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.

4 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 9

  1. Rachel Altier

    Menelaos was the reason that the Achaeans came to Troy in the first place– the start of the war was his wife leaving him, and the initial basis of it was to get her back for him. He has spent most of the Iliad to this point being concerned with that plan– his main fight was with Paris, and it was much more a fight over Helen than it was a fight about actual war. While there have been several deaths before this point, I think that Patroklos’s death struck deeper for the majority of the Achaean leaders than any of the other deaths had. By having Menelaos be the one to stand over and protect his body, it shows how different Patroklos’s death is. He is caring about something other than his initial reason for fighting, something other than his desire to get Helen back. He cared about Patroklos, and it is important to him that his body be protected from the Trojans. By having it be Menelaos, that shows how important Patroklos was for others, and how much his death changes the way the war is seen by them.
    The fiercest creatures in the animal kingdom are mothers protecting their young, and by comparing Menelaos to a mother cow protecting her calf, it is clear exactly what kind of image is supposed to be invoked here. Menelaos is fierce here, he is possibly the fiercest and strongest that he has ever been, and it is his care for Patroklos that brought this about in him. The idea of the simile being maternal is incredibly important. It shows the true anger and fierceness of Menelaos over Patroklos’s death, and it shows just how much he cared about him. At first glance, the simile can seem odd because it compares him to a very caring, maternal, female creature, and it can seem like that would be implying that he is weaker than he has been before, but a closer examination makes it seem like the exact opposite because of what a mother in the animal kingdom is.
    The simile shows Menelaos in a new light that we did not get earlier in the Iliad because of his obsession with Helen and Paris. Now, we get to see a side of him that is caring and powerful. He has not seemed powerful in comparison to others in the Iliad up until this point, but by comparing him to a mother and letting him care about something new that he did not before, it gives him a new kind of power that he did not have before, both as a warrior and as a character. Patroklos’s death brought about a new part of Menelaos as well as showing things about the other characters such as Achilles.

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  2. Hanna Gilley

    “He is caring about something other than his initial reason for fighting, something other than his desire to get Helen back.” As soon as I read this line of yours, I thought of Achilles so I’m glad that you mentioned him at the end of your post. Patroklos’ death is also the reason for Achilles’ rage being somewhat subdued in the epic, one of the only times he “calms down” (the other time I’m thinking is when he essentially is debating whether to accept his ‘fate’ of a short life or a long life).
    I agree with you in that I don’t feel that comparing Menelaos to a female makes him ‘less of a man’ or weak. I think when Homer has his characters showing their true emotions is when he is showing us most about the character and the most about human values in that time period (and maybe still today?). Yes, women are seen as the more emotional sex, and it’s true – we are, but it doesn’t make us weaker and I feel like Homer may have been trying to touch upon the fact and the fact that every human is vulnerable and capable of grief, rage, love.
    Is the death of Patroklos a catalyst for our characters? A realization that in an age of warriors, there is an internal battle as well (being human)? Hmm….

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  3. Nakia Browner

    I agree with you Rachel. But I also believe that at that moment when Menelaos saw Patroklos fall to his death he realized or even sensed the rage of his comrades, especially Achilles, coming from this. Almost as if he can feel how the war will end with so much blood. He looked at Patroklos like a mother would a child because I believe wanted to show how one can feel in the middle when they see a dear friend is murdered in front of them, vulnerable, yet vengeance. That look a mother gives her child when she can’t save them is a helpless look and that’s possibly how Menelaos felt.

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  4. Anisa Bailey

    Nakia, I like the point you made about Meneleus having a sense of helplessness like a mothe would of her child if he couldn’t be saved. I think the reality that a significant person was killed really took a toll on Meneleus. He probably felt a need to protect Patroklas for the sake of the Achaians and ultimately for Achilles whose return to the war was to be anticipated. I also agree that comparing him to a mother doesn’t make him weak at all. In class, we spoke about how after a cow births her calf, she immediately goes into a rage to protect it from prey. By describing Meneleus as a mother it only intensifies his character in a way that we haven’t really seen him before.

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