A Momentary Utopia That Compensates Achilles and Priam For Grief

In book 24, Achilles expresses sympathy towards Priam as they speak alone without the interference of politics. At the beginning of the book Apollo calls Achilles “that man without a shred of decency in his heart”, all “brute force and wild pride” and no “shame that does great harm or drives men on to good”. Now, the two heroes are portrayed as sitting together, crying together, eating together, and sleeping near one another. The scene is a momentary utopia that compensates Achilles and Priam for the grief that the poem’s plot put them through.

In this utopia, war relationships become domestic ones and enemies interact with each other in a manner in which they would normally interact with those whom they love, whether best friends or sons.

In his consolation to Priam at Achilles responds to Priam in associating the Trojan king’s fate with that of Peleus. He understands that both of these kind-hearted, supporting fathers have lost (or will lose) their dear sons.

Here Achilles collocates his neglect of Peleus as he grows old with the grief he brings Priam and his offspring. Moreover, he makes a parallel between himself and the dead Hector- in a belated response to Hector’s earlier plea to “give my body to friends to carry home again, so Trojan men and Trojan women can do me honor with fitting rites of fire once I am dead”.

This utopia does not stick around for long, though. The poet shows that Achilles’s anger is not far from the surface as an argument erupts in the conversation between him and Priam.

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First, Achilles whom Athena at 1.242-50 had to restrain from murdering Agamemnon now restrains himself at by telling Priam ahead of time how not to fuel his anger: “No more, old man, don’t tempt my wrath, not now! My own mind’s made up to give you back your son…so don’t anger me now. Don’t stir my raging heart still more. Or under my own roof I may not spare your life, old man- suppliant that you are- may break the laws of Zeus!”

Priam provokes Achilles by insisting that he do what he already plans to do and what the gods command, specifically, to return the corpse of his enemy. Priam’s innocent mistake in mentioning Achilles’s blissful return also causes a break in rapport because Achilles knows he will never return home. Achilles again avoids clashing with Priam. He has the serving maids wash, anoint and then bear aside Hector’s corpse: “He feared that, overwhelmed by the sight of Hector, wild with grief, Priam might fly into fresh rage himself, cut the old man down and break the laws of Zeus.”

Achilles’s kindness to Priam as the poem moves toward its conclusion reinstates equilibrium, at least on a symbolic level. Achilles is happy to have the chance to be magnanimous to Priam by returning Hector’s corpse and allotting the Trojans twelve days for burial rites. For Achilles, to return Hector’s corpse, graciously and of his own will, is the symbolic equivalent of repaying Peleus: Hector’s nostos to the citadel of Troy for burial satisfies Priam in a way that Peleus will never experience since his son will not return home from Troy. By closing with the burial of Hector, Homer leaves readers with a feeling of great loss. Hector has his glory: his body is finally given the respect it deserves and he dies beloved by his people. Yet we also know that his people are doomed and that the ceasefire granted by Achilles is only a postponement of the inevitable. Even after all that the Trojans have endured, we know that the worst of their suffering is yet to come.

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A Momentary Utopia That Compensates Achilles and Priam For Grief. (2023, Feb 19). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-momentary-utopia-that-compensates-achilles-and-priam-for-grief/

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