Book 24 Notes from The Iliad

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The Iliad Book 24

The games end but Achilles cannot sleep because he yearns for his friend. He lies awake and remembers all the things that they did together. He goes out of his house, planning to further disgrace Hector's body but the gods take pity on the fallen Trojan . Apollo addresses the gods wondering aloud why they don't allow Hector a funeral:

"But this Achilles - first he slaughters Hector,
He rips away the noble prince's life
Then lashes him to his chariot, drags him round
His beloved comrade's tomb. But why, I ask you?
What good will it do him? What honor will he gain?
Let that man beware, or great and glorious as he is,
We mighty gods will wheel on him in anger - look,
He outrages the senseless clay in all his fury!"
Book 24, lines 58-65

Hera maintains that Hector is less deserving than Achilles because he does not have a divine parent. Zeus agrees that Hector will never have honor equal to Achilles, but many gods loved him and he always remembered the gods. Zeus tells Iris to tell Thetis that Achilles must return the body of Hector for a ransom. Thetis reluctantly agrees. Thetis reports to Zeus who tells her to threaten her son with the wrath of the gods and Iris goes to instruct Priam.

Topic Tracking: Divine Intervention 33

Thetis finds Achilles still grieving and wonders what he is doing:

"How long will you eat your heart out here in tears and torment?
All wiped from your mind, all thought of food and bed?
It's a welcome thing to make love to a woman...
You don't have long to live now, well I know:
Already I see them looming up beside you - death
And the strong force of fate..."
Book 24, lines 156-161

With this, Thetis tells Achilles what he must do. Iris goes to Priam and tells him that he should not fear death and should go with only one herald and the ransom to Achilles. Hermes will guide him. Iris tells the weeping king to have courage and repeats all the orders of Zeus. Priam arranges for a wagon and begins to pile in the treasure. Hecuba tells him that he is crazy and that he should not go through with such a plan. Priam says that if a man had ordered it he would have ignored it, but if is the will of fate for him to die, then he will.

Priam assembles twelve robes, twelve cloaks, twelve blankets, twelve capes and shirts, ten bars of gold, two tripods, four cauldrons and a Thracian cup. Priam orders the Trojan mob to leave him alone and lashes out at his sons wishing that one of them had died instead of Hector. As Priam is about to leave, Hecuba rushes out with a cup of wine and requests that he pour a libation for safe return requesting a bird of omen. Priam consents to his wife and Zeus sends a sign:

"[A]nd straightaway the Father launched an eagle -
Truest of Zeus's signs that fly the skies
The dark marauder that mankind calls the Black-wing.
Broad as the door of a rich man's vaulted treasure chamber,
Well-fitted with sturdy bars, so broad each wind of the bird
Spread out on either side as it swept in through the city
Flashing clear on the right before the king and queen.
All looked up, overjoyed - the people's spirits lifted."
Book 24, lines 373-381

With this omen, Priam sets out into the battlefield where Hermes disguises him so that no one will recognize him. Priam and his herald come upon Hermes, disguised as a Greek soldier. Hermes tells Priam that he is in great danger and asks where the treasure is going. Priam asks him who he is and Hermes tells him that he is a Myrmidon. Priam asks about the condition of his son's bodies and Hermes tells him it is good. Priam requests Hermes' protection, but the god says he cannot take him all the way to Achilles although he will take him as far as his shelter. Moments later, Hermes speaks quietly to Priam and reveals that he has been sent by Zeus. He advises the Trojan king to beg Achilles so he will soften his heart.

Priam enters Achilles's shelter and immediately grasps his knees. Everyone in the vicinity is amazed. Priam tells Achilles to remember his own father, saying that he had fifty sons and lost many in the war. Without Hector, the Trojans have no strength, he explains. Priam reveals that he has brought a priceless ransom. Achilles takes Priam's hand:

"[H]e gently moved him back. And overpowered by memory
Both men gave way to grief. Priam wept freely
For man - killing Hector, throbbing, crouching
Before Achilles' feet as Achilles wept himself,
Now for his father, now for Patroclus once again
And their sobbing rose and fell throughout the house."
Book 24, lines 592-599

Achilles raises Priam and tells him that he has been given mixed blessings by Zeus. His father, Peleus, is a lord blessed with wealth and power, yet he has only one, doomed, son. He tells Priam that once he had prospered, but now he suffers, but grief for his son will do no good. Priam tells Achilles that he should not sit while his son is unburied. Achilles becomes briefly impatient and tells Priam he knows that he was guided by a god.

Achilles goes out to the wagon and takes two capes and a shirt for Hector's body, ordering his men to clean and anoint the body before Priam sees it. Achilles lifts up the body himself and asks Patroclus not to be angry with him. Achilles tells Priam that he will be safe and should leave at dawn. He recalls the story of Niobe who lost all her sons for insulting Leto, but still found the time to feast. Achilles slaughters sheep and they feast and drink. Priam, tired out by everything, asks to be put to sleep and Achilles has the serving girls prepare him a bed outside his shelter. Achilles explains that it will be safer outside because many of the Greek captains often come to his shelter during the night. He also asks how many days they need to properly bury Hector. Priam says twelve, and Achilles promises him that the Greeks will not attack until after this period is over. The two shake hands and Achilles goes to bed with Briseis.

All the gods sleep except for Hermes. He goes to Priam and wakes him telling him he must flee because if the Greeks find him they will reason that a ransom for a live king would be much greater than the ransom for a dead prince. Hermes guides Priam to the city where he is seen by his daughter, Cassandra, who calls to the other Trojans and tells them that Hector has come home. Andromache mourns at this sight and speaks to her son Astayanax lamenting because someone will probably kill him in revenge for something his father did.

Hecuba addresses the body, lamenting the coming fall of Troy and the futility of his death:

"But you, once he slashed away your life with his brazen spear
He dragged you time and again around his comrade's tomb.
Patroclus whom you killed - not that he brought Patroclus
Back to life by that. But I have you with me now...
Fresh as the morning dew you lie in the royal halls
Like one whom Apollo, lord of the silver bow,
Has approached and shot to death with gentle shafts."
Book 24, lines 886-892

Helen cries out next wishing she had never been brought to Troy but thanking Hector for having never taunted her or blamed her. Priam tells everyone that they have twelve days. During this time they prepare ta large pyre and after they burn the body and bury his bones, they have a large feast in his honor.

Topic Tracking: Divine Intervention 34

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