Wedgwood Jasper Button. White on Blue Jasper Cameo depicting 'Death of Patroclus' C.1795
Death of A Beloved Comrade
“Even Achilles with all his valour could not save you.”
Adamant in his refusal to fight Achilles is prepared to sail home back to Phthia regardless of his given fate. But Patroclus, who has seen the pain his life-long friend is causing, is determined to persuade him to fight. The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was an intensely close one, and it has been debated for centuries as to what type of relationship it was. But whatever stance one takes on their relationship, it cannot be denied that there is infinite fondness between the two. Achilles is famous for his perpetually angry manner towards the other people, even his own troops. But there is always tenderness with Patroclus, even when he attacks him for leaving the Greeks to die.
In Book 16, after Patroclus has argued with Achilles, he offers to wear Achilles’ armour to scare the Trojans enough to give their comrades a break from constant fighting. Achilles agrees, only if Patroclus agrees to stay by the ships and not take the fight onto the plain that lies before the walls of Troy. Patroclus, fully dressed in Achilles’ threatening armour, leads Achilles own troops The Myrmidons into battle. He succeeds in pushing the Trojans back, many run for their lives thinking the best of the Greeks has returned to battle, but this victory was undeniably the beginning of his end. The reader doesn’t get to see much of Patroclus until Book 16, up until this point he has been a background character only seen in Achilles’ tent as his man servant. However, in this book Patroclus gives an otherwise stagnant plot an intensity it lacked and makes it possible for Achilles to storm back into the fight. He has a truly incredible aristeia (greatest moments as a warrior), killing more Trojans in one go than anyone else in the set books, with the number being above 50. Three times he almost successfully storms the walls of Troy and three times the God Apollo himself has to push the mortal away.
If we compare Patroclus’ death with any others from The Iliad we see that his is bitterly unfair. He is knocked senseless by Apollo, left with his head spinning and unable to see, his helmet thrown from his head and his breastplate loosened and weak. Euphorbus, a minor Trojan warrior, sees his opportunity and stabs him with his spear through his side before running away. Bleeding out and still unable to see, Patroclus stumbles into the chaos of battle trying to return to his Greek comrades, but Hector has already seen him. Unusually full of arrogance and spite, Hector proceeds to taunt Patroclus, reminding him that his beloved friend couldn’t save him and that his life was soon to be over for nothing. After a long passage of cruel taunts man slaying Hector stabs the dying Greek through the stomach. Just as he is about to die, Patroclus sheds light upon Hectors own fate and berates him for his dishonour in killing an unarmed, already injured man.
After his death the rest of the best Greek fighters unite to save Patroclus’ body from being taken by the Trojans. Hector tries to snatch it away but is stopped by Great Ajax and more Greeks who try to help him. Hector then runs back to Troy and the Trojans remain unable to take the body from the Greeks. After both sides being motivated by the Gods, Menelaus eventually pulls his body away while Odysseus and Ajax defend his getaway. Wedgwood manages to capture this emotional scene in a tiny badge. The badge is an ornamental ware jasper button with white relief within Pinchbeck metal housing circa 1795. It depicts Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus and is another copy of an ancient piece of art. A famous sculpture set shows the same scene, even down the same positing of the figures, body and armour. In the relief we see that the body of Menelaus is armed beautifully, with fine detailing to the helmet and shield, dressed in a Greek style beard and crest helmet, all factors which would prove this is Menelaus depicted here. This is a contrast to the lifeless body of Patroclus. In Greek battles it was custom to strip the armour off of the dead, both a symbolic and physical way of proving your strength in battle. Here we see that the body of Patroclus has been stripped, Hector has taken Achilles infamous armour for himself. The fight for his body also shows not only the respect that men had for their dead comrades, but their unity as an army, with a King dragging the body of a man servant back to the Greek encampment.
Even after the gruelling fight for his body, there is an even more deadly task to complete. To tell Achilles, with all his rage, that his beloved companion has been slaughtered by Hector of Troy.
Wedgwood Jasper Button within (Pinchbeck) metal housing. White on Blue Jasper Cameo depicting 'Death of Patroclus' C.1795