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Book 21

Summary

Analysis & Themes

Achilles pursues the Trojans to the ford of the river Xanthus. The
Trojan force has split in half: one group runs back to Troy, while the
other group tries to cross the river to escape Achilles. The Trojans are
described as being like locusts fleeing a fire. Achilles rushes into the
water, slaughtering many Trojans in the river. Achilles grows so tired
from killing Trojans that he takes twelve young Trojans alive.

The river provides a perfect setting for Achilles feats of


heroism, slowing the movement of the Trojans as Achilles
attacks. Furthermore, the rivers flow is dynamic, mirroring
the way in which Achilles swiftly dispatches his enemies.

Achilles also comes across Priams son Lycaon, who Achilles had
previously captured and sold into slavery. Lycaon managed to return
back to Troy, and had only been home for twelve days before running
into Achilles again. Achilles, with irony, calls Lycaons return from
slavery a miracle. Lycaon begs for his life again, but Achilles has no
mercy, saying, Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it
so? Achilles kills Lycaon.

The story of Lycaons return and death underscores


uncertainty of death. Lycaons return from slavery was a
product of great effort and good fortune, turned suddenly
into bad. Achilles statement that all men must die also
refers to himself. Earlier he took Lycaon alive, but now,
knowing he himself must also die, Achilles is different and
has no mercy for anyone.

Achilles continues killing Trojans in the river, clogging the stream with
blood and bodies.Xanthus, the god of the river, takes the form of a
man and asks Achilles to stop killing Trojans in the river. Achilles agrees
to stop fighting in the river, but not to stop killing Trojans. Xanthus,
angered by Achilles resistance, calls on Apollofor help. Achilles is
enraged by Xanthus interference and plunges into the river to kill more
Trojans.

Xanthus protest to Achilles is a sign of Achilles immense


power: Achilles has killed so many men that his actions are
beginning to upset the natural order of things as
represented by the river. The fact that Achilles disobeys a
god also heightens the sense of Achilles glory, as he seems
to perform more like an equal of the gods than like a mortal
man.

Xanthus flings the corpses out of his river while saving the Trojans still
living. Achilles begins to fight the river, and Xanthus creates enormous
waves to drown Achilles. Achilles runs ever higher up the embankment,
trying to escape the river, but Xanthus nearly pulls him down to his
death.

Although Achilles strength is nearly supernatural, it is still


not enough to defeat an immortal god. Achilles may be
nearly immortal, but he is still ultimately a subject to the
forces of nature.

Achilles laments that if the river kills him, he will never gain the honor
he desires. Poseidon andAthena reassure Achilles. They tell him that
he must keep fighting until he kills Hector, and that afterward he must
return to the ships. Xanthuscalls to the river Simois to help him drown
Achilles, but Hera intervenes, calling her sonHephaestus to battle the
river with his fire. Under his blaze, the river boils until Xanthus promises
to submit.

Achilles is obsessed with gaining as much glory as he can in


the days battle, but Poseidon and Athena demarcate the
extent of Achilles success. Achilles fame has limits: he is
not destined to overpower the city of Troy itself. In addition,
he still needs the help of Hephaestus to counter Xanthus.

The gods begin to fight among themselves. Arescharges Athena, but


Athena quickly beats down his challenge, striking him with a stone.
Athena then attacks Aphrodite, who retreats immediately alongside
Ares. Poseidon tries to goad Apollo into battle, but Apollo refuses to
fight, insisting that he will not fight over mortals. Apollos
sister Artemis calls him a coward, andHera, overhearing Artemis
taunt, boxes the goddess ears. Artemis and her mother Letowithdraw
from the battle, and Artemis complains to Zeus about her harsh
treatment from Hera.

The engagement of all the gods in battle demonstrates that


the poem is moving toward its climax. All the gods are
arrayed against one another, making the battle a conflict
both on earth and in the heavens. Notice how Aphrodite
flees from battle much as Paris does; and it is Aphrodite and
Paris who set this war in motion.

Priam watches the carnage wrought by Achillesfrom the gates of Troy.


He orders that the Trojan gates be opened in order let the routed troops
back into the city. Apollo looks to distract Achilles long enough to allow
the Trojans to escape. Apollo puts courage into the heart of the Trojan
prince Agenor. Agenor stands against Achilles but cannot pierce his
godly armor. When Achilles attacks, Apollo lifts Agenor to safety and
takes his place. He runs from Achilles, creating a decoy that allows
other Trojans to escape.

Apollos distraction is necessary to prevent Achilles from


killing many more Trojans. Apollo can only give a limited
amount of help to the Trojans, as he cannot directly disobey
Zeus plan to give glory to Achilles. However, he does his
best to thwart Achilles, attempting to diminish the magnitude
of his feats on the battlefield.

Book 21:
Summary:

Achilles single-handedly splits the Trojan forces, driving one half towards the city and one half into the river. Hera sends a mist to
confuse and slow the retreat of the men going back towards the city. Achilles follows the Trojans into the river, hacking them to pieces
with his sword. He comes upon Lycaon, a son of Priam. On a previous encounter, Achilles captured Lycaon and sold him into slavery.
At great price, Lycaon was bought back and returned to his family. He has been back home only twelve days. Now, he is at Achilles'
mercy once again. He begs for his life, but Achilles tells him that only while Patroclus was alive did he have the desire to spare Trojan
life. Patroclus, a better man than Lycaon, died, and Achilles himself will die, so Lycaon must accept his fate. Lycaon resists no more,
and Achilles kills him. He gloats over the body, promising that all Trojans will die horribly in payment for Patroclus' death.
Xanthus, the river god, is angered by Achilles' pitiless slaughter of the Trojan men. He helps Asteropaeus, a Paeonian ally of the
Trojans, to wound Achilles, but Achilles still kills the man. Achilles goes on slaughtering more Paeonians, who are struck down as they
flee from him in terror. Xanthus protests, telling Achilles to stop glutting his waters with corpses. The dead bodies are so numerous that
the river cannot run a clean course into the sea. Achilles replies to Xanthus (called Scamander by mortals) that he will obey, but not
now: first, he will kill Trojans until they are driven back into the city and Hector has fallen. Achilles goes down into the waters again, and
the river attacks him. The corpses are thrown onto shore, the living are held in the water and protected, and Achilles is attacked by
mighty waves. Achilles tries to flee over the plain, but the waters follow him and continue to try to drown him. Achilles cries out
to Zeus in anguished prayer, believing that he will be denied glory and die drowned like a child, and Athena and Poseidon come to his
aid. They assure him that they stand by him, and that Xanthus will be stopped. They instruct him to drive the Trojans back into the city
and kill Hector, after which he must return to his encampment. Athena gives Achilles speed to outrun the river water. Xanthus calls on
Simois, another water god, to help him. Hera, fearing for Achilles, calls on Hephaestus to combat Xanthus. Hephaestus is the god of
fire, and he unleashes terrible flames against the river. The corpses left on the plain by Achilles burn, the plants burst into flame, and
the animals in the river begin to die. Xanthus gives up his attack, but the waters themselves begin to boil. Hera calls Hephaestus off
only when Xanthus promises not to do anything more to help the Trojans.

The other gods are incited by the clash between Xanthus and Hephaestus, and they fight. Ares attacks Athena, hoping to pay her back
for the incident when she helped Diomedes to wound him, but Athena blocks his blow and downs him with a boulder. Aphroditetries to
carry Ares away to safety, but Athena, encouraged by Hera, knocks Aphrodite down with a mighty punch to the breasts. Poseidon
taunts Apollow, reminding him of how they were both abused by Laomedon, Priam's father. And yet Apollo fights for Troy. Apollo refuses
to fight Poseidon, too modest to try to fight against his father's mighty brother. Apollo's sister Artemis scolds him, accusing him of
cowardice, and Hera attacks her for her insolence. She holds Artemis' wrists in one hand and boxes Artemis' ears with her own
bow. Hermes refuses to fight with Leto, who gathers up the scattered arrows and bow of Artemis, her daughter, and goes to comfort her
daughter. Crying, Artemis has fled all the way back to Olympus, where her father Zeus laughs as he comforts her.

Apollo goes to Troy, anxious that he might need to prevent the Achaeans from taking the city before it is fated. The other gods return to
Olympus. Amidst the towers of Troy, Priam watches the routing of his army. He orders that the gates be held open until everyone can
get inside, after which they must close the gates quickly lest Achilles get inside the city. Apollo drives courage into the heart of Agenor,
son of Antenor, and Agenor resolves, after some indecision, to try to stop Achilles. Agenor throws his spear and hits Achilles in the leg,
although the weapon does not penetrate Achilles' armor. Apollo then spirits Agenor away to protect the man from certain death. Apollo
takes the form of Agenor, taunting Achilles and luring him away from the city gates. In this way, Apollo buys the Trojans enough time to
get safely within the city walls.

Analysis:
With the death of Patroclus, any compassion Achilles once had is now gone, destroyed by grief and rage. His attacks against the
Trojans are unnecessarily brutal and pitiless; the carnage angers Xanthus, whose waters become filled with dead bodies. His denial of
Lycaon's pleas for mercy is one of the Iliad's most frightening passages. Achilles' words are cold, inhuman. As many other Trojans
before him have hoped, Lycaon hopes that his family's wealth will be able to save him, but Achilles is past the point when life can be
spared. In the Fagles translation, Lycaon speaks of Patroclus as "your strong, gentle friend," with emphasis added to "gentle," as if
Lycaon is trying to remind Achilles of the compassion that distinguished Patroclus among men. Rather than honor his friend's memory
by remembering his compassion, Achilles allows any shred of gentleness in him to die with Patroclus. Achilles treats these human lives
more lightly than the gods do, and he is as mortal as the men he kills. We are reminded of his mortality when he nearly dies an
undignified death at the hands of Xanthus, the river god. Suddenly, he is vulnerable again, but once freed by Hephaestus' fire, Achilles
returns to the slaughter.

The battles between the gods are comic in tone, with the exception of the clash between Xanthus and Hephaestus. Athena punches
Aphrodite in the breasts; Hera smacks Artemis around with her own bow. Homer presents these battles lightly because the gods have
nothing at stake when they fight. Only men can have dignity in battle because men can die. The wounds of the gods heal quickly, and
nothing can kill them. With nothing to lose, their clashes can never be noble. There can be no sacrifice or martyrdom or true courage;
their invulnerability disqualifies them from a claim to human dignity.

With the death of their champion approaching, we see the Trojans behaving nobly. Priam watches the battle with concern, ordering that
the gates remain open until everyone is inside, even though he risks that Achilles might the city. Agenor, though terrified of Achilles,
stands and fights a battle he cannot seriously think he has a real chance of winning. His courage, along with Apollo's deception, buys
the city of Troy a little more time.
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Achilles drives half the Trojans back towards their city; the other half are in the Xanthus River. Achilles leaps into it, stabbing Trojans
with his sword. After tiring, he rounds up 12 young Trojans, ties them up and sends them back to the ships as blood price for Patroclus.
He then returns to slaughtering. First he kills Priam's son Lycaon. One of his other victims is a grandson of the Axius River and leader of
the Paeonians. He then goes after the other Paeonians, killing in a blur. The Xanthus River takes on human form and tells Achilles to
stop. He doesn't want all the butchery in the river. Achilles addresses him and says he will obey, but will keep killing on land. The river
then yells to Apollo to protect the Trojans. Achilles hears this, and charges against the river, which churns and raises waves. Achilles is
in a fight with the river that he can't win alone; nor can he escape, no matter how swift a runner.
Achilles addresses Zeus saying he is going to die and would much rather be killed by Hector than like a common pig boy swept up by a
river.
Poseidon and Athena hear Achilles and assure him he won't die in the river because they are with him. Poseidon says he should drive
all the Trojans back into their city and not stop killing until he has killed Hector. When that happens, Achilles must return to the ships
[sounds like the warning Achilles gave Patroclus]. With divine help, Achilles can now outrun the river. Xanthus calls to brother, the river
Simois for help. Hera fears for Achilles and summons Hephaestus whom she thinks is an equal of the swirling Xanthus.
Hera says she will drive the winds of the west and south while Hephaestus is to explode in a burst of flame. Hephaestus burns the
flame, cremating the corpses and heads to the rive, burning the plants along the river banks. Xanthus begs him to stop, but Hephaestus
obeys his mother, so Xanthus turns to Hera, who hears his pleas and stops her son.
Zeus hears the commotion and laughs at the conflict among the gods. Ares and Athena then fight. Athena lays Ares low with a
boundary stone. He sprawls out over 7 acres until Aphrodite comes to lead him away. Hera tells Athena to go after them. Poseidon
goes after Apollo. He offers Apollo the first shot and wonders why Apollo is fighting for the Trojans after the trouble they shared in Troy
at the hands of Laomedon.
Apollo says it's foolish to fight for the sake of mortals. He leaves. Artemis scolds him and calls him spineless. Hera then upbraids
Artemis and boxes her ears. Artemis leaves in tears. Hermes tells Leto she can claim she beat him, if she likes, but he will not fight
against her. Leto gathers the dropped archery equipment of her daughter, Artemis, who has gone crying to papa Zeus. She wails that
Hera has beaten her.
Apollo enters Troy. He is worried that the Greeks, against fate, will break down the god-built walls of Troy.
Achilles continues to slaughter. King Priam watches from the wall. He orders the gates be opened to the routed troops.
Apollo races to meet Achilles, so the Trojans can use the distraction to get inside the walls. Apollo drives Prince Agenor towards the
Greeks. Agenor decides to meet Achilles; he challenges him, and throws a spear that hits Achilles' shin, but on the protective greaves.
Achilles leaps at Agenor, but Apollo blocks him, whirling Agenor away in a mist. Apollo assumes Agenor's shape and runs out into the
field luring Achilles and giving the routed Trojans time to enter the walls of their city.

Achilles - best warrior and most heroic of the Greeks. After Agamemnon stole his war prize, Briseis, Achilles sat out the war
until his beloved comrade Patroclus was killed. Although he knows his death is imminent, Achilles is determined to kill as many
Trojans as possible, including Hector whom he blames for Patroclus' death.

Xanthus - a river near Troy known to mortals as Scamander.

Lycaon - son of Laothoe and Priam.

Apollo - god of many attributes. Favors the Trojans.

Poseidon - Sea god and brother of Zeus. Known to the Romans as Neptune. Poseidon favors the Greeks.

Hera - queen of the gods, wife and sister of Zeus. Hera is on the side of the Greeks.
Known as Juno among the Romans and in some translations of the Iliad.

Hephaestus - blacksmith god, son of Hera. He created fantastic armor as a favor to Thetis for her son Achilles. He owes
Thetis for saving his life when he fell from Mt. Olympus.

Zeus - king of the gods. Zeus attempts neutrality.


Known as Jupiter or Jove among the Romans and in some translations of the Iliad.

Ares - war god. Favors the Trojans.

Athena - favors the Greeks. Also known by the Romans as Minerva.


Aphrodite - the goddess of love and winner of the apple of discord who promised Paris (Alexander) Helen. She supports the
Trojans and especially Paris.
Artemis - virgin hunter goddess, sister of Apollo and daughter of Zeus and Leto. On the side of the Trojans.
Leto - daughter of the titans Coeus and Phoebe, she is the mother of Apollo and Artemis. When trying to give birth, Hera, who
was jealous because the father was Zeus, hunted Leto all over the earth.
Priam - King of the Trojans and father of Hector, Paris, Cassandra, and Helenus, among others.
Agenor - Trojan son of Antenor.