Iliad: Book 24 | Achilles and Priam

Dcn. Harrison Garlick and Adam Minihan discuss the FINAL book of the Iliad: Book 24 – Achilles and Priam.

Check out our 65-page guide to the Iliad!

I have put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son. 

Priam to Achilles (24.591)


103.    What happens in book twenty-four?

The funeral games have ended, and Achilles, who still mourns for Patroclus, drags Hector’s body behind his chariot around Patroclus’ tomb (24.19). Twelve days after the death of Hector, Apollo pleads with the gods to save the body of the Trojan prince (24.39). In response, Zeus declares that “Achilles must receive a ransom from King Priam, Achilles must give Hector’s body back” (24.94). Zeus tells Thetis his plan, and Thetis informs her son (24.127). Zeus sends Iris to Troy to tell King Priam, who she finds smeared in dung and mourning his son, that the Father of gods and men commands him to ransom his son from Achilles (24.204). Priam, despite the protests of his wife (24.238), obeys the goddess and prepares to leave (24.259). Priam leaves Troy on his chariot alongside a wagon of treasure (24.382). On the plains of Troy, Priam is met by Hermes, under the guise of a Myrmidon, who guides him into the Achaean camp (24.526). Hermes reveals himself to Priam and tells the king of Troy to go into Achilles’ tent and hug his knees (24.546).

Priam does as he is told, and, hugging the knees of Achilles, kisses “his hands, those terrible man-killing hands that slaughtered Priam’s many sons in battle” (24.562). Priam exhorts Achilles to remember his own father, Peleus, and Achilles thinks of his father and weeps with Priam (24.595). Priam asks for the body of Hector (24.650), and though Achilles warns Priam not to tempt his rage (24.667), Achilles has the body of Hector washed and carries it to the wagon himself (24.691). Achilles promises King Priam that the Achaeans will wait twelve days before restarting the war to allow Troy to bury Prince Hector (24.787). Priam sleeps on the porch outside the lodge of Achilles, and Hermes wakes him up to send him home before Agamemnon finds him (24.808). Priam returns home to Troy, and Troy is “plunged… into uncontrollable grief” (24.831). For nine days, the Trojans “hauled in boundless stores of timber” for the funeral pyre of Hector (24.921). On the tenth day, they set the body of Hector “aloft the pyre’s crest, [and] flung a torch and set it all aflame” (24.924). The next day, the Trojans bury Hector’s bones in a golden chest and end the rites with a “splendid funeral feast” (24.942). And thus, Homer ends the Iliad with the burial of “Hector breaker of horses” (24.944).


104.    What is the backstory of why Hera and Athena hate Troy?

In the final book of the Iliad, Homer makes reference to the narratives that led to the Trojan war. Hera states that she “brought up” Thetis and gave her in marriage to a mortal, King Peleus (24.72). The story goes that Zeus loved Thetis, but the Titan Prometheus told him that Thetis was destined to bear a son greater than his father.[1] As such, Zeus gave Thetis to Peleus, a mortal, so the son would also be mortal.[2] Homer’s reference of Hera’s role in the Iliad implies she had some part in this scheme as well. Peleus had to wrestle the immortal sea nymph, Thetis, as she changed shapes to win her heart.[3] He was successful, and the gods threw a grand marriage for King Peleus and the immortal Thetis.

All the gods were invited to the wedding except for the goddess Discord or Eris.[4] Discord arrived at the wedding and tossed in a golden apple for “the most beautiful” goddess.[5] Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all claimed the prize. As Hamilton notes, “They asked Zeus to judge between them, but very wisely he refused to have anything to do with the matter.”[6] Instead, Zeus recommends the goddesses present themselves to Paris, the Trojan prince, who is “an excellent judge of beauty.”[7] Paris, however, was in exile from Troy, because Priam received a prophecy that Paris would “be the ruin of his country.”[8] The goddesses presented themselves to Paris and offered him gifts (or bribes): “Hera promised to make him Lord of Europe and Asia; Athena, that he would lead the Trojans against the Greeks and lay Greece in ruins; [and] Aphrodite, that the fairest woman in all the world should be his.”[9] Paris awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite who, in turn, offered him Helen of Sparta—who already happened to be married to the King of Sparta, Menelaus.

Moreover, it is notable that Paris was already living with the beautiful nymph Oenone by Mount Ida outside of Troy.[10] She loved him without knowing he was a prince of Troy.[11] He abandoned her, even after she foretold to him what destruction awaited if he sailed to Sparta for Helen.[12] It is said she still promised to heal him if he were to be wounded in the upcoming war, but when the time came for her to help Paris, she refused—still upset about his betrayal.[13] Paris succumbed to his injuries and died; and Oenone, in her grief, hanged herself.[14]

Next week we’ll discuss what happens AFTER the Iliad but BEFORE the Odyssey.

Then we’ll start the Odyssey!

[1] Companion, 429.

[2] Companion, 429.

[3] Companion, 429.

[4] Companion, 422; Hamilton, 198.

[5] Companion, 422.

[6] Hamilton, 198.

[7] Hamilton, 198.

[8] Hamilton, 198.

[9] Hamilton, 198; Companion, 422.

[10] Companion, 406.

[11] Companion, 406.

[12] Companion, 406.

[13] Companion, 406.

[14] Companion, 406.

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