Achilles and Patroclus

Author(s): Alicia Goyone

Mentor(s): Ashley Blinstrub, University Libraries


This paper focuses on the question of how interpretation plays into Classical Studies through a multidisciplinary research on the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus. This paper uses a Classics approach and is organized methodologically with four methods in total and one overarching theme which is emotional context rather than literal and explicit language. The four methods reflect on the four perspectives of the sources.The first method compares the intensity of the bond between Achilles and Patroclus to those of the other Homeric bonds. The second method focuses on Achilles as a character and analyzes the dynamic between Achilles and Patroclus through his actions and his storyline. The third method explains the use of Homer’s similes and how it is used to characterize and color the dynamic between Achilles and Patroclus. The fourth method corroborates Homer’s Achilles and Patroclus and Chariton of Aphrodisias’ Chaereas and Callirhoe and alikes the two pairings through their storylines, actions, and feelings. From the analysis of Achilles and Patroclus, the concept of interpretation in Classical Studies is the basis of the scholarly conversation. Without interpretation, the text is confined and limited within the boundaries of the original, primary understanding and thus, makes no room for a scholarly conversation. The subjective along with objective stimulates new ideas and a more substantial scholarly conversation. This approach allows for the scholars in Classical Studies, as well as other studies related, to interact with the text more openly and contextualize the work within multiple frameworks.

Video Transcript


Classical Studies & Achilles and Patroclus

Hi, I am Allicia Goyone. I am a freshman in Mason’s Honors College. I’m a biology major and I’m going to be presenting a research I did on Achilles and Patroclus in my Honors 110 class. 

The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus have always been a matter of controversy in Classical Studies.

In Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer does not put any romantic or sexual context in the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, but because of how the plotline played out and how the events fall into each other; Achilles only decided to fight in the war only when he learned that Patroclus died in battle, which contemporary literature has used to expanded the characters’ relationship. In Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, Miller portrayed the events of Troy through the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus. The contemporary author “developed this romantic novel from the beginning of both Achilles’ and Patroclus’ lives” until the end of the battle and their deaths.

This brings to a research question: Based on the polemic of Achilles and Patroclus, how does interpretation play into classical studies?

This research synthesized the perspectives and methods of the 4 sources used in the literature review. It is organized methodologically with four methods in total and one overarching theme. The methods are thematically connected as they all focus on and look for the emotional context between Achilles and Patroclus. 

Passionate Bonds

The first method compares Achilles and Patroclus to other Homeric bonds to emphasize Achilles and Patroclus’ unmatched intensity.

The intensity between Achilles and Patroclus is not up to question. The passionate dynamic between the two has always been the forefront of their relationship. The intensity and passion are the reason for the controversy. Warwick even went as far as calling their relationship “unique among the male friendships of the Iliad”. In Iliad 9, Diomedes declares “We two, Sthenelus and I, will fight until we find the end of Troy”. In book 16, on the other hand,  Achilles’ declarations are more deep-seated and impassioned compared to Diomedes’ because unlike Diomedes, Achilles declares his wish for everyone’s death so that he and Patroclus could conquer Troy together.

Another instance is Hector’s declaration to Andromache that he cares for her pain more than those of Hecuba and Priam, his brothers, and other Trojans in book 6. Again in comparison, Achilles declares that “he would not be able to suffer anything worse than Patroclus’ death” even if his own father and son came upon their deaths in book 19 and when Patroclus finally meets his death in the battlefield, Achilles’ proclaims once again that “There will come no second grief like this to my heart again while I am among the living” in book 23.  The bond between Achilles and Patroclus are revealed through these impassioned declarations.

Achilles and Patroclus

This method explains the push and pull between Achilles and Patroclus as one of the driving forces of the plot and is observed by the reader and the other characters in the book. It uses Achilles and his actions as an anchor to analyze the dynamic between Achilles and Patroclus.

In the Iliad, Achilles only joins the war when he finds that Patroclus died in the battle iby Hector’s hand. This results in Achilles raging against the Trojans and winning against the Trojans. More specifically, Achilles avenges Patroclus’ death by stabbing Hector in the throat and dragging his body on the garbage heap of their camp to humiliate and dishonor him instead of giving Hector a proper burial. Clarke describes the weight of the connection between Achilles and Patroclus when he states that “Achilles’ grief is hysterical, his breakdown appalling, his sense of loss unhealed and unending, even in the midst of the famous resolution”. Even if Achilles has single-handedly won the war and successfully fulfilled his prophecy as the Greatest Trojan War hero, Patroclus remains to be Achilles’ driving force as the two characters are what forces the resolution of the plot.

From this deliberation, the bond, dynamic, and relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is far from one-dimensional. The bond is beyond the conventions of companionship. Homer’s use of language and contexts are multi-faceted and in effect reflects upon Achilles and Patroclus. 

With this, the subjective, the implied context, and the interpretations are what makes the conversations in classical studies. It may start from the book, but through interpretations, it is not confined within the original or orthodox view.

In the broader scale, this research is significant as it affects how scholars in Classical Studies interact with the work and how the text is contextualized within multiple frameworks that allow for a scholarly conversation.

One reply on “Achilles and Patroclus”

Very well done 😀 I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, but this was fascinating! I guess this might go along with death of the author, but since it’s historical maybe not. Either way, I’m rusty on the story of Achilles, but maybe I ought to go take another look at it 🙂

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