Achilles, the greatest warrior of the Greeks stands next to the sea while reminiscing of the past. After his mother’s death he had ‘entered the rough world of men’ [pg 6] where wars and battles prevail. Every morning, he feels the need to ‘tramp to shore’ [pg 10] since he is haunted by the death of his ‘soulmate and companion’ Patroclus, and his raging hatred towards Hector, killer of Patroclus and thus, the ‘implacable enemy.’
When Achilles was a child, his cousin Patroclus, came to live with the young Achilles since the former had killed the son of a high official of the royal court due to a ‘quarrel over a game of knucklebones’ [pg 11]. In need of an asylum, Patroclus came to live with Achilles’ family. As the years passed, the pair grew closer to the extent where Achilles believes that ‘he had mated with Patroclus’ [pg 15].
When the tide of the battle was against the Greeks, Patroclus disguises himself in Achilles’ armour in order to instill fear in the Trojans and cause them to return to the safety of their walls, thus providing temporary relief for the Greeks. In his last act for his closest friend, Patroclus is killed in battle*. The death of Patroclus left Achilles with an overwhelming sense of loss and also burning animosity. Achilles whispers that he will join Patroclus soon, but firstly, he has to avenge Patroclus’ killer, Hector.
Hector, the son of Trojan king Priam and leader of the Trojan army, wore Achilles armour as a sign of triumph and disrespect for the Greeks. In a dramatic battle between Hector and himself, Achilles was successful in killing his enemy. Achilles’ Myrmidons then stripped Hector of his armour and ‘without pity…plunged their swords into Hector’s unprotected flesh’ [pg 24]. For Achilles however, this was not enough. Still fuelled by his pain, Achilles ties Hector’s body to a chariot and drags it ‘up and down under the walls of Troy’ [pg 26] as the dead warrior’s royal family devastatingly watches on. Achilles feels like ‘dead man…feeling nothing’ [pg 26], unable to seal the void left by his beloved friend.
The next day, Achilles is furious to find Hector’s body ‘smoothly sealed and the torn flesh made whole again.’ His men cannot bear to look at him as he drives the chariot with Hector’s body along the walls of the Trojans once again. Afterwards he quickly falls asleep, into ‘oblivion’ [pg 35] as he struggles with his shame and guilt of his actions. He is ‘waiting for a break…something new and unimaginable’ in his life.
*Read more about the background to this incident here.
The human side
Along with the conflict between Greece and Troy, Ransom also delves into the consequences of those affected by the war. As the greatest warrior of all Greeks, Achilles has lived his life as a fighter. Nevertheless, his pathway in life has led him to believe that ‘such a life is death to the warrior spirit’ [pg 7]. While warriors are known for sacrificing their lives in the battlefield, Achilles does not literally refer to warriors confronting death each time they fight for their team. In fact, ‘death to the warrior spirit’ means to metaphorically lose what it means to ‘live’ when one experiences bloodshed in each war. Growing up surrounded in ‘the rough world of men’ [pg 6], Achilles develops traits of aggression, cruelty and vengefulness in order to become an implacable man of war.As a consequence, Achilles only knows how to deal with Patroclus’ death with a fighter’s mindset. Instead of grieving openly, ‘he never permit[s] himself to betray to others what he [feels]’ [pg 5] thus detaching himself from the natural human process of grieving. In order to deal with his friend’s tragic ending, Achilles ‘soul chang[es] colour’ as drags Hector’s body for eleven days without any sense of regret or remorse and thus, is ‘death to his human spirit’ since he had no longer ‘a living man’ [pg 27]. He faces Patroclus’ death with the same warrior traits of aggression, cruelty and vengefulness, depriving himself of any ability to humanely mourn his close friend’s death.
Furthermore, Achilles grieves for his mother in the opening passages of Ransom. During this time of loss, his mother symbolises Achilles’ need to be nurtured. The imagery of the sea surface as a ‘belly’ and ‘a membrane stretched to a fine transparency’ [pg 3] represents his mother’s pregnancy where he ‘had hung curled in a dream of pre-existance’ for ‘nine changes of the moon’ – or in other words, nine months of pregnancy. Achilles is characterised as a feutus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. Although Achilles is a fighter, he hides the fact that he wishes to be ‘rocked and comforted’ by his mother, thus demonstrating that even beneath the surface of a cold-hearted warrior, the current of human emotions can cripple a man’s confident veneer.
Life and death
Ransom explores life as a continuum, where life and death meet day after day as time ticks on. It is shown that life is transitional, since ‘the reflection of a face, a tree in a leaf…holds nothing, and itself cannot be held’ [pg 4]. This illustrates that although someone or something may exist during a certain amount of time, as time continues, these existences eventually fade away. The symbol of waves shown to be an ‘endless’ life cycle where new life ‘kick up, [and] gather[s]’ [pg 6] then reaches death as the waves ‘collapse.’ Although we may experience some time on earth, this cycle of life and death will continue, whether or not anyone is ‘here…to observe it.’
‘The sea has many voices…a hero’s death out there in full sunlight under the gaze of gods and men, for which the hardened self, the hardened body, had daily to be exercised and prepared.’ [pg 3 – 6]
‘From this moment on he could conceive of nothing in life he must live that Patroclus would not share in and approve…As in a different way, but through the same agency and in the same moment, he had been mated with Patroclus.’ [pg 14 – 15]
‘Of course he knew only too well what Patroclus intended by his brooding presence…But first he had Patroclus’ killer to deal with, in a last encounter out there under the walls of Troy.’ [pg 17- 21]
‘Achilles too staggered a moment…That would assuage his grief, and be so convincing to the witnesses of this barbaric spectacle that he too might believe there was a living man at the centre of it, and that man himself.’ [pg 24 – 27]
‘He will sleep now…Meanwhile, day after day, he rages, shames himself, calls silently on a spirit that does not answer, and sleeps.’ [pg 35 – 36]
‘The gulf can be wild at times, its voices so loud in a man’s head that it is like standing stilled in the midst of battle.’ [pg 3]
‘The man is a fighter, but when he is not fighting he is a farmer, earth is his element.’ [pg 4]
‘One day, he knows, he will go back to it.’
‘But for the whole of his life he has been drawn, in his other nature, to his mother’s element.’
‘To what accepts, in a moment of stillness, the reflection of a face, a tree in leaf, but holds nothing, and itself cannot be held.’
‘He had grieved. But silently, never permitting himself to betray to others what he felt.’ [pg 5]
‘Days, weeks, season after season.’ [pg 8]
‘…the young man he is resists, and it is the buried rage of that resistance that drives him out each morning to tramp the shore. Not quite alone. With his ghosts.’ [pg 10]
‘From this moment on he could conceive of nothing in the life he must live that Patroclus would not share in and approve.’ [pg 14]
‘As in a different way, but through the same agency and in the same moment, he had been mated with Patroclus.’ [pg 15]
‘There were tears in his eyes.’ [pg 18]
‘He fet his soul change colour.’ [pg 24]
‘Still he felt nothing.’ [pg 27]
‘…a kind of envy for how free the creature is of a self-consciousness that at times makes us strange to ourselves and darkly divided.’ [pg 31]
‘But it is never enough. That is what he feels. That is what torments him.’ [pg 33]
‘He is waiting for the break.’ [pg 35]
‘Meanwhile, day after day, he rages, shames himself, calls silently on a spirit that does not answer, and sleeps.’ [pg 36]