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.

16 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 12

  1. John Anderson

    For the entry that follows, I will conflate the themes of competition, battle and glory as I see them as uniquely related concepts. In particular, it is plain that participation in competition resembles battle both in activity and outcome (23.798-808). One may gain glory and its marks, or treasures, through participation in competition as through battle. Where empathy is to be found is in the discovery of the unique character attributes which provide competitive advantage and are therefore worthy of praise and recognition. We discover this in the exchange between Achilles and Priam when we read the following: But when they had put aside their desire for eating and drinking, 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 (24.628-632). It is this mutual recognition of worth, found at the conclusion of the Iliad, which is distressingly absent from the beginning of Homer’s account and what appears to be the catalyst for discord among the Danaans.
    Regarding one scene in particular, the chariot race in Book 23 which includes Menelaos and Antilochos, it is startling to find so much well-wishing among competitors having long endured the distressful clashes in previous scrolls. When Menelaos disputes the outcome of the race, Antilochos rather cordially responds, “Enough now. For I, my lord Menelaos, am younger by far than you, and you are the greater … You know how greedy transgressions flower in a young man … his judgment is lightweight … be patient with me. I myself will give you the mare I won…” (23.587-592). Menelaos declines such an offer having had his own worth reaffirmed in the sight of others. This seems to be what many of us would have recognized as an ideal outcome in the brush-up between Agamemnon and Achilles back in Book 1! If only. Perhaps this is Homer’s lesson in empathy? There are indeed surprising links between Menelaos holding back his horses in the race and Agamemnon’s holding in back in battle as well as between Antilochos youthful bravado and Achilleus’ penchant for destruction. Would it have been an act of empathy for Agamemnon to recognize the good in Achilles’ warlike dispositions, even if they were a gift from the gods, a part of his nature not common to himself? Would it have been an equivalent act of empathy for Achilleus to recognize why Agamemnon would hold back in battle and to recognize Agamemnon’s greatness even of the two of them were not alike? I’ll end with a revealing quote from Achilleus: There are two urns that stand on the door-sill of Zeus. They are unlike for the gifts they bestow: an urn of evils, an urn of blessings. If Zeus who delights in thunder mingles these and bestows them on man, he shifts, and moves now in evil, again in good fortune (24.527-530).

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    1. Jace Austin

      Interesting Post, you connected themes very well! and I agree with majority of your points as it seems that the moral of book is to allow some form of conclusion to many individual micronarratives. I thought it was interesting the Familial relationships that Achilles and Priam discussed and how their mourning on either said can be argued as being equal. As Priam states that he had 50 sons and now he has 9 left,however those 9 are insignificant to him so essentially feels as though he has lost all his sons. “Fifty were my sons, when the sons of the Achaians came here.Nineteen were born to me from the womb of a single mother,and other women bore the rest in my palace; and of these violent 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 a few days since as he fought in defence of his country”(24.495-24.500)And Achilles counters him by saying that Peleus, his father only has one son who will die, and even before his death will not care for Peleus in his old age(24.540-24.542) with is comparable with Priam losing Hector and his other 8 sons. So in essence the two of them come to the conclusion that their grief can be shared and respected individually, which I think is also why Achilles seemed to be over-extending himself in the packaging up of Hector to give back to Priam as he cleans him, gives him a robe and tunic, and also feeding Priam and allowing him to sleep at his shelter.

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      1. Kris Adams

        This is an interesting comment Jace. I def thought the part about Priam’s 50 sons was most intriguing. From your quote it seemed as though while he had 50 sons he only seemed to care about Hektor. Hektor was his pride and joy and now since Achilleus killed him that he sees him the same way that he looked at Hektor

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      2. Matt Braley

        It seems as though priam put all his stock so to speak in hektor. it would seem that now that achilleus has killed him that priam would hate achilleus but they take a moment and agree on some common grief. But for priam sake all that glory to have the one son you counted on. To priam all that glory may feel meaningless.

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        1. Jace Austin

          Yes that’s very true, Priam, Hecuba, and all the rest of the Trojans especially Andromache. Troy was completely vested in Hector it wouldn’t have been possible for him to sit out of the war without Troy falling immediately because the other Trojans were so much more inferior than the Achaians. Because we see while Achilles is out of the war, Diomedes, Agamemnon, etc they are able to carry on but as Hector is murdered and out of the war the Trojans are barricading themselves in Troy.

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      3. Brianna Belske

        Jace very good response,
        I like how you brought up how Hektor was the most prized by Priam. And it is well known that Hektor knew that things would fall apart after his death. We know after the Iliad that Troy indeed does fall to the Achians. “I know this thing well in my heart, and my mind knows it: there will come a day when sacred Ilion shall perish” (6.47-48).

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      4. Robert Moore

        Great post Jace! I believe that this scene in Book 24 creates a sense of clarity when it comes to how much Priam loves his family. Even though he says that he cares about having 50 sons more than having 8 left, means that he feels that his family is gone. The other point to address is that he favors certain sons more than the others. Even though Hektor is the heir to his throne and he does have other sons in line for succession, he knows that no one can replace the role of Hektor, the most brilliant and triumphant son. Not only was Hektor revered by his father, but by Helen at the least. She says as the last lament “Hektor, of all my lord’s brothers dearest by far to my spirit:….I should have died before I cam with him (Paris)” (24.762-764). Helen knows that Hektor was the true protector of Troy and her even though she was the cause of the whole war.

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      5. Rodney Hargrove

        This is a good piece Jace! I like how you made that note about Priam and all of the sons he had and how Hector was his prize possession. This helps us understand how Priam really is feels about Hector’s death. I also agree with Achilles and Priam believing that their grief can be shared and some respect, which leads into Achilles over-extending himself as you stated above.

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    2. Brianna Belske

      Very good post John,
      Since you picked the theme competition, and another type of competition I can think of is when there is one on one combat between warriors. Back in Book seven when there is a competition in arms between Hektor and Aias, that ends in a stalemate basically because neither truly beats the other. “Hektor, single man against single man you will learn now for sure what the bravest men are like among the danaans even after achilleus the lion-hearted who breaks men in battle…. But here are we; and we are such men as can stand up against you there are plenty of us; so now begin your fight and your combat” (7.226-232) It seems like many competition whether in arms or in the funeral games seem to be a challenge to the other person. Like how you mentioned the Chariot race in book 23 and how Menelaos refuses Antilochos offer of giving him the mare he won, its as if he is challenging Menelaos to take up his offer.

      Again great post John.

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      1. Maddy Lee

        Great post everyone. I’ve been having some technical difficulties. Brianna, great comparison to book seven with the conflict between Hektor and Aias. Another important example of competition I can think of is the potential dual between Menelaos and Hektor in book 3. “…their splendid armor while he himself in the middle and warlike Menelaos fight alone for the sake of Helen and all her possessions. That one of them who wins and is proved stronger, let him take the possessions and the woman, and lead her homeward while the rest of us cut our oaths of faith and friendship.” (3.90) Remember this is when Agamemnon pulls away Menelaos so he does not dies, and in a way end the cause of the war for his beloved wife back.

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    3. Robert Moore

      Great post John. In addition to your themes of competition and glory, I see that there are two other matching themes that depict empathy in the Iliad. They are lament and memory. One example of both of themes is well-known throughout this class and its the lament of Andromache (6.406-439) when she tries to persuade Hektor to not fight even though he knows he will die. She tells Hektor of the death of her father and says “It was brilliant Achilleus who slew my father Eetion, (6.414). At the same time this is a foreshadow to the murderer of Hektor who is Achilles. The role of empathy in this scene is that Andromache is distraught that she is losing her ‘whole family’ due to the decision of Hektor. Another line that Andromache says in Book 6 that shows the pleading of Andromache, “Hektor, thus you are father to me, and my honoured mother, you are my brother, and you it is who are my young husband” (6.429-430). Many attributes of this lament created an internal reckoning with Andromache because she will lose the one person that matters to her other than Astyanax, Hektor.

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  2. Kris Adams

    Great post! I esp liked the part of the praise between Achilleus and Priam. How Priam views Achilleus almost with godlike beauty and valor. Even though this man killed many of his own sons he found it in his heart to still be in awe of this man. And Achilleus in turn saw the bravery of the old man for 1 coming to the camp of his enemies and 2 standing before him unafraid to die at his hand just to get his son back. Their mutual “praising” of eachother almost seems like a father son relationship.

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    1. Matt Braley

      I like that thought. Priam trying to get his son back by going to the enemy camp shows that priam is willing to do what it takes to get his son back. in a way gives priam more glory. That willingness to die for something puts priam in that kind of memorable states that the characters seem to be always seeking.

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      1. Maddy Lee

        I think it’s interesting to look at the character of Priam in regards to his son Paris, who took Helen from Menelaos. While the rest of the Trojans are willing Paris to give back Helen, Priam does not mention one word to his son regarding the issue. In a way he lets Paris walk over him in his authority. A good example of this is in book 3; “Yet none of the Trojans nor any renowned companion show Alexandros then to warlike Menelaos. These would not have hidden him for the love, if any had seen him, since he was hated among them all as dark death is hated.” (3.450) This really shows that the Trojans blame Paris in a sense for the death of their loved ones. They will not protect him from the Achians.

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        1. Robert Moore

          I feel that this also plays a part in how Priam likes to admire battle-tested warriors. He almost favors people that are in battle more than people on the sideline and he can care less about Paris. Deep down, I feel that Priam put Paris into a category of wimps and cowards and doesn’t expect them to contribute to the battle at all. Also, in Book 24, since he cared about all 50 of his sons be alive more than only 9 left can be put in perspective that he valued his sons that were in the war, especially Hektor.

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    2. Robert Moore

      I like that you brought up the part about the about Priam was in awe with Achilles Kris. This moment of awe occurred also in Book 3 when Priam is at the city’s gates with Helen and asks her who Greater Aias is. I feel that either Priam likes to see strong men in battle and how much carnage they can cause or he is fascinated by their attributes. Its kind of creepy for another man to just look and admire another man’s armor for battle.

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