Writing Assignment – Week 9

At 16.821-822 Homer says that Patroklos fell “to the horror of all the Achaian people”; but at the beginning of Scroll 17 it is Menelaos who is first mentioned as seeing the fallen hero. He thus stands over Patroklos’ body “as over a first-born calf the mother | cow stands lowing, she who has known no children before this” (17.1-8). Of all the possible Achaeans to notice Patroklos, why does Homer pick Menelaos? What is the significance of the simile that describes his care for him? In your answer be sure to focus on previous descriptions of Menelaos and his role in the Iliad, as well as previous instances where heroes have been likened to women/mothers.

12 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 9”

  1. Melelaos was chosen because he must have had an epiphany about the whole war. Everyone was fighting to get his girl back. Yes, there were a lot of deaths before Patroklos, but Patroklos is the first important person to die. No one that was on top of their game like Patroklos has been killed for the Greeks. Patroklos’s death is the first real death for Melelaos. It is compared to being the first real birth for him, the mother. The calf, or the body, is something that needs to be protected because nothing like it was known before.

    • Your statement makes it sound as though everyone else around Melelaos and the other “important” characters are just death fodder. To be fair, I suppose this is technically true, but would the characters within the poem actually know or believe this? Melelaos would likely have grieved over many of his other fallen brothers and comrades before this, but I understand that Patroklos was likely one of the closest to him.

    • I know what you mean about wanting Patroklos’ death to feel more important than the others. I think it’s true that this scene is meant to draw great attention to his death. I think a good way to look at it is through the will of Zeus in 15.65. If we’re to take Zeus’ will as the plot of the Iliad, we should look at the progression of events he lays out here. The very first thing he says is that Achilles will rouse Patroklos to battle, only to have him cut down by Hektor (15.65). This point is where the rest of the plot is laid bare to the reader (or listener, I suppose); it all hinges on Patroklos’ death. In that sense, I think it’s necessary to view Patroklos’ death as extremely important because the rest of the events following (according to Zeus) hinge on his death. It seems fitting, then, that Menalaos would pay attention to this, specifically, over the deaths of the others; from a narrative standpoint, Patroklos’ death was more important.

    • Mary, I completely agree with you. I do believe that Homer choose Menelaos because not only was he at the battle, which is an obvious must, but also because Menelaos is probably easily one of the most affected by Patroklos’ death, along with Achilleus and other prominent Greeks. The whole reason anyone is at Troy is because of Menelaos and his drive to get his wife, Helen, back. And as you have pointed out, Menelaos hasn’t lost anyone significant to him. His brother and his wife are both still alive and well and Menelaos himself hasn’t suffered any major injuries. My first thought when reading about Menelaos’ discovery that Patroklos was killed by Hektor was wow, it must really suck to be Menelaos right now. If you recall, in book 7 Menelaos attempted to step up and take on Hektor, but wasn’t allowed to when his brother told him no because Hektor would hill Menelaos. I think here, with Patroklos’ death, Menelaos is feeling an immense amount of guilt A friend has perished in his war and he couldn’t fight and kill the man who killed his friend when he had the chance due to lack of ability. As we have said, many share the blame in Patroklos’ death, but we normally don’t automatically consider Menelaos as one of the men to be blamed. I think Homer focused on Menelaos’ response to the death of Patrokols because it offers a new perspective and idea that Homer may want the reader to consider.

  2. As we know, Menelaos is a major catalyst that starts the Trojan war. Because the was was started over the taking of his wife Helen, he is in some way responsible for all who enter this war. One reason he is describes as the mother over a “first born calf” is because he is responsible for all the Achaians that enter battle (17.1.18). More over Patroklos is seen as pure and moral throughut the novel. He has helped those who are injured, fought in the war not for glory but because he could not stand the suffering of the Achaians, and is said to be gentler, giving advice when necessary. Partoklos is described as “supplicating in his great innocence; this was his own death and evil and destruction he was entreating” (16.46-16.47) when he begs Achilles to let him help the Achaians. He then is the perfect martyr to be described as a “first born calf”, and innocent animal that is often used for sacrifice. Just as the innocent calf is used as sacrifice for the gods help, Patroklos is sacrificed for the help of Achilles.

    • I think it’s really important that you mention Patroklos as a means to get Achilles into the battle. Whether or not we can describe Patroklos as “important” or not in terms of his life/death, I think it is enough to say that his death has serious importance drawn to it; he is mentioned in Zeus’ will when Zeus lays out the rest of the plot in 15.63-78. Because of this, Patroklos’ death might seem like a pivotal moment, and him a pivotal character. I’m also partial to your description of Menalaos; he really is an integral part of why this war has started. I think that connection might have some relevance to the motherly feel he has for Patroklos. Because Patroklos’ death is certainly one given more attention than others, it seems fitting to have someone notice him. However, the description of him as a mother cow is strange; when facing off against Paris he is described as a lion eager to hunt down its prey (3.24), something very different, so I guess I’m not sure what implications the descriptions have other than that they are very different.

      • Micheal, you raise a good point: is Patoklos’s death important because it is noticed or is Patroklos death noticed because he is important? I had never thought of his death being important because attention was called to it. Even so I believe Partoklos was an important character within the Iliad. He was important enough for Zeus to give him an aristia and sacrifice his own son, Sarpedon, for the glory of Patroklos. Zeus even states ” Ah me, it is destined that the dearest of men, Sarpedon,must go down under the hands of Menoitios’ son Patroklos” (16.433-16.434).This sacrificing gives Patroklos some weight and value in addition to his roll of getting Achilles back into battle.

      • I definitely think Patroklos’ death was not only noticed because he was important, but because as the readers we knew that his death was ultimately leading to the return of Achilleus. I honestly think that’s the only reason Patroklos is so important; not because of his likeability or even the fact that he was a noble warrior. His main purpose in the Iliad is to die in order to bring Achilleus back to battle so that he can live out his aristea. As for Meneleus, I think we put a lot of focus on the fact that he may feel responsible for the war and that is why Homer chose him to be the first to recognize Patroklos’ death. I disagree only because it wasn’t his actions that led to the war, it was Paris’s, so I’m not exactly positive why he was the one to act as the “mother over a first-born calf”.

    • Clara, I like how you actually compared Patroklos to the baby calf. My first reaction to reading the question was to simply look at the direct comparison of Menelaos to the mother cow and it never occurred to me to actually think of the ways Patroklos is similar to the calf. However, I don’t really agree with it. I find it wrong to compare Patroklos to a baby calf because while you may have a point about how well respected he is and is plausible true intentions for fighting in the war, he isn’t all that pure and good. A baby calf is full of innocence and purity, and Patroklos is a warrior and there is definitely nothing about him. Lines 692 through 697 offer us an insight on Patroklos’ skills as a warrior and it is clear by the short catalog of some of the men he killed before he died that he is a good warrior. Plus, he has trained with Achilleus all of these years, so we can safely assume that Patroklos is a fierce fighter. Like any of the men at Troy, I don’t think comparing Patroklos to a baby calf is the most accurate similie. But I do agree with your thoughts of how Menelaos is compared to a mother of a first born calf because of the horrible responsibility he feels in regards to Patroklos’ death.

  3. I believe Homer’s choice to have Menelaos stand over the corpse of Patroklos was to signify the tragic consequences of the dispute between Achilleus and Agamemnon. It also identifies the great sacrifices Achilleus has made in his pursuit of honor. The fact it is Menelaos who stands and guards Patroklos, who is brother to Agamemnon serves to recontextualize the relationship between Achilleus and Agamemnon through the actions of Menelaos and his compassion for Patroklos. These two are the closest to Agamemnon and Achilleus, and now the once irreconcilable pair will reengage each other after the death of Patroklos. I agree with you Clara, in essence Patroklos was sacrificed for the benefit for the Achaians who he cared to ease their suffering in anyway he could, and I love how you connected the sacrifice of the innocent calf and Menelaos’s comparison to a the mother. Michael I agree that those maternal feelings are rooted in the fact that this war has essentially been taken up by the Achaians to regain his wife Helen.

    • Mohamed, I never considered the parallel between Agamemnon and Achilleus in comparison to Patroklos and Menelaus. I think its interesting to consider that though Menelaus never really spoke directly of his compassion for Patroklos before his death, Homer used him as a way to tie Agamemnon and Achilleus together. Like others have said, I think his protectiveness over Patroklos may come from a place of guilt for him being the catalyst of this war and I think he knows that soon the death of an innocent soul will soon bring the wrath of Achilleus back to the war.

  4. I agree with you Mohamed. I like how you draw the comparison between Menelaos and Pattroklos to Agamemnon and Achilles. They are the closest tot he king and famous hero and this particular show the possible reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles. Its sad because it happened at the hand of death, and now that the war is going to change in favor of the Acheans , you can only imagine what other comparison are going to make throughout the rest of the story.

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