L'homme et l'animal dans le bûcher de Patrocle (Iliade, XXIII)

François POPLIN

fr Anthropozoologica 21 - Pages 253-265

Published on 01 November 1995

This article is a part of the thematic issue Animal in man's space, man in the animal space. Proceedings of the 5th international meeting of HASRI, Genova, 23-25 November 1994

Man and animal in Patrocle's stake (funeral pyre)

Sheep and oxes are layed out in a large but unknown quantity around the precious body of Patrocle, horses and dogs in known number, as well as twelve young Trojans. All this is detailed enough to allow us to note the spatial arrangement, but vague enough to allow variations during the narration. As a matter offact, in the osteology scene (collection of the bones in the ashes), horses are not where they were expected. Here there is a succession of two logics: during the déposa in the stake, horses are perceived as close to the man (personified by Patrocle); in the sorting of the bones, they are far from him to avoid confusion. Both have the same meaning: the proximity of man and horse. Another important phenomenon is the disappearance of cattle and sheep, which seem to have been there only to feed the fire, as they feed the living. Men and horses are the only ones to émerge from the poem as they stand out of he stake, thanks to their bones. Those belonging to Patrocle are given great consideration, as is illustrated archaeologically by the remains of Philip of Macedonia. The Homeric stake is used to produce white bones, which differs from the Roman use and our idea of incinération. This wish to obtain recognizable bones gave rise to osteology. We see in the semantic évolution of this Greek term the transition from the funerary practice to the study of bones. With the narration of Patrocle's funerals, the XXIIIrd chant of the Iliad, if not the founder, had, at least, a role in fostering of comparative anatomy.


Cremation, Incinération, Calcination, Carbonisation, Osteology, Syntax of the bestiary, Astragal.

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