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To what degree do books 23 and 24 create a sense of closure?
Book 23 and 24 of the Iliad combine to create a sense of closure in different ways. In the story of Achilles, book 23 narrates his public reconciliation with the Greeks, while book 24 shows him starting to come to terms with the loss of Patroclus, which both unite to conclude the rage with which he started the Iliad. Both books also provide emotional closure, and also have strong links with the beginning of the epic, which creates a sense of formal closure. The funeral of Patroclus in book 23 allows the audience to see the public reintegration of Achilles into the Greek community. After the quarrel in book 1, Achilles withdraws himself from the fighting, and though he re-enters the war after the death of Patroclus, he is in effect still isolated from the other Greeks as he refuses to eat or take part in other communal activities with them. Still at the start of book 23 he refuses to wash, which acts as a sign of his separation from the other Greeks: At once they ordered the clear-voiced heralds to set on the fire a great cauldron, hoping to persuade the son of Peleus to wash off the bloody gore. But he steadfastly refused them and swore an oath to it: "No, by Zeus, who is highest and best of gods, it cannot be that water should come near my head until I have laid Patroclus on the fire..."1
However, the visitation of the ghost of Patroclus (23.65ff) allows Achilles to start to understand that his companion is gone forever, and that they will not meet again until he too has died, and they can be buried together. This understanding of the partition between them is the first step to Achilles understanding his grief in book 24. Patroclus' funeral (23.110ff) is another step that gives Achilles a sense of closure on the loss of his companion. It is Achilles presiding over the funeral games of Patroclus from
23.257 onwards that shows how, following the funeral of Patroclus, he is able to start to reintegrate himself into the Greek army. A number of disputes arise over the distribution of the prizes, for example between Menelaus and Antilochos after the chariot race. In contrast to book 1, where Achilles was one of the participants in similar disputes over Chryseis and Briseis, here Achilles is seen as acting for the good of the community, and doing his best to act 1 23.39
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magnanimously and soothe disagreements. Even the language is similar between the quarrel in book 1 and this quarrel here, as Taplin observes: 'tin d'ego ou doso' 23.552 (referring to the horse that Antilochos claims is his, and that he will not give up) 'tin d'ego ou luso' 1.29 (referring to Chryseis, whom Agamemnon claims he will not give up)
We see the difference in Achilles as here he resolves the disagreement by being generous and offering more gifts, which is a far cry from his behaviour in book 1: So he [Antilochos] spoke, and swift-footed noble Achilles smiled, rejoicing in Antilochos because he was his dear comrade; and he made answer, and spoke to him winged words: "Antilochos, if you will have me give Eumelus some other thing out of my house as a further prize, this I will do." 2
Book 23 creates closure as it shows how one part of Achilles' anger has ended. The first word in the Iliad is 'minin' or 'rage', and the epic can be seen as the narration of one episode of the Trojan war: the episode of Achilles' rage. This rage comes in two parts: the first anger against Agamemnon stemming from the quarrel in book 1 over Briseis effectively concludes after the death of Patroclus in book 16, when it gets overtaken by a new rage, an anger and a desire for vengeance for Patroclus' death. Book 23 shows Achilles giving Agamemnon a prize and praising him, giving a clear indication that the first part of his anger is over (though it is only in book 24 when the second part finishes): But among them spoke swift-footed noble Achilles: "Son of Atreus, we know how far you excel all, and how far you are the best in power and in the casting of the spear; take this prize and go to the hollow ships..."3
Book 23, as well as bringing closure to the character of Achilles, in many ways provides the most positive ending to the Iliad. The games are light-hearted in comparison to the rest of the war, as the main characters are given the opportunity to give a final display of their prowess: this is the last time that we see the Greek warriors such as Odysseus, Agamemnon, Ajax and Nestor, whose lives we have been following over the course of the rest of the poem. In contrast to the suffering and pain of the conflict, here they are 2 23.555 3 23.889ff - this speech is very significant as Achilles praises Agamemnon for all the things he refused to accept about him in book 1, when he claimed that he himself was the best of the Achaeans.
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