Definitions

Patroclus

Patroclus

[puh-troh-kluhs]
Patroclus: see Achilles.

In Greek mythology, as recorded in the Iliad by Homer, Patroclus, or Patroklos (Gr. Πάτροκλος “glory of the father”), son of Menoetius, was Achilles’ best friend and, according to some (including Ovid), his lover.

Patroclus’ genealogy

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. Apollodorus of Athens 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; although Hyginus gives no origin for Philomela, she might be related to her namesake daughter of Pandion I, King of Athens and Zeuxippe.

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 Deion, 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

While still a boy, Patroclus 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 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 (ultimately Menelaus) 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 to have ever visited Peloponnesos.

Trojan War activities

When Achilles refused to fight because of his feud with Agamemnon, Patroclus donned Achilles' armor, led the Myrmidons and killed many Trojans and their allies, including the Lycian hero Sarpedon (a son of Zeus), and Cebriones (the chariot driver of Hector and illegitimate son of Priam) despite the warning of Achilles to not engage in combat beyond the Achaean ships. He was killed by Hector and Euphorbos, with help from Apollo.

After retrieving his body, which had been protected on the field by Menelaus and Telamonian Aias, 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 cut a lock of 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 Aias and Odysseus), a foot race (won by Odysseus), a duel (a draw between Aias 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

In the Iliad, the love of Achilles for Patroclus drives the story and contributes to the overall theme of the humanization of Achilles. While in the Iliad this love may be seen as chaste, in later Greek writings, such as Plato's Symposium, the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles is held up as a model of sexual love, usually interpreted as pederastic. The primary disagreement in ancient times was between those, such as Aeschylus, who held Patroclus to be the eromenos (beloved) of Achilles, and that of others, including Plato, who argued that Achilles was the eromenos. Still other ancient authors, such as Xenophon in his Symposium, argued that it was a mistake to label their relationship as a sexual one.

Burial and later reports

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 Aias 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 Aias, Antilochus, and Helen.

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)

Modern sources

  • pp 57-61 et passim

References

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