LGBTQ Heroes: Patroclus

The gay man at the centre of the history of Ancient Greece.

LGBTQ Heroes: Patroclus

In Greek mythology, as recorded in Homer’s Iliad, Patroclus was a close wartime companion of Achilles.

Patroclus was the son of Menoetius, the son of Actor, King of Opus and, through his grandmother Aegina, Achilles’ first cousin once removed.

Early days

During his childhood, Patroclus had killed another child in anger over a game. Menoetius gave Patroclus to Peleus, Achilles’ father, who named Patroclus Achilles’ “squire” as Patroclus and Achilles grew up together.

Patroclus acted as a male role model for Achilles, as he was both older than Achilles and wise regarding counsel.

Trojan War

According to the Iliad, when the tide of the Trojan War had turned against the Greeks and the Trojans were threatening their ships, Patroclus convinced Achilles to let him lead the Myrmidons into combat. Achilles consented, giving Patroclus the armour Achilles had received from his father, in order for Patroclus to impersonate Achilles. Achilles then told Patroclus to return after beating the Trojans back from their ships. Patroclus defied Achilles’ order and pursued the Trojans back to the gates of Troy. Patroclus killed many Trojans and Trojan allies, including a son of Zeus, Sarpedon. While fighting, Patroclus’ wits were removed by Apollo, after which Patroclus was hit with the spear of Euphorbos. Hector then killed Patroclus by stabbing him in the stomach with a spear.

Achilles retrieved his body, which had been stripped of armour by Hector and protected on the battlefield by Menelaus and Ajax. Achilles did not allow the burial of Patroclus’ body until the ghost of Patroclus appeared and demanded his burial in order to pass into Hades. Patroclus was then cremated on a funeral pyre, which was covered in the hair of his sorrowful companions. As the cutting of hair was a sign of grief while also acting as a sign of the separation of the living and the dead, this points to how well-liked Patroclus had been. The ashes of Achilles were said to have been buried in a golden urn along with those of Patroclus by the Hellespont.

Relationship with Achilles

Although there is no explicit sexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in the Homeric tradition, later Greek authors wrote about what they saw as implied in the text regarding their relationship.

Their relationship is said to have inspired Alexander the Great in his own close relationship with his life-long companion Hephaestion.

Achilles was younger than Patroclus. Their relationship is often described as being between an eromenos, a youth in transition, and an erastes, an older male who had recently made the same transition. The Greek custom of paiderasteia between men was a political, intellectual, and sexual relationship.