Books and Movies Reviews

Iliad: Patroclus’ death and Aristotle’s terminology

Aristotle's terminology does help us understand the tragedy in this epic by defining the specific aspects of what makes something tragic.Patroclus' death contains two of these aspects, but it is not what makes the epic a tragedy.Although Zeus had "denied him safe and sound return from battle," we never though his death would be this painful.The "pathos" or suffering occurs because Apollo hurts himfirst, then a Trojan soldier, and Hector saw him "trying to stagger free" (p. 439, ln 952), and then just finished him off.His death caused the quick switch from high to low, or the reversal, because they had been doing so well in battle and were "winning a little breathing room" (p.422, ln 355) before he died.So the soldier's mood will probably go down again, but in his last words Patroclus hinted that Achilles will fight again, which will help the Achaeans.However, there was no recognition in his death. Everyone knew that it was Patroclus fighting and who it was that killed him, so only part of Aristotle's idea of the tragic plot is correct when applied to The Iliad.
For the most part, I agree with Aristotle in what makes a tragic plot, and this epic definitely contains one.However, Patroclus' death is not what makes it tragic, it is part of it and adds to the overall tragedy, but there is much more than that.The tragedy is found in the Trojan people who are being attacked, the Achaean soldiers who are fighting for someone else's personal gain and who are being slaughtered because one selfish man refuses to fight, and the fact that the humans have no real control over anything they do, but rather the immortals above.It is all tragic and maybe that is what Homer was trying to prove, life is one big tragedy.


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