation. He tells them that he would not fight in a hopeless war and reminds them of the treasures awaiting in wealthy Troy that await them when they win. With that, the crowd disperses.

Soon, Odysseus busies the men with a project to build a giant palisades. He also tracks down the solider that had been stirring up the men, Thersites, and has him beaten, which puts an end to the mutinies.

After that, people start turning their camp into a real town, with a forge, pen for cattle and other structures. all the while, the men from all these disparate armies become like countrymen, joining together as Greeks. (The book notes that years after the Trojan War is over, “for a generation, there would be no wars among those of us who had fought at Troy.”)

Over time, Patroclus comes to know all the men through his work at the medical tent. Patroclus remembers and recognizes many of them around camp, but Achilles notes that they all look the same to him. The women with Patroclus and Achilles leave as they take lovers and husbands around the camp, until only Briseis is still with them.

One morning, they are visited by Thetis with news. She offers a warning from the gods that Apollo is angry and requires a sacrifice. Thetis recommend a hecatomb (a hundred heads of sheep or cattle) as an offering, and Achilles agrees to it. Then, Thetis adds that it is prophesizes that the best of Achilles’ soldiers (Myrmidons) will die in the next two years, though Achilles will live to see it. As always, Thetis reminds Achilles that Patroclus is unworthy of him before leaving.


In exchange for teaching him about the area’s herbs, Briseis wants Patroclus to teach her about medicine. One day as they work and talk, Briseis kisses him, though Patroclus stops her. Briseis asks if Patroclus wants children, though he says he does not know.

That night, he’s reminded of how Achilles now has a son, Neoptolemus, nicknamed Pyrrhus. When the topic of Briseis and children comes up, Achilles asks if Patroclus wants children with her. Seeing the jealousy on his face, Petroclus says no.

Plague, Chryseis and Briseis

Chapter 25

In the ninth year of the war, a beautiful girl named Chryseis, the daughter of a high priest, is presented. Before Achilles can claim her, Agamemnon does.

A month later, the girl’s father, Chryses comes with a procession of priests. He offers treasures in exchange for his daughter’s return, but he does not supplicate himself to Agamemnon. Agamemnon is dissatisfied despite the generous offer, and he rejects it. Chryses trudges off, and that night the plague begins to spread in their camp.

The next morning, the mules and dogs are dropping dead. By the next day, the men are hit with illness. Heaps of bodies are burnt at a time to try to stop the spread. Suspiciously, none of the victims are kings or women.

On the ninth night, Achilles asks his mother who confirms that the plague is a result of displeasing the gods. The next day, Achilles tells the men this. Calchas, Agamemnon’s priest, is brought forth. He admits that they have angered Apollo via their treatment of Chryses. To stop the plague, Chryseis must be returned without payment, along with prayer and sacrifices from Agamemnon.

Agamemnon is angered and embarrassed by the pronouncement, but Achilles demands that Agamemnon help to stop the plague. However, Agamemnon does not back down and a public argument breaks out among the two. Agamemnon then demands Briseis as a replacement for Chryseis. Furious and unwilling, Achilles spits at Agamemnon’s feet and tells him he and his army will no longer fight for him.

However, Agamemnon plans to take Briseis anyway. Achilles knows he will make Agamemnon pay for dishonoring him, but does not plan to defend Briseis. If Agamemnon insults Achilles by violating her (something that is rightfully his), then Achilles has fair cause to kill Agamemnon. When Patroclus realizes what Achilles is planning, he is deeply hurt, since he sees Briseis as one of them.

Chapter 26

Briseis is taken away by Agamemnon’s men, and Achilles goes to talk to his mother for guidance. Desperate to protect her, Patroclus goes to find Agamemnon. He slits his wrist in order to swear an oath on his own blood. Patroclus warns Agamemnon that if he violates Briseis, that their men and the gods will turn on him. Patroclus implies that the other kings have not stopped this perhaps because they are hoping that Agamemnon continues on this path towards his downfall in hopes of taking his place.

When Achilles returns, Patroclus tells him the truth — that he warned Agamemnon of his plan to let him violate Briseis so that Achilles would have cause to kill Agamemnon or otherwise force him off the throne. Achilles accuses Patroclus of choosing her over him, saying that his actions were necessary for him to create his legacy and shape his memory.

Patroclus is unmoved by Achilles’ excuses for his actions, and Achilles’ anger slowly fades.

Chapter 27

Afterwards, Achilles tells Patroclus that he intends to stop fighting for Agamemnon. Moreover, he told Thetis about the dishonor. She plans to ask Zeus, who owes her a debt, to make the Greeks lose the war bitterly until they have no choice but to beg for his return. If Agamemnon refuses to beg, then they will all die.

That night, Patroclus goes to check on Briseis, who is being kept comfortably. Agamemnon points out that everyone in the camp can see that even though she is in his custody, that he is not dishonoring Achilles in his treatment of her. If Achilles simply kneels and apologizes, then she will be returned and he will give Achilles the honor he deserves.

The next day, the armies go off to battle without Achilles.

The Deaths of Patroclus and Achilles

Chapter 28

That night, Phoinix recounts news of a duel earlier that day between Paris and Menelaus to decide Helen’s fate and settle things once and for all. Menelaus had overpowered Paris, but before Menelaus could kill Paris, Menelaus was shot by an arrow from the Trojans.

A fight broke out until Hector offered a second duel with the same terms. This time, Hector and Ajax fight all day, until nightfall brings a truce and the two armies part. Phoinix reports that there were whispers from the soldiers that it would have gone differently if Achilles had been present.

The day after, the Lycians, allies of Troy, suddenly arrive to join them in fending off Agamemnon’s forces. Sarpedon, a son of Zeus, has also arrived to fight for Troy. The the next days, many Greeks die, and all the while, Achilles is triumphant.


Finally, Phoinix, Odysseus and Ajax arrive to negotiate with Achilles. They offer a hoard of treasures and the return of Briseis in exchange for him rejoining the fight. However, Achilles wants Agamemnon to apologize and rejects the offer. Odysseus then says that the Trojans are on the precipice of attacking the camp. Odysseus also accuses Achilles of neglecting to kill Hector when he had the opportunity, thereby dragging out the war needlessly, implying that he’s aware of the prophesy.

Before they leave, Phoinix reminds Achilles of how he has watched over him his whole life and will continue to stand by him. However, he tells Achilles a story about the hero Meleager who had been in a similar situation where he had refused to fight after his honor was insulted. When Meleager finally re-entered the war at the insistence of his wife, his side was victorious, but the people shunned him for the needless death he caused in the interim.

That night, Patroclus goes to check on Briseis. She says that if the Trojans attack and Achilles and the rest of the camp falls, then she will surrender to them (since they are her people), and she offers to claim Patroclus as her husband for his protection. However, Patroclus thinks that he is unlikely to live if Achilles is dead.

Chapter 29

Patroclus is awakened by the noise from the attack, and Patroclus thinks about the recklessness of Achilles’ pride. As the fight continues outside, Machaeon is seen bleeding on a pallet, and it’s reported that the Trojans have broken through their wall. Machaeon begs Patroclus to ask Achilles to fight.

As the men continue to fall, they speak of their hatred of Achilles for leaving them to this fate. As the ships are lit on fire, they try to desperately to protect their ships, since otherwise there will be no way for them to go home. Patroclus watches as Hector’s spear goes into Ajax’s leg.

Chapter 30

Patroclus runs to Achilles to tell him what is happening and to beseech him to fight. He tries to convince Achilles not to let the others die for Agamemnon’s faults, but Achilles is also angry that the others didn’t speak up when Agamemnon was insulting him. Patroclus even asks Achilles to do it his (Patroclus’s) sake, but Achilles still says no.

Finally, Patroclus offers to wear Achilles’ armor and lead their men (the Myrmidons) into battle. That way, Achilles can still defy Agamemnon while using his name to contribute to the fight. Patroclus agrees to stay in the safety of the chariot while he does this.

After getting ready, Patroclus head out with the men on his chariot. There are shouts of joy as people see him appear. Very soon they are besieged by soldiers, but the Greeks rally in what they think is Achilles’s presence. Patroclus is drawn into a fight with Sarpedon and somehow manages to kill him.

Automedon then leads Patroclus out to make an escape, but when they near the walls of Troy, Patroclus thinks of how Troy is unguarded and decides to try to climb the walls. However, Patroclus then sees a vision of Apollo which causes him to fall. Then, Hector comes towards him and kills him.

Chapter 31

Away from the fighting, Achilles watches as someone important has fallen on the battlefield, though he can’t make out who. Then, men trudge towards the camp and he soon realizes it is Patroclus that has died. Menelaus says it was Hector.

Briseis is released, and Agamemnon comes to make peace with Achilles. Achilles is determined to fight Hector tomorrow, and he indifferently agrees to continue fighting after that. When Achilles and Briseis are alone, she accuses Achilles of letting Patroclus die by sending him out there knowing he he was a poor fighter. She says that Patroclus died to save Achilles’s reputation.

At dawn, Achilles charges out in search of Hector as Hector attempts to evade him. The river god Scamander, which Hector and his people have piously honored over time, even rises to try to stop Achilles, resulting in a fight. Finally, Achilles reaches Hector. Hector asks to have his body returned to his family, but Achilles kills him and ignores his wishes.

The next day, Achilles drags Hector’s body around for all to see, eliciting their disapproval. Thetis warns Achilles that he is angering Apollo. As they argue, Thetis tells Achilles that he is acting childish and his son Pyrrhus is more of a man than he is. Thetis also tells him that Pyrrhus will be needed to bring down Troy.

Thetis’s last words to Achilles before she leaves him forever are to says that “I am glad that he is dead” (referring to Patroclus).

Chapter 32

At night, King Priam comes to Achilles, kneeling, to ask for Hector’s body despite the obvious danger this puts him in. Achilles sees the sorrow in the king who expresses his regret at Patroclus’s death. Achilles agrees to give up the body. The next day, Achilles takes Patroclus’s body on a pyre to be burnt as well and collects the ashes afterwards. Achilles asks the others to mix their ashes together when he dies.

In the war, heroes rise to replace the fallen ones. Achilles kills Troilus, the youngest son of Priam. Then, Paris, with Apollo’s blessing, shoots an arrow at Achilles that hits him in the back, and Achilles falls as well.

Pyrrhus and the End of the Trojan War

Chapter 33

Achilles’s body is placed on a pyre and burnt. Afterwards, as Thetis looks on, Odysseus asks for instructions regarding his ashes, referencing Achilles’ request to mix his ashes with those of Patroclus. Thetis tells him to do as he pleases, so Achilles instructions are carried out.

As the king discuss where to build a tomb for Achilles, Pyrrhus, 12, shows up, demanding to take Achilles’ place. Pyrrhus brings soldiers from Scyros as well. He tells them of the prophesy that Troy will not fall without him. Pyrrhus demands that Achilles’ tomb be for him and him alone, not for Patroclus as well, but that means Patroclus cannot find peace.

Pyrrhus also interrogates Briseis, having heard that Achilles stopped fighting because of her. He assumes that Briseis must be a great “bed-slave” despite her attempts to tell him the truth, and then demands that she bed him (Pyrrhus) as well. However, she stabs him with a knife instead and runs. Pyrrhus follows as she tries to swim off and throws a spear, killing her.

As was foretold, Odysseus comes up with a plan for Troy involving a horse the city falls. Odysseus kills Priam and Hector’s young son. Soon, Troy’s riches are plundered and the camp is backed up for them to sail off. As they prepare to leave, Pyrrhus demands a sacrifice in Achilles’ honor. A cow is brought to him, but he takes the royal prisoner Princess Polyxena and kills her at the altar.

In death, Patroclus calls out to Odysseus in his sleep, asking to be put to rest. Odysseus approaches Pyrrhus with the request, trying to convince him that it is the right thing to do and that Achilles would have wanted it. However, Pyrrhus refuses, not wanting to diminish his father’s tomb with the memory of Patroclus.

The ships leave. Achilles’s spirit is now in the underworld while Patroclus is “tied to this earth where my ashes lie”. Pyrrhus is later killed by Agamemnon’s son for taking and raping his bride.

Patroclus thinks of how he hates Thetis, since she was the one who made Pyrrhus who he is. Patroclus’s spirit reaches out to Thetis, reminding her of the good that Achilles did, unlike Pyrrhus who she loves more. Thetis laments that she was unable to make Achilles a god. Finally, as Patroclus recounts his memories of him to Thetis, she marks a spot next to Achilles’ tomb for Patroclus, and the two are reunited in the underworld.

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