As the cart departs Achilles’ camp, they pass families of Greeks affected by the war. Women collect ‘battle relics’ while the impoverished children stare as the cart passes by. Once clear of Achilles camp, Priam requests that they stop. He takes a moment to grieve over Hector while Somax emphasises. The latter drifts off imagining how he will soon be reunited with his granddaughter as he reenters his old life, where he will wait to be ‘hired in the marketplace’ [pg 208] once again.
The travellers continue on. Both reflect on their journey silently. Somax is pleased with the outcome of the journey but is dispirited since he believes that Priam’s success is only ‘provisional’ as the gods can shift and turn their luck at any moment. Meanwhile, Priam is ‘a man remade,’ [pg 209]. The elderly king reflects on his journey, fondly reminiscing the deliciously griddlecakes and the satisfaction of feet in the cool water. As he heads home, he feels as though he ‘is divinely led as by music’ [pg 211]. Achilles like Priam, feels a sense of refreshment as highlighted by his ‘heels [which] glow.’
After Achilles’ death, his son Neoptolemus arrives at Priam’s home where he avenges his father’s death by brutally ending the king’s life. Neoptolemus describes the regret he feels after the incident, and complains that it is a ‘burden’ [pg 213] to be the famous warrior’s son.
Back in the market, Somax looks for a gift for his granddaughter. To others, he is known to rattle on about the king’s legendary journey. His listeners refuse to accept that Somax had accompanied the king on that very same journey since he is ‘a known liar’ [pg 218] and ‘a hundred years old.’ Instead, they believe that it was the king’s herald, Idaeus who had escorted the king. Despite their disbelief, it is odd that Somax owned an infamous black mule often talked about because of its role in the journey, the one named Beauty.
The transition of Priam from a ‘naïve child’ to a wise old man is demonstrated by his capability to be in sync with the outer world rather than his confining court. For the first time in the novel, he ‘makes small sounds’ [pg 207] as he cries over Hector’s body. Although he had previously ‘grieved’ for Hector since he was ‘half-mad with grief’ [pg 45], his sense of loss was merely for the prince and heir to his throne, and not his son. As he is reunited with Hector, he now mourns as a parent, ‘wordless but not silent’ [pg 207]. This phrase regarding Priam’s silence reflects on his history since he has always had a herald to voice the king’s thoughts and opinions, leaving Priam without a need to speak to the community – a silent, powerful and domineering figure. In absence of a herald, Priam has learnt to speak for himself. His ability to also convey non-verbal communication of sadness and grief demonstrate that the king is no longer bounded by the isolation of royalty, but reunited with the rest of mankind.
Moreover, Priam’s weeping is juxtaposed with Somax, who ‘snuffles, [and] rubs his nose.’ The differences between the two’s social status evaporates as Priam and Somax are depicted as simply humans, one in the same.
Peace versus war
Again, peace is demonstrated to prevail over war. The words used in this chapter depict both men’s sense of enlightenment, signifying that the best answer to revenge is peace, or at the very least, a truce. Priam exists in ‘a state of exultant wellbeing’ since his journey has transformed his identity and gained back the body of his son. The stream they pass on their way back to Troy illustrates the success of Priam’s travels. Instead of representing a dangerous pathway to Achilles as the stream was previously surging, it is ‘gently sloping’ and ‘barely [reaching] their hocks’ [pg 210]. The stream demonstrates that while Priam had to overcome challenges during his journey, and the end result of a peaceful and quiet stream is a positive outcome.
Meanwhile Achilles ‘too is visited by a lightness that is both new and a return.’ The new lightness refers to his growth in seeking redemption and overcoming his hatred to form peace with his enemy. The returned lightness reflects on Achilles’ loss of self during his mourning of Patroclus. His emptiness and lack of humanity within him during the eleven days of burning rage lead him to become someone that even he could not recognise. The restoration of this lightness, symbolises his restoration of sight, since he is no longer blinded by his loss, but endowed with a cleansing as he has evaluated his actions and reached a state of peace. Furthermore, Achilles’ heel represents vulnerability, despite his physical strength. The image of Achilles’ heels glowing suggests that he has conquered his weakness and exists in a state of contentment.
The issue of identity is portrayed by the people’s disbelief of Somax’s story. Although Priam appointed Somax as the herald during the journey, this identity was never truly fitting for Somax. Throughout the novel the king once rarely calls Somax his herald’s name, Idaeus, highlighting that one cannot be given another’s identity, since they do not represent the same characteristics, beliefs and history. This idea is demonstrated again through those who refuse to believe Somax’s chatter, highlighting that one’s identity cannot be forced to change; an identity is who we are, and what we stand for, one that unique to us only.
Life is a cycle
Malouf reminds readers that all things come to an end. Somax’s thoughts of returning back to his normal life show that although we may experience a significant event, time continues on and as such, we move on into the next chapter of our lives. Although this is the case, the lessons we learn remain with us until it is our time to pass away.
With a hint of touching sadness, he also demonstrates that life is full of cycles. Although Achilles has learnt to deal with grief with acceptance instead of revenge, his own son’s actions are analogous with those of his father. By savagely murdering Priam, Neoptolemus’s behaviour echoes the same fury and hatred that Achilles possessed at the beginning of the novel. It is shown that although we may learn from our mistakes, we will meet death, thus allowing others to repeat the same mistakes and learn the same lessons.
‘Ghostly figures materialize for a moment among them, then dissolve.’ [pg 205]
‘Priam, refusing help, climbs down, walks round to the bed of the cart and at least lifts the coverlet from the face of his son.’ [pg 207]
‘Wordless but not silent.’
‘In no time now, he tells himself, I will be back in my own life.’
‘ He does not think of this as a beginning; or not, anyway, of something large. How could it be? What lies ahead is the interim of the truce, a time for ordinary life to be resumed, one day then the next; no more than that can be counted on. But in his present mood it is enough.’ [pg 209]
‘Priam…feels his homecoming now as the coming home to a state of exultant wellbeing in which he too is divinely led as by music.’ [pg 211]
‘To be son to the great Achilles is a burden.’ [pg 213]
‘…the misery of this moment will last forever; that is the hard fact he must live with. However the story is told and elaborated, the raw shame of it will be with him now till his last breath.’ [pg 214]
‘As for all that has happened in these last hours, what a tale he will have to tell! He will tell it often over the years.’ [pg 215]
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