Monday, May 17, 2010

The Iliad
Achilles and Priam

"Priam must not see his son."
He feared that, overwhelmed by the sight of Hector,
wild with grief, Priam might let his anger flare
and Achilles might fly into fresh rage himself,
- The Iliad, Book 24, lines 683-6

The final book of The Iliad begins with the games over and the armies scattered, but Achilles remains in grief over the death of his friend Patrocles. He slowly is persuaded that he must return Hector's body to Priam. Even as his mother Thetis mourns the future fate of her son who is also doomed to die, the gods gather and continue to argue over the situation.

Priam prays to Zeus:

And Zeus in all his wisdom heard that prayer and straightaway the Father launched an eagle -- truest of Zeus's signs that fly the skies -- (lines 373-5)

Achilles the leader understands the situation as he returns the body of Hector to his father Priam. Priam, who implores him to "Remember your own father" in a moving speech. But the story may find a fitting summary in the words of Achilles when he says,

So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men
live on to bear such torments -- the gods live free of sorrows. (lines 613-14)

The Iliad by Homer. Robert Fagles, trans. Viking Penguin, New York. 1990

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