The Iliad concludes with Priam ransoming his son Hector’s body from Achilles and then returning to Troy with the corpse in tow. Stricken with grief, the Trojans move through a twelve-day mourning process that culminates with the hero’s burial. The poem therefore ends on an elegiac note, emphasizing the greatness of the Trojans’ loss and, by extension, of the Achaeans’ loss as well. In addition to its emphasis on mourning an accomplished hero, the ending of The Iliad also builds anticipation for events that the poem doesn’t recount but which will happen in the aftermath of Hector’s death. The sense of anticipation will be strongest for those with a broad knowledge of Greek mythology who are aware that Troy is fated to fall. But even for readers who don’t know that the Achaeans eventually prevail, the poet builds a sense of anticipation through the deal struck between Achilles and Priam, in which the two armies will cease fighting for as long as it takes properly to bury Hector. After that time, though, the already nine-year-old war will continue just as it has throughout this epic poem.
The ending’s two functions—elegy and anticipation—converge in the speech Andromache gives upon the arrival of her husband’s body in Troy. Andromache imagines a bleak future for herself, her children, and, by extension, all Trojans. In this speech, the widow Andromache at once mourns the loss of her husband and envisions the consequences of his death. She foresees that she and her children will be “doomed” when the city is “sacked” and “plundered top to bottom.” She further prophesies that Troy will fall soon, before her son can “come to manhood,” and that she, her son, and other Trojans will be abducted by Achaean forces and forced into servitude. For anyone who knows that Troy is fated to fall, Andromache’s ominous vision builds tension and underscores the sadness of both Hector’s recent defeat Troy’s fated future defeat.
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