A new understanding of Achilles’ grief for Patroklos in the Iliad


Grief and the Hero examines Achilles’ experience of the futility of grief in the context of the Iliad’s study of anger. No action can undo his friend Patroklos’ death, but the experience of death drives him to behave as though he can achieve something restorative. Rather than assuming that grief gives rise to anger, as most scholars have done, Grief and the Hero pays close attention to the poem’s representation of the origin of these emotions. In the Iliad, only Achilles’ grief for Patroklos is joined with the word pothê, “longing”; no other grief in the poem is described with this term. The Iliad depicts Achilles’ grief as the rupture of shared life—an insight that generates a new way of reading the epic. Achilles’ anguish drives him to extremes, oscillating between self-isolation and seeking communal expressions of grief; between weeping abundantly and relentlessly pursuing battle; between varied threats of mutilation, deeds of vengeance, and other vows. Yet his yearning for life shared with Patroklos is the common denominator. Here lies the profound insight of the Iliad. All of Achilles’ grief-driven deeds arise from his longing for life with Patroklos, and thus all of these deeds are, in a deep sense, futile. He yearns for something unattainable—undoing the reality of death. Grief and the Hero will appeal not only to scholars and students of Homer but to all humanists. Loss, longing, and even revenge touch many human lives, and the insights of the Iliad have broad resonance.

Emily P. Austin is Assistant Professor of Classics and the College, University of Chicago.

Grief and the Hero has several insights that will make a significant contribution to its field.  These include the analysis of the relationship between Achilles and Patroklos, a subject that has been surprisingly neglected by scholarship, and the discussion of Achilles’ anger with Hektor, which the book persuasively argues has its origin in Achilles’ longing for the dead Patroklos.  It brings out well Achilles’ ‘aimlessness’ from Book 19 till his meeting with King Priam, and nicely explores the grief of Andromache and the passiveness of the Trojans as a group over their future. Grief and the Hero will be of value to an audience ranging from post-graduate students to professional Homerists.”
—Graham Zanker 

- Graham Zanker

"Grief and the Hero is a deeply humanistic book. ...Grief and the Hero is recommended not only to Homerists and advanced students, but to any scholars with an interest in Homer — including, given the importance of Austin’s work for central themes of the Iliad, all those who teach Homer in translation."
New England Classical Journal

- New England Classical Journal

"... Austin has done an admirable job at exploring the futility of longing for a dead hero... (a) most valuable addition to the Classical bookshelf" - Dr. Cliff Cunningham, Sun News Austin

- Sun News Austin

"Austin has delivered a well-written and persuasive book based on the analysis of a considerable amount of textual evidence. ...Grief and the Hero makes a significant contribution to Homeric scholarship and is a must-read from which students and seasoned Homerists will benefit greatly."
- Bryn Mawr Classical Review 

- Leonie Henkes

"There are a few dozen books about Homer I think a Homerist must read; there are only a handful I think everyone should try. Emily’s Grief and the Hero is now one of them." 
Sententiae Antiquae

- Sententiae Antiquae

Read: Grief and the Hero featured on Sententiae Antiquae | 6/3/2021