Writing Assignment – Week 12

Perhaps the most important scene in all of the Iliad is the encounter between Achilleus and Priam in scroll 24. Here we find a moment when both heroes gaze upon the other with a sense of wonder (24.629-632) that reveals a shared understanding of the other or empathy.

This empathy indicates an internal reckoning of many crucial themes in the poem. Using this encounter as a starting point choose one theme from the list below and a passage from the encounter between Priam and Achilleus that specifically engages with that concept. Using additional examples from the text to support your opinion articulate in what ways the epic as a whole revolves around that theme and how it relates to the concept of empathy.

For those writing responses: each response must cite a passage from the epic not employed in either the initial post or other responses.

Themes: Lament, Glory, Memory, Death, Loss, Mortality, Familial relationships, Competition, Gods and Men, Emotions

NB: Initial posts should be 350-400 words; each reply should be around 100 words.

13 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 12”

  1. In the Iliad, the theme that seems to be the most prominent to me is loss. The epic started with a loss and as we see in Book 24, it most certainly ends with one as well. And what makes the loss such a major part of the story is the fact that not only one side feels it. In the war in general, both armies have major casualties that they face. Many of the characters from both sides of the war such as Patroklos and Glaukos lose something, whether it is something big like their life and dignity or something simpler such as their armor. However, what is most notable about the overwhelming presence of loss is that it manages to unite the two opposing armies. In Book 24, Priam sneaks into the Greek camp in order to beg Achilleus for the body of Hektor. Immediately after Priam enters the tent, he rushes to Achilleus’ side, gets on his knees, and “caught the knees of Achilleus in his arms, and kissed the hands that were dangerous and manslaughtering…” (24.478-479). Priam then goes into a speech expressing his grief over his son and exactly how much it would mean to him to be able to take Hektor’s body back to Troy for a proper burial. Though he appeals to Achilleus’ sympathies in regards towards his own father, Peleus, who is still a happy old man since Achilleus is still alive. However, what really hit Achilleus was that he knows that very soon Peleus would be feeling exactly what Priam does now since he is destined to die. Priam’s speech “stirred in the other [Achilleus] a passion of grieving for his own father,” (24.507-508). And what comes next is equally powerful. As Priam sits there, hugging Achilleus’ knees and sobbing for Hektor, Achilleus remembered his own loss and began to cry not only for his father, but also for Patroklos. The two men, though very different and from two opposite sides of an ugly war, are able to unite together in grief for losses that are extremely personal. Achilleus even begins to feel “pity for the gray head and the gray beard,” which is a little surprising considering the extreme rage of Achilleus that was seen in previous books and his determination to kill Hektor and ruin his body (24.516). Loss is seen everywhere in the book, but it is most significant here for it’s ability to unite the two men into an informal peace so Priam can bury Hektor’s body as Achilleus had recently done for Patroklos.

    • Breanna, you said something about loss I never thought of. I always thought the examples of loss that you used were a reason to divide the war further and make further conflict. I never thought it could unite people just because everyone in the war is feeling the same loss. I don’t think Achilleus would feel what Priam is feeling if he didn’t think about what his father is going to feel when he dies. It’s the same situation of loss for the war that puts the King of the Trojans and The Best of the Achians on the same level. What is so strange about them being on the same level is that Praim doesn’t seem to know it. On lines 556-558, he tells Achilleus to go back and enjoy his ransom because he is the only one in the Iliad that doesn’t know Achilleus is going to die and leave his father in the same position.

    • Breanna, I love your connection between loss and the unification of people in this war. Loss is something that all of the men and women on both sides of the war have in common. This is something I see both in cases of loss when one must appeal to another for pity by reminding them of all they have in common but also in the many cases of lament that we see throughout the Iliad. The laments are seen as a communal thing. Here, even though the unification is only among those on the same side, there is a heightened sense of community. I think of Briseis’ lament for Patroklos when all of the surrounding women “sorrowed around her grieving openly for Patroklos, but for her own sorrows each” (19.301-03). This reminds me a bit of this scene between Priam and Achilles. They are connected in their grief but inwardly lament their own (As we see in Book 24 lines 507-12, Priam grieves for Hektor while Achilles grieves for his own father and for Patroklos).

  2. Great post Breanna, you introduce your points very well by giving examples of the iliad’s theme about loss. I agree with your point that everybody has lost something especially dating back to when Menelaus lost Helen. I agree with the statement you made about what is most notable about the overwhelming presence of loss is that it manages to unite the two opposing armies. This is definitely true especially with unification of Priam and Achilles, and can also be true with Patroclus death and how it united Achilles. You concluded very well saying that loss sparked Achilles kindness to return Hector’s body.

    • I agree with both Breanna and Joseph. Loss is a central theme in the Iliad and as Joseph stated, everyone has encountered loss in the Iliad. In lines 629-632 in book twenty four a sense of empathy sweeps over both Achilles and Priam. This is important because it shows they are not just enemies that loathe each other but have a common ground and can relate to one another. Though they both recognize that thy are both warriors and “godlike” they have both lost what is closest to them. This loss is what is able to let Priam and Achilles empathize with one another. As Achilles went through his morning and lamentation for Partorklos, Priam goes through his morning stating “for my eyes have not closed underneath my lids since that time when my son lost his life beneath your hands, but always I have been grieving and brooding over mu numberless sorrows and wallow in the muck about my courtyard’s enclosure” (24. 636-24.640). Achilles can empathize with Priam as he has lost Patroklos and his father will lose him going through a similar lamentation as Priam.

      • Clara, I like how you said they had similar lamentation. It’s similar to an extent, but it breaks off with how they show the lamentation. Yes, they are in the same position and on the same level, grieving for a loss they couldn’t control. But, I feel like how they carried out their lamentation was different. Achillues wouldn’t even let people eat before they went off to battle just because he wanted to kill the Trojans so bad. When Hektor died, Priam felt the same way, yet not once did he preach about killing all of the Achians, or even go over there with the intention of killing all of the Achians. He just wanted to put his son to rest peacefully, while Achilleus wanted to do it violently.

      • Clara, I think you hit the nail on the head with the ideas of “empathy” and “common ground.” These two characters have certain experiences in common. Thinking about these themes, it seems loss and memory could go hand in hand in many cases. When there is a loss, there is necessarily the memory of life before loss. This is why when Andromache laments she spends so much time speaking of her past. Without memory, loss would be irrelevant – life would exist purely in the now and the thoughts of the future, never the past. The pain of loss comes from the memory. And conversely, in cases such as Priam and Achilles, the way to connect to others in loss is through memory. Priam pleaded with Achilles: “REMEMBER your father” (24.486). I think it could also be argued that Achilles, perhaps being restored to his old self, remembers the days when he was the kind of man who would honor a suppliant. His memory of his former character might serve to aid the interaction with Priam.

  3. I agree with the both of you, the theme throughout the book is loss, but for scroll 24 specifically, I feel it brings a sense of compassion to close the book out. Achilles was consumed by anger and his pride also got in the way. Priam comes into the picture and he brings compassion to Achilles that he didn’t have. He came to Achilles more as a father to Hector rather than the mighty king of Troy. He ask Achilles to remember his own father, suggesting his father wish to see his son treated with respect he deserves if he was defeated. Achilles becomes very compassionate, as he remembers the “vision” of Patroclus, looking inside himself and understanding Praim’s pain and anguish.

  4. For me, the line that clicked most was when Prima says, “Yet surely he, when he hears of you and that you are still living, is gladdened within his heart and all his days he is hopeful that he will see his beloved son come home from the Troad.” I tried to imagine how it would feel to be a father and wonder if your son with come home alive, or if you will never see him on earth again, and it struck me pretty hard, particularly so when Achilles thinks on this and agrees. I believe my father would feel the same way, which makes it feel like something that any man–primarily any father, or to-be-father–can understand and connect with.

    • There is a lot of talk about familial relations in the discussion between Priam and Achilleus. Not only does Achilleus weep “for his own father [but] now again for Patroklos” (24.513-514). Priam beseeches Achilleus to remember his father, like you say, and it’s what generates the sorrow for both of them: Achilleus for Peleus and for Patroklos, and Priam for Hektor, and even the other sons he lost. These bods play a large role in the character of Achilleus. specifically, as he accepts Priam’s request and gives honor to Hektor by allowing him to be buried, at least in part because of Priam’s words about Achilleus’ father, and the relationship shared between a father and son.

    • Brandon, think you bring up an excellent point. I think that this dynamic with what makes Achilles act empathetically toward Priam. Achilles knows that he will die young and that his father will be in Priam’s position. These familial relationships within the Iliad seem to be very important. It seems easier to die then to go through someone elses death in the Iliad. The scene of killing someone takes up a small amount of time in the book but multiple people will lament for a long period of time for that person. Achilles himself seems to have come to terms with his own mortality but grieves that his father will have to grieve and live without a son. This is perhaps why Achilles grants Priam all he asks for stating ” Then all this, aged Priam, shall be done as you ask it. I will hold off our attack for as long as you bid me” (24.669-24.670). In this, Achilles can take care of his familial ties by acting out how he would like his own father should be treated after his death toward Priam.

  5. I think that one of the most important themes to the narrative is glory. Achilleus’ and Agamemnon’s initial argument has much to do with Achilleus’ kleos; Agamemnon steals his war prize, and has thus insulted him. Achilleus accuses him of this early on in 1.243-244: “And then you will eat out the heart within you in sorrow, that you did no honor to the best of the Achaians.” This is at the least one cause of the schism between the two of them. It’s part of what causes Achilleus to sit out so much of the battle. But later, both during the games for Patroklos’ death and during the encounter between Achilleus and Priam, this specific kind of glory has rectified many of the events in the narrative. Whereas in book 1 this kleos causes the problem between Achilleus and Agamemnon, at the end it demonstrates a rectification of two different events. First, in book 23, during the awarding of prizes after the horse racing, Antilochos is upset at Achilleus redistributing his prize. Antilochos speaks angrily at Achilleus, saying “You can take from these [other possessions], and give him afterward a prize still greater than mine, or now at once, and have the Achaians applaud you. But the mare I will not give up, and the man who wants her must fight me for her with his hands before he can take her.” What I take from this is that, because Antilochos ends up giving over the mare to Menalaos afterward, he wanted the glory of being awarded the prize for his actions. In this case, Anitlochos won his honor, and managed to settle the argument by giving the mare up by his own choice, solving both problems. And yet another form of glory shows itself in the encounter between Achilleus and Priam. Priam begs for Achilleus to return the body of Hektor in exchange for a ransom. He begs for Achilleus to “Honor the gods…and take pity upon me” so that Hektor may be given the right of a proper burial. This encounter solves three issues of glory due. The first is to Hektor, awarding him the honor the Priam and the Trojans would give him of a proper burial. The second is honor to Priam, as Achilleus understands now the necessity for a proper burial having just experienced Patroklos’ death. Third is honor to the gods that Priam beseeches. Achilleus has come from being furious in book one over a lack of honor given to now distributing that honor where it is due. It marks a change in his character, and a respect (whether pity for Priam, as he says, or real empathy in feeling Priam’s pain through Patroklos’ death, perhaps even both) that he didn’t have the power to give in the beginning, and may never have felt at that point.

    • NB: The lines for Antilochos’ words in 23 are 23.551-553. The lines for Priam’s words in 24 are 24.503-504. I forgot to add them in to the post.

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