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Patroclus by Jacques-Louis David (1780)

In Greek mythology, as recorded in Homer's Iliad, Patroclus (/pəˈtrkləs/; Ancient Greek: Πάτροκλος Pátroklos, "glory of the father") was a close friend and wartime companion of Achilles. He was the son of Menoetius, grandson of Actor, King of Opus.


According to Hyginus, Patroclus was the child of Menoetius by either Sthenele, Periopis, Polymele,[1] Philomela,[2] or Damocrateia.[3] Homer also references Menoetius as the individual who gave Patroclus to Peleus.[4] Menoetius was the son of Actor, king of Opus in Locris by Aegina, daughter of Asopus.[5]


Early daysEdit

During his childhood, Patroclus had killed another child in anger over a game. Menoetius gave Patroclus to Peleus, Achilles' father, who named Patroclus one of Achilles' "henchmen" as Patroclus and Achilles grew up together.[4] Patroclus acted as a male role model for Achilles, as he was both older than Achilles and wise regarding counsel.[6]

Trojan WarEdit

According to the Iliad, when the tide of the Trojan War had turned against the Greeks and the Trojans were threatening their ships, Patroclus convinced Achilles to let him lead the Myrmidons into combat. Achilles consented, giving Patroclus the armor Achilles had received from his father, in order for Patroclus to impersonate Achilles. Achilles then told Patroclus to return after beating the Trojans back from their ships.[7] Patroclus defied Achilles' order and pursued the Trojans back to the gates of Troy.[8] Patroclus killed many Trojans and Trojan allies, including a son of Zeus, Sarpedon.[9] While fighting, Patroclus' wits were removed by Apollo, after which Patroclus was hit with the spear of Euphorbos. Hector then killed Patroclus by stabbing him in the stomach with a spear.[10]

The body of Patroclus is lifted by Menelaus and Meriones while Odysseus and others look on (Etruscan relief, 2nd century BC)

Achilles retrieved his body, which had been stripped of armor by Hector and protected on the battlefield by Menelaus and Ajax.[11] Achilles did not allow the burial of Patroclus' body until the ghost of Patroclus appeared and demanded his burial in order to pass into Hades.[12] Patroclus was then cremated on a funeral pyre, which was covered in the hair of his sorrowful companions. As the cutting of hair was a sign of grief while also acting as a sign of the separation of the living and the dead, this points to how well-liked Patroclus had been.[13] The ashes of Achilles were said to have been buried in a golden urn along with those of Patroclus by the Hellespont.[14]

A cup depicting Achilles bandaging Patroclus' arm, by the Sosias Painter.

Relationship with AchillesEdit

Although there is no sexual dynamic between Achilles and Patroclus in the Homeric tradition, later Greek authors reinterpreted and expanded upon their relationship. Morales and Mariscal[who?] point out that there are several other authors who do draw a romantic connection between the two characters, such as Aeschylus and Phaedrus, who even refers to Achilles as the eromenos[citation needed]. Morales and Mariscal continue stating, "there is a polemical tradition concerning the nature of the relationship between the two heroes".[15] According to Grace Ledbetter, there is a train of thought that Patroclus could have been a representation of the compassionate side of Achilles, who was known for his rage, mentioned in the first line of Homer's Iliad. Ledbetter connects the way that Achilles and his mother Thetis communicate to the communication between Achilles and Patroclus. Ledbetter does so by comparing how Thetis comforts the weeping Achilles in Book 1 of the Iliad to how Achilles comforts Patroclus as he weeps in Book 16. Achilles uses a simile containing a young girl tearfully looking at her mother to complete the comparison. Ledbetter believes this puts Patroclus into a subordinate role to that of Achilles.[16] However, as Patroclus is explicitly stated to be the elder of the two characters,[17] this is not evidence of their ages or social relation to each other.

James Hooker describes the literary reasons for Patroclus' character within the Iliad. He states that another character could have filled the role of confidant for Achilles, and that it was only through Patroclus that we have a worthy reason for Achilles' wrath. Hooker claims that without the death of Patroclus, an event that weighed heavily upon him, Achilles' following act of compliance to fight would have disrupted the balance of the Iliad.[18] Hooker describes the necessity of Patroclus sharing a deep affection with Achilles within the Iliad. According to his theory, this affection allows for the even deeper tragedy that occurs. Hooker argues that the greater the love, the greater the loss. Hooker continues to negate Ledbetter's theory that Patroclus is in some way a surrogate for Achilles; rather, Hooker views Patroclus' character as a counterpart to that of Achilles. Hooker reminds us that it is Patroclus who pushes the Trojans back, which Hooker claims makes Patroclus a hero, as well as foreshadowing what Achilles is to do.[18]

Achilles and Patroclus grew up together after Menoitios gave Patroclus to Achilles' father, Peleus. During this time, Peleus named Patroclus one of Achilles' "henchmen".[19] While Homer's Iliad never explicitly stated that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers, this concept was asserted by some later authors.[20][21][22] Aeschines asserts that there was no need to explicitly state the relationship as a romantic one,[22] for such "is manifest to such of his hearers as are educated men."[23] Later Greek writings such as Plato's Symposium, the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles is discussed as a model of romantic love.[24] However, Xenophon, in his Symposium, had Socrates argue that it was inaccurate to label their relationship as romantic. Nevertheless, their relationship is said to have inspired Alexander the Great in his close relationship with his companion Hephaestion.[20][25]

Achilles was much younger than Patroclus.[24] This reinforces Dowden's explanation of the relationship between an eromenos, a youth in transition, and an erastes, an older male although having recently made the same transition.[26] Dowden also notes the common occurrence of such relationships as a form of initiation.[27]

The body of Patroclus borne by Menelaus, Roman sculpture, Florence, Italy


  1. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 13. 8
  2. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae, 97
  3. ^ Scholia on Pindar, Olympian Ode 9, 107
  4. ^ a b Lattimore, Richmond (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 474 b.23 l.85.
  5. ^ Lattimore, Richmond (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 274 b. 11 l. 384.
  6. ^ Finlay, Robert (1980). Patroklos, Achilleus, and Peleus: Fathers and Sons in the Iliad. The Classical World. pp. 267–273.
  7. ^ Lattimore, Richmond (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 353 b. 16 l. 64–87.
  8. ^ Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. Boston: Little. p. 140.
  9. ^ Lattimore, Richmond (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 363 b. 16 l. 460.
  10. ^ Lattimore, Richmond (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 373 b. 16 l. 804–822.
  11. ^ Bulfinch, Thomas (1985). The Golden Age. London: Bracken Books. p. 272.
  12. ^ Lattimore, Richmond (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 474 b.23 l. 69–71.
  13. ^ Martin, Richard (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 561.
  14. ^ Chisholm, Hugh (1911). "Achilles". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.).
  15. ^ Morales, Manuel Sanz; Mariscal, Gabriel Laguna (2003). "The Relationship between Achilles and Patroclus according to Chariton of Aphrodisias". The Classical Quarterly. 53 (1): 292–295. doi:10.1093/cq/53.1.292. JSTOR 3556498.
  16. ^ Ledbetter, Grace (December 1, 1993). "Achilles' Self-Address". American Journal of Philology.
  17. ^ Iliad 11.785-90
  18. ^ a b Hooker, James (January 1, 1989). "Homer, Patroclus, Achilles". Symbolae Osloenses.
  19. ^ Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 474.
  20. ^ a b Martin, Thomas R. (2012). Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0521148443. [See next reference for a relevant quotation.]
  21. ^ As Martin (2012), op. cit., argues (see preceding footnote), "The ancient sources do not report, however, what modern scholars have asserted: that Alexander and his very close friend Hephaestion were lovers. Achilles and his equally close friend Patroclus provided the legendary model for this friendship, but Homer in the Iliad never suggested that they had sex with each other. (That came from later authors.) If Alexander and Hephaestion did have a sexual relationship, it would have been transgressive by majority Greek standards…" (p. 99f).
  22. ^ a b Boswell, John (1980). Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 47.
  23. ^ Aeschines (1958). The Speeches: Against Telemarchus, On the Embassy, Against Ctesiphon. Translated by Charles Darwin Adams. London: Harvard University Press. p. 115.
  24. ^ a b Plato (1987). The Symposium. Translated by Walter Hamilton. Penguin Books. pp. 44–45.
  25. ^ Fox, Robin Lane (2005). The Classical World. Penguin Books. p. 235.
  26. ^ Dowden, Ken (1992). The Uses of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge. p. 112.
  27. ^ Dowden, Ken (1992). The Uses of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge. p. 114.

Further readingEdit

  • Evslin, Bernard (2006). Gods, Demigods and Demons. London, ENG: I. Tauris.
  • Michelakis, Pantelis (2007). Achilles in Greek Tragedy. Cambridge, ENG: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. London, ENG: 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, ENG: Bloomsbury.

External linksEdit

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 (388-367 BC); Statius Achilleid, 161, 174, 182 (96 AD)