Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


   Search Site


in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

 • Home •  • Preface • • Introduction •  • Chronology •  • Index •  • About the Author •


Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


Printable Page


Homer: The Iliad: Book Twenty-Three,
A Friend Consigned to Death  850 BCE

Lines 70 – 127         Translation by Robert Fitzgerald, 1974

Death of Patroklos:

Homer, The Iliad, The Trojan Wars.

Translation: Alexander Pope, 1760

Death of the Trojan hero,

Homer, The Iliad, The Trojan Wars

Translation: Robert Fitzgerald, 1974

Death of Trojan hero,

Homer: The Iliad: Book Twenty-Three,
A Friend Consigned to Death  850 BCE

Translation by Robert Fitzgerald, 1974          
Lines 70 – 127

Akhilleus lay down groaning among his men,

his Myrmidions, on a bare open place

where breakers rolled in spume upon the shore.

Pursuing Hektor around windy Troy

He had worn out his legs. Now restful floods

Of sleep, dissolving heartache, came upon him,

And soon forlorn Patroklos’ shade came near —

A perfect likeness of the man, in height,

Fine eyes, and voice, and dressed in his own fashion.

The image stood above him and addressed him:


“Sleeping so? Thou hast forgotten me,

Akhilleus. Never was I uncared for

In life but am in death. Accord me burial

In all haste: let me pass the gates of Death.

Shades that are images of used-up men

Motion me away, will not receive me

Among their hosts beyond the river. I wander

Above the wide gates and the hall of Death.

Give me your hand. I sorrow.

When thou shalt have allotted me my fire

I will not fare here from the dark again.

As living men we’ll no more sit apart

From our companions, making plans. The day

Of wrath appointed for me at my birth

Engulfed and took me down. Thou too, Akhilleus,

Face iron destiny, godlike as thou art,

To die under the wall of highborn Trojans.

One more message, one behest, I leave thee:

Not to inter my bones apart from thine

But close together, as we grew together,

In thy family hall. Menoitios

From Opoeis had brought me, under a cloud,

A boy still, on the day I killed the son


Of Lord Amphidamas — though I wished it not —

In childish anger over a game of dice.

Peleus, master of the horse, adopted me

And reared me kindly, naming me your squire.

So may the same urn hide our bones, the one

Of gold your mother gave.”


Spoke in answer, saying:                           

“Dear old friend, why comest hither, and why these demands?

I shall bring all to pass for thee; I shall

Comply with all thy bidding. Only stand

Nearer to me. For this little time

May we embrace and take our fill of tears.”


He stretched his arms out but took hold of nothing,

As into earth Patroklos’ shade like smoke

Retreated with a faint cry. Then Akhilleus

Rose in wonderment and clapped his hands,

And slowly said:

“A wisp of life remains

in the undergloom of Death: a visible form,

though no heart beats within it. All this night

the shade of poor Patroklos bent above me

grieving and weeping, charging me with tasks.

It seems to the life the very man.”


At this

The Myrmidons were stirred again to weep.

Then Dawn with rose-red fingers in the east

Began to glow upon them as they mourned

Around the pitiful body.



Homer, The Iliad, The Trojan Wars.

Translation: Alexander Pope, 1760


Death of the Trojan hero, Sarpedon


The towering chief’s to fiercer fight advance:

And first Sarpedon whirl’d his weighty lance,

Which o’er the warrior’s shoulder took its course,

And spent in empty air its dying force.

Not so Patroclus’ never-erring dart;

Aim’d at his breast it pierced a mortal part,

Where the strong fibres bind the solid heart.

Then as the mountain oak, or poplar tall,

Or pine (fit mast for some great admiral)

Nods to the axe, till with a groaning sound

It sinks, and spreads its honours on the ground,

Thus fell the king, and laid on earth supine,

Before his chariot stretch’d his form divine:

He grasp’d the dust distain’d with steaming gore,

And, pale in death, lay groaning on the shore.

So lies a bull beneath the lion’s paws,

While the grim savage grinds with foamy jaws

The trembling limbs, and sucks the smoking blood:

Deep groans, and hollow roars, rebellow through the woods.



Homer, The Iliad, The Trojan Wars

Translation: Robert Fitzgerald, 1974


Death of Trojan hero, Sarpedon


The team then ranged themselves beside the pole,

drawing the reins taut, and once more,

devoured by fighting madness, the two men clashed.

Sarpedon missed again. He drove his spearhead

over the left shoulder of Patroklos,

not even grazing him. Patroklos then

made his last throw, and the weapon left his hand

with flawless aim. He hit his enemy

just where the muscles of the diaphragm

encased his throbbing heart. Sarpedon fell

the way an oak or poplar or tall pine

goes down, when shipwrights in the wooded hills

with whetted axes chop it down for timber.

So, full length, before his war-car lay

Sarpedon raging, clutching the bloody dust.

Imagine a greathearted sultry bull

a lion kills amid a shambling herd:

with choking groans he dies under the claws,

So, mortally wounded by Patroklos

the chief of Lykian shieldsmen lay in agony

and called his friend by name: “Glaukos, old man

old war dog, now’s the time to be a spearman!

Put your heart in combat! Let grim war

be all your longing! Quickly, if you can,

arouse the Lykian captains, round them up

to fight over Sarpedon. You, too, fight

to keep my body, else in later days

this day will be your shame. You’ll hang your head

all your life long, if these Akhaians take

my armor here, where I have gone down fighting

before the ships. Hold hard; cheer on the troops!”


The end of life came upon him as he spoke,

closing his eyes and nostrils. And Patroklos

with one foot on his chest drew from his belly

spearhead and spear; the diaphragm came out,

so he extracted life and blade together.



Adrienne Nater, 2008

©© 2008 Adrienne Nater. All rights reserved.