English & EAL

Ransom: Chapter II

by
Lisa Tran

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Plot

Eleven days after Hector’s death, king Priam grieves in his city of Troy. The city is at the breach of ruins since he can only provide ‘weak protection’ [pg 40] due to his old age. He believes that he is the target of the gods’ mockery since he has lost the heir to his throne. Priam then envisions the goddess Iris, who informs Priam that it is not mockery, but chance since the events are ‘not the way they must be, but the way they have turned out’ [pg 46]. Amazed by the fact that chance is a factor in the events that have occurred in his life, he then sees himself dressed as plain man in a plain cart, with an unfamiliar man who draws two coal-black mules. Inside the cart is an abundance of gold. He realises that the gods have provided him the vision to create a plan to save Hector’s body from Achilles’ hostile forces. Resolute, he heads to his wife, Hecuba to share the plan.

Inside her sitting room, Hecuba suffers from a cold and is deprived of sleep. His wife is distraught that she cannot properly grieve because of Achilles’ disrespect for Hector’s body. Taking this queue to introduce his plan, Priam expresses that all his life he has never been a warrior, and always had Idaeus, a herald who speaks on behalf of the king. Priam wishes to change his ways, to do something extraordinary that will be remembered by others. He shares his vision about dressing plainly, sitting in a cart full of treasure while guided by a man and two mules. He reveals that he plans to present Achilles with this gold, in exchange for Hector – effectively a ransom. The reason why he wishes to be dressed plainly is because he doesn’t want to be a ‘king, but as an ordinary man, a father…[to] beg [to Achilles] humbly, on my knees if that is what it comes to, to give me back the body of my son’ [pg 56]. However, Hecuba is angered by Priam’s epiphany and is not persuaded by ‘this touching pantomime’ [pg 57]. She hisses that Achilles had broken his vow to Hector prior to their deathly match – that neither one would insult the loser’s body after the battle. Though he respects Hecuba words, Priam insists that he has at least attempt to save Hector’s body.

The king then reveals a past Hecuba was never privy to. When he was a child, his original name was Podarces. His father had promised his sister, Hesione to the great hero Heracles. After breaking his promise, Priam’s father and brothers were killed by Heracles. Only Priam was kept alive, and was sold to slavery. However, it was his sister Hesione who saved him from this awful situation. Heracles, took Hesione as a ‘prize of war’ [pg 73], and in return would grant anything Hesione wanted. She chose to save her brother from slavery. His name was changed to Priam, meaning ‘the price paid’ [pg 74] as a reminder of his sister’s sacrifice.

Heracles placed Priam on the throne of Troy, in place of a young dead prince of similar age. Priam continues to explain to Hecuba that his going to Achilles and offering treasure in return for Hector’s body will not only be a ransom for Hector but also himself. He will be ransomed a second time since the king will be exposed to Achilles and all his men, unprotected and ‘stripped of all glittering distractions and disguises’ [pg 79]. Although Hecuba relents, she suggests that they first call their family and councilors to hear of Priam’s plan.

An hour later, everyone is gathered inside the palace. Upon hearing Priam’s plan, the crowd stirs in protest, with many arguing that Priam is a king, and not merely any ordinary human as he wishes to portray himself in front of Achilles. Appreciative of their opinions, Priam remains affirmative and unwavering, and thus renders the party ‘reconil[ing] themselves and let[ting] him have his way’ [pg 90].

In the open courtyard that very afternoon, Priam is dressed in a ‘plain white robe of his vision’ awaiting the plain cart. A buzz of excitement arises from the crowd when an embellished cart detailed with designs and workmanship is rolled in. However, Priam is furious, deploring that no one listened to him, since he wishes to dismantle himself from the pride and distinction as king to simply a plain man in a plain cart.

Soon after, Beauty and Shock, two black mules from the marketplace are presented to the king, along with their elderly owner, Somax. The commoner is ‘dazzled by the cleanness, the whiteness of everything’ since he ‘has had no experience till now of princes’ [pg 93]. Somax is surprised at how old Priam appears; unlike the ‘imposing figure’ [pg 94] he had always seen from afar. Priam declares that Somax will be named Idaeus, since his regular herald will not accompany them. Somax is secretly unhappy with this new designation since he is proud of his original name. As the two old men draw away from the palace for the Greek’s camp, Jove’s emblem and messenger hovers above the crowd’s ‘celestial attention and concern’ [pg 102] below.

Analysis

Priam

The switch from Achilles’ to Priam’s perspective juxtaposes how the two men deal with grief and suffering. In contrast with Achilles, who is young and strong, Priam is characterised as old and weak. Now that the prince to the throne has passed away, the king worries over his kingdom that is ‘ravaged and threatened with extinction’ [pg 40] since he cannot sufficiently protect his family and their town, Troy. His name ‘Priam’ meaning ‘the price paid’ or ‘the ransomed one’ refers to the settlement between his sister Hesione and Heracles as he was ‘ransomed.’ It also represents a second meaning. As he entered the world of royalty, he was appointed a new identity and a new life. In this sense, his ‘ransom’ was also sacrificing his old identity in order to survive. After ‘a good sixty years now to consider the splendour and limitations of what it is to be a king’ [pg 85], Hector’s death is a catalyst for Priam, since he wishes to do something extraordinary in order to save his son and to reinvent his identity.

Priam’s discussion with Hecuba is filled with regret and hope. He reveals that he was not legitimately born as the prince of Troy when he was younger, but was destined for slavery when his fortress was besieged. At the age of six, he had ‘no more weight in the world than the droppings of the lowest beggar or street-sweeper’ [pg 70]. He realises that he has become so immersed in life as royalty that he has lost his connection to the real world, and wishes to do something for his son since he can longer stand by idly and watch Hector’s body subjected to painful disrespect day after day.

Women

Priam’s careful approach with Hecuba emphasises his utmost love and respect for his wife. Although women are believed to be inferior to men as they are often objects and slaves, the women of the Trojan War are illustrated to be confident, loyal, devoted and courageous. Only after Hecuba’s approval does Priam feel assured of his plans. Even during his speech to his family and council, his sons ‘turn to [Cassandra] now in the hope that their father…will listen to her’ [pg 85], demonstrating that although often uncredited, women have great influence over their counterparts. Furthermore, Hesione’s demand for her brother to be saved from an ill-fated life rather than something frivolous such as jewelry or clothes demonstrates that women are intelligent and strong-willed.

Chance

During Ancient Greek times, humans believed in the higher spirits of gods and goddesses who possessed the divine power to interfere with human life. The characterisation of humans as “toys” of the gods is noted throughout Ransom. Suffering from his greatest loss, Priam is convinced that the gods are ‘mock[ing him] as they had intended all along’ [pg 45]. However, through the goddess’ appearance in his vision, Priam is revealed a new outlook on life; that the events that unfold is not all fated by the gods, but by chance. This is idea of ‘chance’ suggests to Priam that he has the ability to control the outcomes of his situation. Thus, instead of another day ‘watching and silent[ly] pray[ing]’ [pg 44] for Hector’s descreated body, Priam steps out of his comfort of the court and relies on chance to permit his new venture.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that the gods planned Priam’s journey. It is only after Iris’ suggestion that there is a factor of ‘chance’ in human activities that essentially stimulates Priam’s desire to do something more than just allowing his life to pass by before him. Thus, the power of the gods and the influence of chance remains an obscure line in their influences over human forms.

Christianity

In conjunction with Greek mythology, Ransom also incorporates hints of Western religion through Christianity. Three main characters: Priam, Achilles and Hector are characterised as God, Satan and Jesus Christ respectively. Achilles immoral actions of desecrating Hector’s body depict him as Satan. His horrific evil actions appear to be beyond those possible of human malice as he is plagued with violence, hatred and war. Contrastingly, Priam is like a God as his new insight provides him with a sense of ‘supreme power’ and new-found wisdom. Meanwhile, Hector represents Jesus Christ on the cross, whose sacrifice will ultimately teach Priam and Achilles, and also all those in Troy and Greece, the power of salvation and forgiveness.

Important Passages

‘Here for eleven nights another man has been wrestling with dark thoughts as he lies sleepless on his couch…and the weightless medium in which his consciousness is adrift, where the gods, in their bodily presence, have the same consistency as his thoughts.’ [pg 40 – 42]

‘Not a mockery, my friend, but the way things are…If he is to face Hecuba and prevail, he has to be.’ [pg 46 – 49]

‘I am too old, I know, to put on armour and go to the field…Not quite a dream.’ [pg 53 – 54]

‘To go today, immediately, to Achilles, just as I saw myself in my dream… To try something that might force events into a different course.’ [pg 56 – 61]

‘There are things…along with the rest, to be dragged out of the crowd and claimed and heard no more of.’ [pg 69 – 71]

‘Priam lowers his head…they can only reconcile themselves and let him have his way.’ [pg 84 – 90]

‘Are you deaf?…and deeply set in their sockets and milky pale the eyes under their straggle of white brows.’ [pg 91 – 94]

Important Quotes

‘…weak protection.’ [pg 40]

‘It is nothing. There’s nothing I need.’ [pg 41]

‘He himself is dressed in a plain white robe without ornament. No jeweled amulet at his breats. No golden armbands or any other form of royal insignia.’ [pg 47]

‘He feels bold now, defiant. Sure of his decision. If he is to face Hecuba and prevail he has to be.’ [pg 49]

‘He feels the hard purpose he has come with flutter in him and fail.’ [pg 51]

‘It is not in his sphere.’ [pg 52]

‘Hector, all his limbs newly restored and shining, restored and ransomed.’ [pg 56]

‘And you expect this wolf, this violator of every law of gods and men, to take the gift you hold out to him and act like a man?’ [pg 58]

‘What I do is what any man might do.’ [pg 59]

‘But you are not any man.’

‘I have no more weight in the world than the droppings of the lowest beggar or street-sweeper.’ [pg 70]

‘Priam, the price paid. The substitute and pretender. A great one of the earth. But only by default.’ [pg 74]

‘I have had a good sixty years now to consider the splendour and limitations of what it is to be a king.’ [pg 85]

‘It is true that the gods made me a king, but they also made me a man, and mortal.’ [pg 88]

‘…it will mean nothing then, nothing at all, if one of those feeble old men happens also to be a king.’ [pg 89]

‘You have done this because you are still thinking in the old way. I told you, I tried to tell you, that my vision was of something new.’ [pg 92]

‘…an imposing figure, long-boned and tall, standing very straight and stuff in his chariot.’ [pg 95]

‘See, I am alive, I’m still living.’ [pg 103]

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