In Greek mythology, as recorded in Homer's Iliad, Patroclus (Ancient Greek: Πάτροκλος, meaning: "glory of the father") was a close wartime companion of Achilles. He was the son of Menoetius, the son of Actor, King of Opus.
"The Achaeans will fall among the ships of Achilles and he shall send his comrade Patroclus into the fight, and him shall Hector slay before the face of Troy. And in wrath for Patroclus shall Achilles slay Hector. Then from that time forth shall I cause a driving back of the Trojans from the ships until the Achaeans shall take Troy. But until that hour neither do I refrain my wrath, nor will I suffer any other of the immortals to aid the Achaeans, until Achilles' desire be fulfilled, as I promised on the day when Thetis clasped my knees, beseeching me to do honour to Achilles." (Zeus. Homer, Iliad 15.60).
"… suppose that Patroclus had been brought to his tent without his arms and had recovered—as has happened in the case of thousands,—while the arms he had had (which, as the poet relates, had been given to Peleus by the gods, as a dowry with Thetis) were in the hands of Hector—then all the base men of those days would have been free to abuse Menoetius' son for loss of arms." (Plato, Laws 944a).
Role of Patroclus
Patroclus had in any case to go to war if he was to comply with The Oath of Tyndareus, which he swore along with the other Suitors of Helen. For when Helen was about to be given in marriage, many princes came from all Hellas to win her hand, and among them was Patroclus from Phthia, a city of Phthiotis in southern Thessaly.
Patroclus contributed ten ships to the Achaean fleet, and fought bravely. But above all, Patroclus is remembered for his death and its consequences.
Las killed by Patroclus
It is told that Patroclus killed Las, the founder of a town called Las near Gythium in Laconia, when he was on his way to ask the hand of Helen of Tyndareus. It has also been said that Las was killed by Achilles, but some considered it unlikely because Achilles is not counted among the Suitors of Helen.
Another murder sends him into exile
On another occsasion, at the city of Opus in the district called Opuntian Locris, Patroclus, during a quarrel over a game of dice, killed the boy Clitonymus, the son of Amphidamas, and being obliged to escape, he and his father sought protection in the house of Peleus where he lived for a time, becoming Achilles' favorite.
Zeus reveals the will of Heaven
When Achilles joined the Achaean army with his regiment of Myrmidons, Phoenix and Patroclus were his closest companions. Phoenix, son of King Amyntor of Ormenium, a city near Mount Pelion in Magnesia, had once been blinded by his own father, but his sight was restored by the Centaur Chiron. Phoenix, who was an old man at the time of the Trojan War, died on his way back from Troy, being buried by Neoptolemus, Achilles' son. But Patroclus was fated to die at Troy, and his death redirected Achilles' wrath against the Trojans:
"Hector is going to give his enemies no rest until Achilles comes to life again beside his ships on the day when at the sterns of the ships they shall be fighting in grimmest stress about Patroclus fallen. That is decreed by Heaven." (Zeus to Hera. Homer, Iliad 8.475).
Patroclus in the Achaean camp
It was Patroclus, who following Achilles' instructions, gave the girl Briseis to the envoys of Agamemnon, who had come to Achilles' tent to claim her, and later, while Achilles' wrath was still strong, and envoys were sent by Agamemnon to offer him the seven tripods, the seven women, the seven cities, and many other gifts, should he put his wrath aside, it was Patroclus who entertained Achilles and the envoys when they met, mingling the drinks, preparing the cups, making the fire blaze, roasting the meat, dealing the bread, and offering sacrifices to the gods.
At this time Achilles found consolation in Diomede, a girl from Lesbos, and Patroclus slept with Iphis, a girl whom Achilles gave him when he captured the fortress of Scyros (for there are those who think that the story of Achilles disguised as a girl in Scyros is nonsense).
While Achilles' mind and heart were still controlled by his wrath, the Myrmidons, including Patroclus, did not participate in the fight. Therefore the Achaeans suffered heavy losses, and the Trojans were able to threaten the Achaean ships. These defeats added pleasure to wrath in Achilles' heart, and so it had to be, for Zeus had promised to Achilles' mother Thetis to honour her son, which he fulfilled by causing trouble to the Achaean army.
Achilles starts to change his mind
However, when Achilles thought he had seen Machaon from Tricca (a city in western Thessaly), the son of Asclepius, wounded and being carried by Nestor, he started to pity the Achaeans, and sent Patroclus to find out whether the wounded man was indeed Machaon, the healer who cured the wound that the arrow of Pandarus had inflicted on Menelaus, and who later would heal the wound of Philoctetes, the archer whom the army had left in Lemnos.
Nestor reminds him of his duties
Nestor thoroughly informed Patroclus of the distress of the army and the many wounded, among which were Diomedes, Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Eurypylus. He also reminded him of his duties; for Nestor had visited Peleus' house when Patroclus lived there, and had heard what Patroclus's father had told his son when war approached:
"My child, in birth is Achilles nobler than you, but you are the elder though he is also by far the stronger man. Yet do speak to him a word of wisdom and give him counsel, and direct him, and he will obey you to his advantage." (Menoetius to Patroclus. Homer, Iliad 11.785)
Nestor asks him influence his friend
Nestor, who wished Patroclus to persuade Achilles of fighting again, added:
"Those were your old father's words, which you have forgotten. Yet it is not too late for you to talk to Achilles in this manner … A good thing is the persuasion of a friend." (Nestor to Patroclus. Homer, Iliad 11.790).
And he also uttered a tempting suggestion:
"But if Achilles is secretly deterred by some prophecy or word from Zeus that Thetis has disclosed to him, let him at least allow you to go to battle with the Myrmidon force behind you … Let him give you his own armour to fight in, in hope that the Trojans may take you for him and break off the battle. That would give our weary forces time to recuperate." (Nestor to Patroclus. Homer, Iliad 11.795).
These words moved Patroclus's heart, and as he was running back he met Eurypylus, leader of the Ormenians, wounded in the thigh and limping out of the battle, and Eurypylus alarmed him even more, for he said:
"Patroclus, there is no salvation for the Achaeans now." (Eurypylus to Patroclus. Homer, Iliad 11.825).
Having made him lie down, Patroclus cut from his thigh the arrow with a knife, washed the wound, and put on it a bitter root, which, staying all pains, made the wound dry and the blood cease. But as he was taking care of Eurypylus, the Trojans attacked even harder … So he hasty left with the idea of coming to Achilles and urge him to fight. And having met him, he bade him with tears in his eyes to fight or let him fight in his stead and with his armour, just as Nestor had suggested. By then even Achilles had understood that no state of mind lasts forever:
"In no wise was I to be filled with ceaseless wrath at heart." (Achilles to Patroclus. Homer, Iliad 16.60).
And giving him his armour, Achilles sent his friend to the battle at the front of the Myrmidons, advising him just to remove the Trojans from the Achaean ships, and under no circumstances go in their pursuit. To drive the horses, Patroclus chose Automedon from Scyros, Achilles' squire and charioteer, and went into battle. The terrified Trojans believed that Achilles was fighting again, and Patroclus killed many among them. But the will of Heaven is impossible to curb.
For as the Trojans were being defeated, Patroclus, disobeying Achilles' advice, committed the fatal error of going in pursuit of the Trojans and Lycians. So in the middle of the battle, Apollo came behind him and stroke his back with the flat of his hand, knocking off his helmet. Then the god undid his corslet, and when he was defenceless, Euphorbus came from behind and struck him with a spear between the shoulders, and as Patroclus crept wounded, Hector killed him with a short spear-cast, and took the armour that Patroclus had worn.
This Euphorbus, the first to hit Patroclus after the god, was son of Panthous and Phrontis. Panthous, one of the Elders of the city of Troy and Apollo's priest, was son of Othrys. Polydamas, a Trojan leader who was commander in the same company as Hector and wished to render Helen back to the Achaeans, was also son of Panthous. And so was Hyperenor, whom Menelaus slew. Panthous himself was killed at Troy. It is said about Euphorbus that he became Pythagoras, the celebrated sage and mathematician, in a later life.
The body of Patroclus
There was a big fight for the body of Patroclus, which was finally retrieved from the field by Menelaus and Meriones, a Cretan leader and squire of King Idomeneus of Crete, while the AIANTES (Ajax and Ajax) protected their retreat. After Patroclus's death, Achilles returned to the fight, and slew Hector, and later Paris slew him.
When Achilles was dead, the Achaeans mourned for seventeen days, and then they burned his body, putting the ashes in a golden two-handled urn that Hephaestus wrought. This urn, which was the gift of Dionysus to Thetis, was given by her to the Achaeans, and they mingled Achilles' ashes in it with those of Patroclus. They were both buried in the White Island, which is in the Black Sea near the mouths of the Danube.
The soul of Patroclus
Leonymus affirms that he indeed saw the soul of Patroclus in the White Island. Leonymus was a general from the city of Crotona in southern Italy, which was at war with the Italian Locri. Being related to the Opuntians of Hellas, they believed that Ajax helped them in battle, and so they always left a place empty for him in their lines. On a certain occasion, Leonymus attacked the enemy at that point, and was mysteriously wounded.
He came to Delphi to inquire about his wound, and the oracle instructed him to sail to the White Island where Ajax would cure his wound. Having returned healed, Leonymus declared that he had seen Patroclus, Achilles, and the AIANTES, among others.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 13. 8
Hyginus, Fabulae, 97
Scholia on Pindar, Olympian Ode 9, 107
Plato, Symposium. pp. 179e–180b.
Plato, Laws 944a
Aeschines, The Speeches: Against Telemarchus, on the Embassy, Against Ctesiphon
Evslin, Bernard (2006). Gods, Demigods and Demons. London, UK: I. Tauris.
Michelakis, Pantelis (2007). Achilles in Greek Tragedy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. London, UK: Thames and Hudson. pp. 57–61, et passim.
Sergent, Bernard (1986). Homosexuality in Greek Myth. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Miller, Madeline (2011). The Song of Achilles. London, UK: Bloomsbury.
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