The Iliad of Homer

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The Iliad is the quintessential epic. It is full with gods, goddesses, heroes, war, honor, glory, and the like. However, for just short while near the very conclusion Homer avoids all of those epic qualities. The banquet scene in Book XXIV is the most touching, the most “human” scene in the entire poem . In the midst of the dreadful gulf of war and anger there occurs an intimate moment between two men who ironically have much in common below the surface. Priam, old and fragile, makes his way to the camp of the enemy’s greatest warrior late at night. He bears what little treasures have not been exhausted by the ten-year conflict and plans to plead for the rightful return of his son’s body. This is his final heroic endeavor. And perhaps, because he has just lost someone so dear to him, he is willing to take the risk despite his fear. What is interesting is that when he does arrive at the camp of Achilles, his fear suddenly subsides and “the old man makes straight for the dwelling where Achilles beloved of Zeus was sitting.” A decisive moment has arrived for both men. When Priam enters, Achilles knows that he must accept his own death with open arms while Priam is forced to sit at the knees of Achilles and kiss the hands that have killed his beloved Hektor. Homer seems to stop the action for a moment to let us feel the intensity of this extraordinary encounter. Priam urges Achilles to think of his own father and then pity Priam in his outrageous position, a king "who must put my lips to the hands of the man who has killed my children." Achilles immediately accepts Priam’s appeal and the two weep for their sons, fathers, and friends. This sharing of common grief becomes a bridge back to human sympathy. In an amazing speech Achilles soothes Priam's sorrow by painting a picture of their common misfortune and the inevitable limits of mortality. He reminds Priam that “there is not anything to be gained from grief for his son.” “You will never bring him back,” he says, “sooner you must go through yet another sorrow.” Though Achilles has matured dramatically since the beginning of the Iliad the complexities of his character don't disappear instantly. Priam asks not to be seated so he can more quickly attend to the return of Hektor. Suddenly Achilles' anger flashes out. Though his insight and human compassion have developed greatly he is still obstinate an... ... middle of paper ... ...an lot he portrays is grim, his actions show a human decency that somehow softens our sense of what it means to be human NOTE: Observe how the plot structure of the Iliad completes itself. In the first book, a father (Chryses) comes to Agamemnon to plead for the return of his child but is refused. In the last book, a father (Priam) also pleads to Achilles for the return of a child; this time pity is shown. Though this symmetry is surely there, Homer is an artist who permits complexities and contradictions. As you begin to sum up your feelings about the Iliad, test all the threads. The question is not simply is Achilles right or wrong, or are the Trojans or Argives the real heroes. Homer values both cultures. He sees meaning in the heroic code but he also sees its shortcomings. In that same way, he pictures the horrible sufferings of a world at war and yet shows us the human dignity that can shine through. In the beginning Apollo says that mortals maneuver through Destiny with "the heart of endurance." That is where the Iliad begins and ends. It is ironic that Achilles is young and strong and in his prime while Priam is way past his and yet Achilles is nearer to death.

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