A sampling of comments on Iliad Rhapsody 24

2016.12.31 / updated 2018.09.20 | By Gregory Nagy

The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector, not of Achilles. And it is Hector, not Achilles, who is lamented at the end. But it is Achilles who makes it all happen, since he has transcended his rage and has shown mercy to an old father. The tears of Priam had made Achilles think of his own old father, of his own ancestors—and of Patroklos, who embodied the glories of the ancestors. Achilles was looking bad at the beginning of Iliad 23 and even at the beginning of Iliad 24, but he looks very good by the time Iliad 24 comes to a close.

Mourners lament as Hector’s corpse is laid out in preparation for the funeral that closes Iliad Rhapsody 24. Copperplate etching (1795) by Tommaso Piroli, after a drawing (1793) by John Flaxman.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.


The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector, not of Achilles. And it is Hector, not Achilles, who is lamented at the end. But it is Achilles who makes it all happen, since he has transcended his rage and has shown mercy to an old father. The tears of Priam had made Achilles think of his own old father, of his own ancestors—and of Patroklos, who embodied the glories of the ancestors. Achilles was looking bad at the beginning of Iliad 23 and even at the beginning of Iliad 24, but he looks very good by the time Iliad 24 comes to a close. [[GN 2016.12.31.]]


subject heading(s): agōn ‘competition’

The agōn ‘competition’, that is, the ‘coming together’ for the sake of competition, is now over. Or, to say it in Greek, the coming-together is now undone, as expressed by the verb luein ‘undo’. Now all the participants disperse, returning to their beached ships. See the comment on I.23.257–258. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): potheîn ‘long for’

While the others sleep, Achilles is awake and restless, and he sorely misses Patroklos, as expressed by the verb potheîn ‘long for’. This verb potheîn ‘long for’, like the noun pothē ‘longing’, evokes the feelings of those who worship cult heroes: see especially the comment on I.17.685–690. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): sēma ‘tomb’; mistreating the corpse of Hector; dragging of Hector

In these four verses, there is a compressed narration of what Achilles does over and over again during a sleepless night. He harnesses his chariot and drives it around the tomb of Patroklos three times while dragging the corpse of Hector. The tomb is called the sēma at I.24.16. The Master Narrator states here that this tomb belongs to Patroklos, as if the ultimate ownership of the tomb by Achilles were still in doubt. But the statement is justified, since the size of the tomb has not yet been adjusted to fit the prestige of Achilles himself: on this point see the anchor comment at I.23.245–248 and 256–257. Achilles drives his chariot around the tomb three times, then rests in his klisiē ‘shelter’, I.24.017, and then drives around three times again, and so on. Each time he rests inside his shelter, he leaves the body outside, lying prone in the dust, face down, I.24.017–018. The body has been shown before in this same degraded state: see the comment on I.22.395–405. Once again here, it is left to the imagination whether the body is horribly disfigured. It cannot be known, however, whether the body that Achilles is intending to degrade has in fact already been disfigured. Once again, the face is not visible. But, once again, it will become clear that the face and the head and in fact the whole body of Hector cannot be disfigured. This time, the clarification happens immediately, in the verses that follow. [[GN 2016.12.31.]]


subject heading(s): aeikeiē ‘unseemliness’; khrōs ‘complexion’

Once again, divine intervention prevents the disfigurement of Hector’s body. The intervention starts midline at I.24.018, and the narrative of the intervention extends through I.24.018: the god Apollo will not allow any aeikeiē ‘unseemliness’ to happen to the body of Hector, I.24.019. Apollo focuses here on Hector’s khrōs ‘complexion’, I.24.019, worrying that the hero’s skin will be grotesquely scraped away by the harsh surface over which it is being dragged behind the speeding chariot of Achilles, I.24.021. This time, the protective covering that is granted by the gods is not an enveloping glow, as it was at I.23.188–191 (see the anchor comment at I.23.184–191), but rather a mystical aigis ‘skin-shield’, I.24.020. Then, at I.24.022, by way of ring-composition, the thinking returns to the horrors of mutilation by way of ‘disfiguring’ the body, as expressed here by the verb aeikizein. But the disfigurement is canceled. Once again, the body is saved. See again the anchor comment at I.23.184–191, where the vision of salvation for Hector’s body is fully analyzed. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): atē ‘aberration’

The gods pity Hector and are on the verge of sending Hermes to hide the corpse of Hector, but this plan is vetoed by Hērā and Poseidon, in that order. They bear a grudge against Troy and Priam because of an atē ‘aberration’ of Paris=Alexandros. But the narrative concentrates only on Hērā, since the atē ‘aberration’ that the Master Narrator has in mind involves a direct insult to that goddess. On the story of that insult, see the comment on the verses that immediately follow. [[GN 2016.12.31.]]


subject heading(s): Judgment of Paris; neikeîn ‘quarrel with’; aineîn ‘praise’

In the story about the Judgment of Paris, as we read in the plot-summary of the Cypria, Proclus 102.14–19 (ed. Allen 1912), Paris=Alexandros has to choose from among three goddesses, Hērā, Athena, and Aphrodite, Cypria/Proclus 102.14–19. Which of the three is supreme? Paris chooses Aphrodite, who rewards him by arranging his love affair with Helen. The story of the Judgment of Paris is recapitulated, in a most compressed form, here at I.24.025–030. And the story is told in terms of a contrast between positive and negative words. The fact that Paris chose Aphrodite means that he aimed negative words at Hērā and Athena, as expressed by the verb neikeîn ‘quarrel with’ at I.24.029 (νείκεσσε), while he aimed positive words at Aphrodite, as expressed by the verb aineîn ‘praise’ at I.24.030 (ᾔνησ᾽). As noted in the comment on I.03.100, the verbs aineîn ‘praise’ and neikeîn ‘quarrel with’ express both the social and the poetic significance of praise and blame respectively. [[GN 2016.12.31.]]


subject heading(s): sēma ‘tomb’; biē ‘force, violence, strength’; thūmos ‘heart; dais ‘portion (of meat), sacrifice’; [sōma ‘body’]

In the speech of Apollo here, Ι.24.032–054, there is a compressed retelling of unseemly deeds committed by Achilles. At Ι.24.050–052, the god condemns especially the violence of Achilles, and he points to the hero’s dragging the corpse of Hector, I.24.050–052, around the sēma ‘tomb’ of Patroklos, I.24.051. In this context of condemning the hero’s violence, the god compares him to a ravenous lion at I.24.041–043. The wild beast is driven by its wild instincts, described here as its biē ‘force, violence, strength’ and its thūmos ‘heart’, I.24.042, as it lunges to devour the sheep that it is attacking, and here the word dais ‘portion (of meat)’ is used in referring to the meat of its prey, I.24.43. There is an irony here in the use of the word dais, since this word is closely connected to stories about Achilles: see the comments on I.07.319–322, I.19.044, I.19.179–180. The picturing of a ravenous lion that is lunging for the meat of its prey is comparable to the use of the word sōma at I.03.023 and I.18.161: what is pictured in both these contexts is a carcass that is being devoured by a ravenous lion that holds on to it and won’t let go. Here is what I said about such contexts in Point 6 of the anchor comment for I.23.184–191: for wild animals, the sōma is something that must be saved for devouring, while for humans the sōma is something that must be saved from being devoured by wild animals. See also the comment on I.22.346–348, where I analyze other comparisons of Achilles to lions. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): eris ‘strife’; neikos ‘quarrel’

In the speech of Hērā here, Ι.24.055–063, we see a reference to a primal story that is connected to the Judgment of Paris. It is the story about the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the mortal and immortal parents-to-be of Achilles. As we read in the plot-summary of the Cypria in Proclus 102.13–19 (ed. Allen 1912), there was eris ‘strife’ at the feast celebrating the marriage of Thetis and Peleus. It was the Will of Zeus that Eris ‘Strife’ personified would bring about a neikos ‘quarrel’ among the gods that would ultimately result in the Trojan War (Proclus 102.14/15 on Eris/neikos). Hērā notes that even Apollo attended the wedding, singing at the feast, Ι.24.062–063. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): council of divinities

In the speech of Zeus here, Ι.24.064–076, an elaborate plan leads to a most elaborate plot for the conclusion of the Iliad. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): penthos alaston ‘unforgettable grief’ for Thetis

On this expression, see the comment at O.01.342. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): releasing the body of Hector

Zeus tells Thetis to tell Achilles that the gods are angry at him and want him to release to Priam the body of Hector. In this case, the Will of Zeus becomes an unambiguous moral force for the maintenance of ritual correctness in the post-heroic age. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): releasing the body of Hector

Thetis conveys the Will of Zeus to her son. Her role here in Iliad 24 is symmetrical with her role in Iliad 1. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): endukéōs ‘continuously, uninterruptedly’

See the anchor comment at O.07.256. [[GN 2017.05.30 via PasP 44.]]


subject heading(s): endukéōs ‘continuously, uninterruptedly’

See the anchor comment at O.07.256. [[GN 2017.05.30 via PasP 44.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’

In speaking to Priam, the god Hermes disguises himself as a therapōn of Achilles. It is as if he were the spirit of the dead Patroklos, the other self of Achilles himself. [[GN 2016.08.04.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’

See again the comment on I.24.393. [[GN 2016.08.04.]]


subject heading(s): endukéōs ‘continuously, uninterruptedly’

See the anchor comment at O.07.256. [[GN 2017.05.30 via PasP 44.]]


subject heading(s): ozos Arēos ‘attendant of Ares’

Here it is Alkimos who is called ozos Arēos ‘attendant of Ares’. See the anchor comment at I.12.188. [[GN 2017.01.02.]]


subject heading(s): mourning for Hector; mourning for ancestors by way of Patroklos; name of Patroklos; “speaking name” (nomen loquens)

While Priam mourns for his own son Hector, Achilles alternates in mourning for his own father Priam and for Patroklos as his own other self. By mourning for both his father and for Patroklos, Achilles shows the way—showing how to mourn for ancestors. Do as I do. Relevant is what the “speaking name” (nomen loquens) of Patroklos means: ‘he who has the glory [kleos] of the ancestors [pateres]’. See the comments on I.01.345, I.06.209, I.09.185–191. Such a meaning signals the basic fact that one’s father is one’s most immediate ancestor. The kleos ‘glory’ of Achilles is thus linked, for all time to come, with a poetic glory that originates from the ancestors. [[GN 2016.12.31.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’

The two heroes Automedon and Alkimos are both marked as therapontes of Achilles, I.24.573, by virtue of this detail: Achilles honored the two of them more than anyone else after the death of Patroklos, I.24.574–575 (tīein ‘honor’ at I.24.575). Here they are acting as the attendants of Achilles, I.24.576–580. [[GN 2017.01.02.]]



The funeral of Hector may now begin. A funeral procession takes Hector to his bier, where the laments can begin. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): penthos ‘grief’

The word penthos ‘grief’ here at I.24.708 refers to the context for performing laments, I.24.720–776, on the occasion of Hector’s funeral. The word recurs in the actual words of the lament sung by Andromache at Ι.24.741, where she says that Hector, by dying, has caused penthos ‘grief’ and góos ‘lament’ for his parents. [[GN 2016.12.18.]]


I.24.720–776 / anchor comment on: laments at Hector’s funeral

subject heading(s): thrēnos ‘lament’; thrēneîn ‘make lament’; ex-arkhos ‘lead singer’; (ex-)arkhein ‘lead off [in performing]’; góos ‘lament’; goân ‘make lament’; epi-stenakhesthai ‘wail in response’; epi-stenein ‘wail in response’; dēmos ‘community, district; populace’

The laments for Hector at his funeral can be divided into two main parts, the second of which can be subdivided into three sub-parts. The first main part is at I.24.720–722, where professional aoidoi ‘singers’ who are men, I.24.720, perform thrēnoi ‘laments’, I.24.721; as they perform, the word that refers to their performance is thrēneîn ‘make lament’, I.24.722, which is a verb derived from the noun thrēnos ‘lament’. Following up on the laments performed by the professional singers are laments performed by the gunaikes ‘women’ of Troy, I.24.722. These women, as women singers, are of course non-professionals, and their role as singers is subordinated to the role of the professional singers, as we see from the use of the verb epi-stenakhesthai ‘wail in response’ at I.24.722 in referring to their performance. This act of wailing-in-response is treated here as an antiphonal complement to the singing of the professional singers, who are described as ex-arkhoi ‘lead singers’ of the thrēnoi ‘laments’ that they sing, I.24.721. By now we have reached the end of the narrative about the first main part of the laments performed at the funeral of Hector. Now the narrative about the second part of the laments can begin, and this part, as noted already, can be subdivided into three sub-parts. The Master Narrator now quotes, as it were, three laments, to be performed by Andromache at I.24.725–745, by Hecuba at I.24.748–759, and by Helen at I.24.762–775. But the two main parts in this overall scheme are not kept separate here, since the same women who sang at I.24.722 their responses to the laments sung by men who were lead singers will now perform responses to the three women who will now be singing their own laments, and these three will now be singing as lead singers in their own right, as expressed by the verb arkhein / ex-arkhein / ex-arkhein ‘lead off [in performing]’ in the case of Andromache / Hecuba / Helen at I.24.723 / I.24.747 / I.24.761. These three singing women are not professionals, but nevertheless they hold positions of great social status, since they all belong to Hector’s immediate family: as family members, they sing a form of lament that qualifies as a góos, not as a thrēnos. This word góos ‘lament’ is applied to the singing of Andromache / Hecuba / Helen at I.24.723 / I.24.747 (also at I.24.760) / I. 24.761. Of these three, the most important performer of lament here is Andromache, since she gets to cradle the head of Hector from behind while she sings her song of lament over his corpse, I.24.724. The special importance of Andromache is also signaled by the fact that the verb epi-stenakhesthai ‘wail in response’, which had signaled at I.24.722 the antiphonal singing of the women of Troy in response to the thrēnoi ‘laments’, I.24.721, that were sung by the professional lead singers, is also used at I.24.746 to signal the antiphonal singing of the women of Troy in response to the góos ‘lament’, I.24.723, that is sung by Andromache as the non-professional lead singer. The general response at I.24.746 by the women of Troy to the lament of Andromache is an intensification of the more specific response at I.22.515 by the women who attended her when she previously sang her second lament, though the wording is exactly the same at I.24.746 as at I.22.515: ‘So she [= Andromache] spoke, and the women wailed in response’ (ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες). An even more general response, however, occurs at I.24.776, where not just the women of Troy but the entire dēmos or ‘populace’ of the city joins the antiphonal singing, as signaled here by the verb epi-stenein ‘wail in response’: ‘So she [= Helen] spoke, and the vast populace [dēmos] wailed in response’ (ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δ’ ἔστενε δῆμος ἀπείρων). Now the whole community is lamenting in response to the góos ‘lament’ as re-started at I.24.761 by Helen as the last of the three women who sing here as lead singers. [[GN 2016.12.19.]]


I.24.723–746 / anchor comment on: three laments by Andromache, part 3
see also anchor comment at I.06.407–439 on: three laments by Andromache, part 1
see also anchor comment at I.22.476–515 on: three laments by Andromache, part 2

In the first of the three laments performed by Andromache, as quoted by the Master Narrator at I.06.407–439, she is already lamenting the death of Hector before he is even dead. As for the second lament, as quoted at I.22.476–515, she sings it when she sees the corpse of Hector for the first time. As for her third lament, here at I.24.723–746, she sings it on the occasion of Hector’s funeral. As Andromache starts her song of lament at I.24.723, the verb arkhein in the sense of ‘lead off [in performing]’ signals that she is leading off as a lead singer, and the song that she sings is called here a góos ‘lament’. Then, as Andromache finishes her lead song at I.24.746, the women of Troy sing an antiphonal refrain as signaled by the verb epi-stenakhizesthai ‘wail in response’. [[GN 2016.12.17.]]


subject heading(s): lament of Hecuba.

See the anchor comment at I.24.720–776. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]



subject heading(s): lament of Helen.
See the anchor comment at I.24.720–776. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): firewood for the funeral pyre

It takes ten days inclusively for the people of Troy to gather the firewood needed to construct the funeral pyre for the cremation of Hector, I.24.784. See the comment on I.24.785–804 on the archaeological evidence showing the vast volume of firewood needed for a funeral pyre. [[GN 2016.12.30.]]


subject heading(s): cremation of Hector

The corpse of Hector is placed on top of the funeral pyre, and then the pyre is lit, Ι.24.786–787. The next morning, the fires of the cremation are extinguished and the bones of Hector are gathered, Ι.24.792–795, to be placed into a larnax ‘repository’, Ι.24.795. A tumulus is heaped over the remains, I.24.799, and the tumulus itself is called a sēma ‘tomb’, I.24.799/801. What we see here in Iliad 24, in the conclusion to the entire epic narrative, is a perfect description of a perfect entombment after a perfect cremation—to be contrasted with the ritually flawed cremation of Patroklos as described in Iliad 23. Here I find it relevant to cite the archaeological background on the practice of cremation in the Mycenaean era. I quote a brief summary in Nagy 2015.07.22 §31:

When I last considered the practices of cremation in a Mycenaean context [in 1990: GMP 85–86], those practices were barely attested archaeologically. But now, with the discovery of nine cremations at the site of Chánia, some three kilometers southwest of the acropolis of Mycenae [Palaiologou 2013], the picture has changed. I note with special interest the splendor of the tumulus that contained these cremations, dated to the 12th century BCE [Palaiologou 2013.274]. The archeologist of record describes as “monumental” the stone tumulus with its circular “cyclopean” enclosure, and she notes that the ritual moment of the actual cremation, which required vast pilings of firewood, must have been “spectacular” [Palaiologou 2013.251]. This splendid tumulus, situated on a plain contiguous with Argos, was most visible to all: “it served as a landmark for the control of the commercial route to Argos and the cultivated area simultaneously” [Palaiologou 2013:275]. By this time, in the 12th century BCE, the glory days of Mycenae and of its Achaean realm were becoming evanescent, but the vitality of Mycenaean culture was still a forceful presence, acknowledged and respected by the local population.

[[GN 2016.12.30.]]

Epilogue 1: Hector as the ultimate beau mort
subject heading(s): beau mort (a dead body made beautiful by way of a beautiful death, la belle mort)
see also anchor comment at I.23.184–194
[epitome from HC 4§267]

The focus of the Iliad on Hector as the ultimate beau mort is evident at the conclusion of this epic. The Iliad as we know it ends with the funeral of Hector, not of Achilles. It is Hector, not Achilles, who is lamented at the end. Even the very last word of the Iliad as we have it is a signature for Hector: it is his ornamental epithet hippodamos, the ‘horse-tamer’, I.24.804 (Sacks 1987). So, the Homeric Iliad evolved in such a way as to highlight Hector as the primary point of interest in the poetics of terror and pity. To be contrasted is an alternative epic like the Aithiopis, attributed to Arctinus of Miletus, where the focus at the end is evidently on Achilles as the primary beau mort. Pindar’s reference to the dead Achilles in Isthmian 8 (56-60) alludes to this alternative epic tradition (PH 204–206). In the Iliad, the doomed figure of Hector has been substituted for the equally doomed figure of Achilles, who is the ultimate beau mort of epic. Hector in the Iliad prefigures Achilles as that ultimate beau mort.

Epilogue 2: Hector as an ideal for Athenians
[epitome from HC 4§268]

This foregrounding of Hector in the Iliad as we know it is a matter of politics as well as esthetics. The beautiful death of Hector, his belle mort, is for Athenians an expression of their empire. See the comment on I.15.494–499, where I made an epitome from HC 4§268. In what follows, I repeat the relevant parts of that epitome. The Athenian statesman Lycurgus says it best when he refers to the willingness of Athenian citizens to die in war not only for their own patris ‘fatherland’ but also for all of Hellas as a patris ‘fatherland’ that is koinē ‘common’ to all Hellenes (Against Leokrates 104). Lycurgus invokes as his prime example the belle mort of the Athenian citizen-warriors who fought at Marathon and who thereby won for Hellas a freedom from terror, an adeia ‘security’ that is koinē ‘common’ to all Hellenes (104). The Athenian statesman is making this reference to the imperial interests of Athens in the context of actually quoting the words of Hector in the Iliad, who says that he is willing to die for his fatherland in order to protect it against the Achaeans (Lycurgus Against Leokrates 103 lines 4-9). These heroic words of Hector correspond to I.15.494–499, and Lycurgus quotes them in the larger context of saying that the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, as performed at the quadrennial Athenian festival of the Panathenaia, are the ancestral heritage of the Athenians and the primary source of their education as citizen-warriors (Against Leokrates 102). In this invocation of Homeric poetry as the most sublime expression of the Athenian empire, the statesman is quoting the words of a Trojan, not the words of an Achaean. It is the belle mort of Hector that motivates the Athenians to live up to the heroic legacy they learn from Homer.


Bibliographical Abbreviations

BA       = Best of the Achaeans, Nagy 1979/1999.

GMP    = Greek Mythology and Poetics, Nagy 1990b.

H24H   = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Nagy 2013

HC       = Homer the Classic, Nagy 2009|2008

HPC     = Homer the Preclassic, Nagy 2010|2009

HQ       = Homeric Questions, Nagy 1996b

HR       = Homeric Responses, Nagy 2003

LSJ      = Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones. 1940. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford.

MoM    = Masterpieces of Metonymy, Nagy 2016|2015

PasP    = Poetry as Performance, Nagy 1996a

PH      = Pindar’s Homer, Nagy 1990a



See the dynamic Bibliography for AHCIP.


Inventory of terms and names

See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for AHCIP.