Stories from the Iliad Told to the Children - Jeanie Lang

How Patroclus Fought and Died

While round the dark ships of Greece the fierce fight raged, Achilles, from afar, listened unmoved to the din of battle, and watched with stony eyes the men of Greece as they fell and died on the reddened ground.

To him came Patroclus.

"Why dost thou weep, Patroclus?" asked Achilles. "Like a fond little maid art thou that runs by her mother's side, plucking at her gown, hindering her as she walks, and with tearful eyes looking up at her until the mother lifts her in her arms. Like her, Patroclus, dost thou softly weep."

Then Patroclus, heavily groaning, made answer:

"Among the ships lie the bravest and best of the men of Greece, sore wounded or dead. Pitiless art thou, Achilles, pitiless and unforgiving. Yet if thou dost still hold back from the battle, give me, I pray thee, thine armour, and send me forth in thy stead. Perchance the Trojans may take me for the mighty Achilles, and even now the victory be ours."

Then said Achilles, and heavy was his heart within him:

"These Greeks took from me my well-won prize, Patroclus. Yet let the past be past; no man may keep his anger for ever. I have said that until the men of Troy come to burn my own ships I will hold me back from the battle. But take you my armour; lead my men in the fight, and drive from the ships the men of Troy. But to others leave it to chase them across the plain."

Even as Achilles spoke, the strength of mighty Ajax had come to an end, and with furious rush did the Trojans board the ships. In their hands they bore blazing torches, and up to the sky rushed the fiercely roaring flames.

Then cried Achilles, smiting his thighs:

"Haste thee, Patroclus! They burn the ships! Arm thyself speedily, and I will call my men!"

Corslet and shield and helmet did Patroclus swiftly don, and girded on the silver-studded sword and took two strong lances in his hand.

In the chariot of Achilles he mounted, and Automedon, best and bravest of charioteers, took the reins.

Swift as the wild west wind were Bayard and Piebald, the two horses of Achilles, and in the side harness was Pedasus, a horse only less swift than they.

Gladly did the men of Achilles meet his call to arms, for fierce as wolves were they.

"Many times hast thou blamed me," cried Achilles, "because in my wrath I kept ye back from battle. Here for ye now is a mighty fight, such as ye love."

To battle they went, and while Patroclus led them forth, Achilles in his tent offered up an offering to Zeus.

Like wasps that pour forth from their nests by the wayside to sting the boys who have stoned them, so now did the Greeks swarm from their ships.

Before the sword of Patroclus fell a mighty warrior, and when the men of Troy saw the shining armour of Achilles in his own chariot their hearts sank within them.

Out of the ships were they driven, the fire was quenched, and back to the trench rolled the tide of battle. In the trench writhed many a horse and many a man in dying agonies. But clear across it leaped the horses of Achilles, and close to the walls of Troy did Patroclus drive brave Hector before him.

His chariot then he turned, and headed off the fleeing Trojans, driving them down to the ships. Before the furious rush of his swift steeds, other horses were borne off their feet, other chariots cast in ruins on the ground, and men crushed to death under his wheels. Chief after chief did Patroclus slay. A mighty destroyer was he that day.

One only of the chiefs of Troy kept his courage before the destroyer who wore the shining arms of Achilles.

"Shame on ye!" cried Sarpedon to his men. "whither do ye flee? I myself will fight this man who deals death and destruction to the Trojan host."

From their chariots leaped Sarpedon and Patroclus.

With the first cast of his spear Patroclus missed Sarpedon, but slew his charioteer. Then did Sarpedon cast, and his spear whizzed past Patroclus, and smote the good horse Pedasus. With a dreadful scream Pedasus fell, kicking and struggling, in the dust. This way and that did the other two horses plunge and rear, until the yoke creaked and the reins became entangled. But the charioteer leaped down, with his sword slashed clear the traces from Pedasus, and the horses righted themselves.

Once again did Sarpedon cast his spear, and the point flew over the left shoulder of Patroclus. But Patroclus missed not. Through the heart of Sarpedon sped the fiercely hurled spear, and like a slim tree before the axe of the woodcutter he fell, his dying hands clutching at the bloody dust.

[Illustration] from Stories from the Iliad by Jeanie Lang


Furious was the combat then over the body of Sarpedon. One brave warrior after another did Patroclus lay dead.

And more terrible still was the fight because in the ranks of the men of Troy there fought now, in all-devouring wrath, the god Apollo.

Nine men, good warriors all, did Patroclus slay; then, waxing bolder, he tried to climb the very walls of Troy.

Three times did Apollo thrust him back, and when, a fourth time, he attacked, the god cried aloud to him in anger, warning him not to dare so much.

Against Patroclus did Hector then drive his war-horses, but Patroclus, leaping from his chariot, hurled at Hector a jagged stone. In the eyes it smote the charioteer of Hector, and the slain man dropped to the ground.

"How nimble a man is this!" jeered Patroclus. "How lightly he diveth! Were this the sea, how good an oyster-seeker would this fellow be!"

Then from his chariot leaped Hector and met Patroclus, and the noise of the battle was as the noise of a mighty gale in the forest when great trees fall crashing to the ground.

When the sun went down, victory was with the Greeks. Three mighty charges did Patroclus make, and each time he slew nine men. But when, a fourth time, he charged, Apollo met him. In thick mist he met him, and Patroclus knew not that he fought with a god. With a fierce down-stroke from behind, Apollo smote his broad shoulders, and from off his head the helmet of Achilles fell with a clang, rattling under the hoofs of the horses. Before the smiting of the god, Patroclus stood stricken, stupid and amazed. Shattered in his hands was the spear of Achilles, and his mighty shield clanged on the ground.

Ere he could know who was the smiter, a Trojan ally drove a spear between his shoulders, and Patroclus, sore wounded, fell back.

Marking his dismay, Hector pressed forward, and clean through his body drove his bronze spear. With a crash Patroclus fell

"Thou that didst boast that thou wouldst sack my town, here shall vultures devour thee!" cried Hector.

And in a faint voice Patroclus made answer:

"Not to thee do I owe my doom, great Hector. Twenty such as thou would I have fought and conquered, but the gods have slain me. Yet verily I tell thee that thou thyself hast not long to live. Even now doth Death stand beside thee!"

As he spoke, the shadow of Death fell upon Patroclus. No more in his ears roared the din of battle; still and silent for ever he lay.