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BOOK XXIV: Priam and Achilles

Summary

On the night of the funeral, Achilles finds it difficult to sleep and tosses from one side to another. He gets out of bed and drags the body of Hector around the tomb of Patroclos. Seeing the disgraceful treatment of the body, some of the gods become angry and report to Zeus. The king of the immortals summons Thetis and tells her to go and tell Achilles about the gods' displeasure over his brutality. Approaching Achilles, Thetis promises him handsome gifts for the return of Hector's body. Achilles agrees to give the body to the Trojans.

Zeus sends Iris to Priam to urge him to prepare a fit ransom to exchange for his son's body. She promises him that Achilles will treat him kindly. Hesitant about the offer, Priam seeks the advice of his wife, Hecube. Not trusting Achilles, Hecube pleads with her husband not to emerge from the citadel, for she fears he will be killed by Achilles. Priam will not be dissuaded, even by his wife. He selects his finest robes, cauldrons, and tripods as ransom gifts and orders his surviving sons to make ready his wagon. In speaking to his sons, Priam ridicules them as dandies and disgraces to Troy, for they have not fought as bravely as their dead brothers who were killed in the fighting.

Before departing, Hecube asks Priam to pour out a libation in honor of Zeus. Priam obliges and asks the god for a divine sign of safety. In answer, an eagle immediately flies by on Priam's right. Zeus also sends Hermes, disguised as one of Achilles' men, to guide the aged Priam through the Greek lines. As they travel, the disguised Hermes assures the old king that Hector's body has not been mutilated and that the wounds have been sealed. Before departing, Hermes advises Priam to clasp the knees of Achilles in supplication.

Priam enters the tent of the Greek hero, where he embraces Achilles' knees and kisses his hand. He then begs Achilles to have mercy on him, for he has already suffered gravely. Deeply moved by Priam's impassioned plea, Achilles weeps as he recalls his home, his father, and the slain Patroclos. He says, however that excessive grief serves no purpose. Achilles then speaks to Priam of the two urns of Zeus, one containing good fortune and the other evil. He explains how man is a mixture of both.


Achilles orders his handmaidens to anoint the body of Hector and wrap it in a tunic, readying it for its return to Troy. He then invites Priam to sit down with him for dinner. During the meal, the two men gaze at each other in admiration. Achilles then offers his final kindness, promising that he will allow Priam and the Trojans eleven days of peace in order to have a proper funeral for Hector.

Achilles has a bed prepared for Priam outside his own tent. Before long Hermes comes to Priam and urges him to return quickly to Troy, lest Agamemnon should catch him in the Greek camp and harm him. Following the god's advice, Priam rises and slowly bears the body of his son back to the citadel. As he passes, cries of lament fill the city. In particular, Andromache can be heard bemoaning her future as a Greek slave and fearing for the life of her son. Hecube also loudly laments over her son's body. Helen, in the most touching lament of all, bewails the loss of her only friend in Troy, the brother-in-law who restrained all others when they had harsh words for her.

The funeral rites commence and last several days. On the tenth day Hector's body is burned. On the eleventh day his bones are entombed. Following the burial, a feast in honor of Hector is held in the palace of Priam.

Notes

Book XXIV begins on the divine level and ends on the mortal. At the beginning of the book, the gods, and Zeus in particular, are unwilling to permit further dishonor to the body of Hector, a man who has always served them well. As a result, Thetis is summoned to make her third appearance to her son, Achilles. As in the prior two meetings, the appearance of his mother marks a definite change in the character of Achilles. He acknowledges that he has been excessive in his thoughts and deeds and promises to check himself.

At the end of Achilles' first wrath cycle, he realized the he was wrong in harboring a prolonged anger against Agamemnon, which led to the deaths of many Greek warriors. Now at the end of his second wrath cycle over the death of Patroclos, Achilles truly gains control of his being, allowing reason and sympathy to return to his character. Due to the encouragement of his mother, he again shows his heroic nature.

The changed Achilles can gracefully meet with Priam and agree to return to him Hector's body. When the Greek hero experiences the supplicating manner of the Trojan King, he is truly moved and brought to tears. As the two men talk, Achilles is reminded of his home, his father, and his dead friend. He then tries to console his enemy, reminding him that all mortals must die. He also tells him that excessive grief will accomplish nothing but self-destruction, a lesson that Achilles has learned first-hand. Finally, Achilles agrees to an eleven-day respite in the fighting so that funeral ceremonies for Hector can take place peacefully. It is obvious that Achilles has risen above his anger and vengeance. In their place are genuine sympathy for Priam, who has lost his beloved son.

By the end of poem, Homer has made it clear that the immortal universe of Zeus and the mortal universe of Achilles are much the same, and one is greatly influenced by the other.

The similarities are also the reason for Zeus wanting to preserve a harmony and balance in the great cosmos.

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