We are mortals, not gods.
Death is in our nature.
Without that fee paid in advance, the world does not come to us.
Author: David Malouf
Release Date: 2009
Genres: Historical Fiction, Retelling
A reimagination of one of the most famous stories in all of literature – Achilles’s slaughter and desecration of Hector, and Priam’s attempt to ransom his son’s body in Homer’s The Iliad – Ransom is the first novel in more than a decade from David Malouf, arguably Australia’s greatest living writer.
A novel of suffering, sorrow, and redemption, Ransom tells the story of the relationship between two grieving men at war: fierce Achilles, who has lost his beloved Patroclus in the siege of Troy; and Priam, king of Troy, whose son Hector killed Patroclus and was in turn savaged by Achilles. Each man’s grief demands a confrontation with the other’s if it is to be resolved: a resolution more compelling to both than the demands of war. And when the aged father and the murderer of his son meet, “the past and present blend, enemies exchange places, hatred turns to understanding, youth pities age mourning youth.
Achilles is grief-stricken by Patroclus’ dead at the hand of Trojan prince Hector; a dead he cannot but feel partly responsible for, for his beloved friend took his place and his armor to fight against the Trojan forces in his place, not only to rush to the Greeks’ aid but also to preserve Achilles’ honor. Now the swift-footed hero redirects his infamous fury against the enemy, against the killer of Patroclus – a death sentence without escape for Hector, a promise of revenge which Achilles exacts by dishonoring the remains of the hero, not allowing him eternal rest, dragging him around behind his chariot, feeding him to his dogs, parading him around in humiliation.
Ransom focuses on the re-telling of Priam’s ransom of Hector’s body. A story that redeems Achilles, that shows a somewhat softer side of a battle-hardened man, his hurt and heart.
Forgive and be forgiven. I’ve always thought of this particular scene of the Iliad in this light.
Achilles has been wounded by the death of Patroclus and in turn he has wounded not only a King, but also a father. In the end, even if nothing is forgotten, everything (seems) to be forgiven. In front of Priam’s humiliation, Achilles seems to forgive Hector’s hand in the fall of Patroclus – he had his revenge, a life for a life. In having his son’s body returned to him, Priam forgives Achilles’ actions against it – there’s nothing more important than giving his son a proper burial and thus rest.
“We are mortals, not gods. We die. Death is in our nature. Without that fee paid in advance, the world does not come to us.”
Death is in our nature. There’s no escape. No one knows it better than Achilles, who has been practically predicted his death on the day of his birth. He has not even begun to live that already he’s set to die. We all are. We are all born to die, that’s one undeniable truth we are, or better should be, aware of.That’s also the point Priam makes: we are all in the same boat, put yourself in my shoes, show some forgiveness, some compassion; and forgiveness and compassion will be given back to you.
There’s no need to make what’s bitter even more so.
Life is nothing but a parade of choices…
Way back then Achilles chose glory over life, he took a chance and sealed his fate.
Patroclus chose to immolate himself for homeland and friend. Love, you might say.
Priam chose to take a risk for his son.
…and choices make us who we are.