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.

8 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 12

  1. Joseph Reid

    In Scroll 24, Zeus sends Thetis to tell Achilles to agree to take ransom for Hector’s body. Zeus sends Iris to tell Priam to go alone, under the behavior of Hermes, to Achilles’ camp to ransom the body. Hecuba reacts poorly when Priam told her of his plans. Priam brushes away his wife’s feelings, because he knows it’s the almighty Zeus’s will. He sorts out a number of appropriate gifts (robes, tunics, gold, tripods, a cauldron or two, and a special cup). However, he is upset and shouts at his worthless sons, criticizing them for being useless slackers. Priam’s sons have got the cart prepared, and loaded the gifts. They load the mules to it, and then get a chariot ready for Priam himself. As a last effort to stop his senile foolishness, he demands that he asks for a sign from Zeus as an assurance. He pours a libation, and prays to Zeus, thus prompting Zeus to send an eagle. Hermes had been told by Zeus to keep a watchful eye on Priam, and the other old man, Idaeus. He scares them silly when he pops up out of the dark acting as if he was a Myrmidon officer. But he calms them down, and offers to chaperon them through the Greek camp. He takes over the reins of Priam’s chariot, and drives it past the guards (whom he’ve put to sleep). He opens the colossal gate to the enclosure round Achilles’ hut. Then he discloses his identity and leaved him to it. Priam kneels at Achilles feet, and kisses his hands. Achilles recognises him at once, as Priam is reminiscent of Peleus. Priam and Achilles each cry for their dead. Priam is irritated and says in lines 637-638 “For my eyes have not closed underneath my lids since that time when my son lost his life beneath your hands” in reference to the ransom for Hector. Achilles is enraged and tells priam not to pressure him, scaring Priam in the process. Achilles attends to the sensible things, and has Hector’s body washed, anointed and wrapped, because if Priam saw the body he might get emotional and Achilles would have to kill him. Achilles helps to put the body on the cart. He prays to Patroclus to forgive him. Then he invites Priam to supper. Even though Achilles was enraged, they were still civil. At this instant, before Achilles dies and before Troy falls, Priam and Achilles are closer to one another than to anyone else. Achilles compares Priam to the tragic hero, Niobe, whom once boasted about having more daughters than Leto, which prompted Apollo to kill Niobe’s sons and Artemis to kill her daughters. They were so close at this moment that Achilles offers Priam a bed and even worries about his safety because if Agamemnon were to catch him, he would hold him for ransom. They make a truce for 11 days to mourn and bury Hector. Priam takes the body back to the city.

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  2. Jerome Lawrence

    Theme: Gods and Men. Line 24.483-84 goes: “So Achilleus wondered as he looked on Priam, a godlike man.” Line 24.486-87 goes: “Achilles like the gods, remember your father, one who is of years like mine, and on the dorr-sill of sorrowful old age.” These lines suggest that mortal men were godlike, which is a recurring thing in the Iliad. Line 24.24.498 goes: “Ares broke the strength in the knees of most of them, but one was left me who guarded my city and people, that one you killed.” Here Achilles is being compared to one of the immortals that is known for taking lives, and here he reveals to Achilles the number of his sons that Ares killed in the past. Priam made it known that Hektor was his favorite son and that Hektor was the son who guarded Troy and the people and that it was Achilles, a mortal, who took his best son’s life, one who even Ares did not yet harm. In line 24.239-246 he says that Zeus gave him sorrow when he lost Hektor. He is so sorrowful that he calls the remainder of the Trojans failures and disgraces. He tells them that now that Hektor is dead, they are now easier to be killed. This just shows how important Hektor was. One may say that he was godlike. In fact the Iliad stated how much Hektor began to feel godlike and invincible in previous books while he was slaughtering Acahians on the battlefield. In line 24.257-24.264 Priam says that Hektor was a god among men, as if he had a god for a parent, just like Achilles who has Thetis, an immortal, for a mother. He says that his remaining sons are disgraces, liars, dancers, singers and thieves who even steal from Trojans, their own people. Priam states in line 24.505-506 that he has done what no other human being has done by finding the resolve and composure that is necessary to kiss the hand of Achilles, murder of Lykaon, Hektor and others who were born to Priam.

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    1. Jerome Lawrence

      Good post Joseph. Your summary of what occurred between Achilles and Priam and the way they felt about each other makes it easier for me to expand on your post. Here is my theme and post.
      Theme: Mortality. Line 24.486 goes: “Achilleus like the gods, remember your father, one who is of years like mine, and on the door-sill of sorrowful old age. And they who dwell nearby encompass him and afflict him, nor is there any to defend him against the wrath, the destruction.” Here Priam reminds Achilles of the natural aging of mortals by telling him that his father is now old, weaker and could die any moment of natural causes. By telling him about the harm that people who are close to him can do reminds him of the natural weakening of the body that goes through as years pass that immortals do not have to experience. Here Priam uses these words to allow Achilles to understand how he feels about his son in his elderly years by trying to empathize with him by comparing Peleus and Achilles to himself and Hektor. He does this well from line 24.486-24.494. He says that at least Peleus can still see his beloved son (Achilles) but he cannot see his beloved son (Hektor) anymore since Achilles killed him. Now that Hektor is dead he says this to Achilles so that he would at least see his dead son once more and hopefully take his body back home to Troy with him.

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      1. Jerome Lawrence

        In my first post with the theme: gods and men, I was meaning to say that by comparing the fact that Hektor was godlike, Priam was trying to let Achilles fully know just how much Hektor meant to not only himself, but also to all the Trojans. In this way he hoped to empathize with Achilles who lost Patroklos, someone who was very important to him and the Achaians. And you are right Bailey, the lack of empathy is what caused many conflicts throughout the Iliad.

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      2. Cordelia Davies

        I think that these two themes you have chosen: Gods and men and mortality go hand in hand. Mortality much of the time seems to be the only thing separating men from the gods. Priam and Achilles wonder at each other in awe of their likeness to gods: “Priam, son of Dardanos, gazed upon Achilleus, wondering at his size and beauty, for he seemed like an outright vision of gods. Achilleus in turn gazed on Dardanian Priam and wondered, as he saw his brave looks and listened to him talking.” (24.629-632) This is contrasted with their grief brought on by the mortality of god-like men. Priam’s and Peleus’ mortality is emphasized by Priam: “Achilles like the gods, remember your father, one who is of years like mine, and on the door-sill of sorrowful old age. And they who dwell nearby encompass him and afflict him, nor is there any to defend him against the wrath, the destruction.” (24.486-489) But Achilles is more troubled by his own mortality. Putting himself in Hektor’s position, Achilles grieves for his father, for he knows that Priam’s grief will soon be his father’s grief since he is fated to die before returning to the land of his fathers. They are god-like in their glory, and yet they grieve as mortals do.

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  3. Bailey Allen

    It seems that, in regards to empathy in the Iliad, it is a lack of that quality that causes conflicts, and the rare instances where empathy is present resolves the conflicts. Besides this moment betweent Achilleus and Priam, the most obvious conflict is between Achilleus and Agamemnon. In a moment completely lacking in empathy, Agamemnon takes Briseis from Achilleus. This causes Achilleus to feel disrespected and unappreciated, which did not seem to be Agamemnons intentions. However, Achilleus takes it too far and drops out of the war because of it, and refuses to see aAgamemnons point of view. This conflict was resolved after the death of Patroklos, when Achilleus, in a moment of empathy, sees Agamemnons side and apologizes, and Agamemnon does likewise. This instance is likewise caused by a lack of empathy, the need Achilleus has to avenge Patroklos, and then resolved by reflected needs to mourn for people they both cared about.

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    1. Chris Grass

      Bailey great post and when you mentioned about how the very few moments of empathy in the Iliad lead to resolution the reconciliation between Agammemnon and Achilles was the first thing that came to mind. It is also clear to me that the moments that are the most devoid of empathy are also climactic in the Iliad. For me these two moments would be when Achilles decides to disrespect the body of Hector and when Paris decides to flee the home of Agamemnon where he was a guest with Helen and Agamemnon’s property(Although this doesn’t happen in the Iliad it is still an important aspect). One example of a critical moment that is devoid of empathy is when Agamemnon demands Briseis and sets the events of the Iliad into motion.

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  4. Chris Grass

    I think that this important scene between Achilles and Priam helps highlight the role lamentation plays in the Iliad. Specifically in this passage there are multiple references to the fact that their grief (lamentation) serves no purpose. In 24.505 Achilles states “There is not any advantage to be won from grim lamentation” and in 24.551 Achiiles states “For there is not anything to be gained from grief”. This makes Achilles seem hypocritical since he spends significant time lamenting Patroklus. I find it interesting that Achilles seems to find grief so useless when he is experiencing it himself in regards to both Patroklus and the fact that he see’s Priam grieving in the same way his own father eventually will. It seems that in the Iliad to grieve is to be human and that the loss these heroes experiences is one of the main characteristics that actually distinguish them from the gods.

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