English & EAL

Ransom: Chapter III

by
Lisa Tran

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Plot

Arriving at the Scamander River, Somax urges Priam to step off the cart and take a break. The latter however, refuses. Realising that Priam feels the need to watch over the treasure, Somax proudly and affectionately states that his mule Beauty can guard the gold. When Somax reaches up to take Priam’s hand in order to help him off the cart, the king is unaccustomed to touching common man since he has been surrounded by royalty his whole life. Somax advises Priam to dabble his feet in the steam as a refreshment. The king follows the other man’s words, and is surprised to find that the water does have a ‘cooling effect’ [pg 118]. Priam is also persuaded to taste Somax’s little griddlecakes, to which he finds delicious. Somax explains that it is his daughter-in-law who makes the cakes and how he enjoys watching the cooking process. Priam realises that he has never even considered the fact that his servants carefully and delicately prepare his food every day. Priam is surprised by Somax’s chatter which had ‘no point or use’ [pg 125]. Unlike the king who has been taught to be conscious of every word expressed, Somax’s talk ‘did little harm’ [pg 126] to his dignity.

Somax reveals that his granddaughter was sick with the fever that morning, and is eager to see her recovery. He also reveals that he had once struck one of his sons, and regretted it ever since. Priam is surprised at Somax’s shame, noting that he has never regretted striking one of his children. When Somax talks about his eldest son’s death, he becomes quite emotional. Although Priam has lost sons before, including Hector, Priam could see that he had not been as attached to his sons like his companion. Sniffling, Somax continues to explain that another of his sons had also died as a result of falling into a stream while trying to secure Beauty, who had lost her balance off the stream’s ledge. Surprisingly, Somax remains affectionate towards Beauty since ‘she’s all I got left of [my son]’ [pg 141]. Upon seeing Somax in this state, Priam realises his relationship with his sons were merely ‘formal and symbolic’ [pg 136] whereas Somax shared a close, loving bond with his children.

As the pair return to the cart, they were alarmed to find a young man sitting with the treasure. The stranger announces that he is Orchilus, an escort sent by Achilles. He explains that despite the elderly men’s undoubted assumption that he was planning to steal the treasure, if he were genuinely interested he would have already done so. Priam is unconvinced since a guide to the Greek camp ‘was too good to be true’ [pg 146]. However, when noticing that Somax is even more distrusting of Orchilus, Priam pretends to be delighted at the strangers’ presence, as he does not want to seem ungrateful to Achilles. Somax is discontent, but seeing that his king has already relented, the three continue on.

As the travellers pass through two channels, the cart struggles to resist the current of the stream. Although the mules are unsteady, eventually the group reaches the bank. Everyone is wet but Orchilus waddles to the shore as though unaffected by the event. Soon after the young man begins to chatter, and appears to know a great deal about Somax and his family. Somax is furious that the man appears to know his daughter-in-law, and notices that the young man’s clothing is similar to his own despite the stranger stating that he is a Greek. He whispers this to Priam who then realises that it is in fact the god Hermes, disguised as Orchilus. The god confirms their suspicions and reveals that he was sent by others to guide the travelers to safely reach Achilles’ camp.

Analysis

Priam and Somax

Priam and Somax’s relationship allows insight into their similarities and differences. Both men are advancing in their years and both have had many children. Old men are usually characterised as kind, father figures who are filled with wisdom. While Somax upholds this representation, Priam does not. As a result of Priam living in a royal sphere for several decades, the king has been alienated from the world outside the walls of Troy. Thus, due to his limited amount of interaction with the external world, Priam lacks the quality of ‘wisdom.’ Instead, he is characterised like a child who has is ‘obedient’ [pg116] and has ‘a happy smile’ [pg 120]. It is as though Somax is his father, introducing Priam to new activities and experiences. When Priam refuses to eat the griddlecakes, Somax promises that the king will enjoy them, much alike a father encouraging their child. Priam’s realisation that the cakes taste ‘very good’ [pg 121] demonstrates that he is beginning to experiment and interact with the new environment. Much alike young children, the king is able to enjoy the simplest and most ordinary things from the delicious cakes to the coolness of the stream.

As Priam continues on his journey, he also discovers a new meaning to the word ‘love.’ Somax is evidently devoted to his family, having he only his granddaughter and daughter-in-law. He worries about his granddaughter’s fever, which strikes Priam’s attention, since the king has never taken care for his children during their illnesses. Thus, Somax’s concern causes Priam to think about things that had never previously occurred to him. Noticing the deep attachment between Somax and his family, Priam ponders if losing a son ‘really did mean the same for him as it did for the driver’ [pg 136]. The king realises that his relationships with his children are merely ‘formal and symbolic,’ and a part of the ‘splendour and the ordeal of kingship.’ Moreover, he cannot recall the exact number of children in his family, only that the number is approximately fifty. The king’s lack of clarity highlights his little in interest in family prior to this journey.

For the first time, Priam shows much interest in someone else’s life. After Somax’s chatter about his family, the king desires to learn more about the carter’s life – and feels unusual at this new feeling of ‘curiosity’ [pg 129]. This demonstrates that he is no longer solely interested in his own activities, but those of others. While the Priam undergoes a physical journey to the Greek camp, this parent-child relationship between Somax and Priam allows the latter to also develop metaphysically.

Somax’s presence is starkly contrasted to the king. Somax is the epitome of a working class commoner. His life revolves around waiting to be hired at the marketplace with his two mules and then heading home to a loving family. Priam notices how Somax is able to chatter on about anything he desires. This is puzzling for Priam, who as king takes note of every word he says to others. Although being king has its privileges of power and distinction, it is clear that Somax also has the privilege of enjoying ordinary life.

Beauty and Shock

Priam’s choice of two mules is contrasted to the use of traditional warhorses. Mules characterise stubbornness and independence, a reflection of Priam’s attitude following his vision. His stubbornness convinces his family and council to allow him on his journey while his independence has enabled Priam to do something extraordinary – to go undefended to Achilles’ camp. Unlike Priam’s usual warhorses, which signify power and authority, the mules represent the plain and ordinary. This allows Priam to strip himself of any royal distinction and transition into simply another man.

In addition, along with Hecuba and Hesione, Beauty is one of the few female characters in the novel. Beauty, being one of the two mules leading Priam to Achilles, represents women’s subtle yet significant role as they help to guide men to their destinations.

Important Passages

‘Very tactfully, his heart softened by fellow-feeling…Or a man who’s gone wandering in his sleep and doesn’t know where he is or how he got there.’ [pg 112 – 115]

‘Like an obedient toddler… allowed himself to be persuaded and took one of the little cakes in his fingers, broke off a morsel, and tasted.’ [pg 116 – 121]

‘The realm of the royal was representational, ideal…But fever is a worry.’ [pg 124 – 130]

‘Priam too sat silent…Perhaps.’ [pg 135 – 138]

Important Quotes

‘Well, that was foolish of course, but entirely understandable.’ [pg 112]

‘Only when he saw how startled Priam was at this unaccustomed touch did it occur to him that he might have committed some affront to the king’s sacred person.’ [pg 113]

‘…Priam, looking uncertain and out of place, stood watching.’ [pg 115]

‘If they were to move forward it was up to him.’

‘He observed with amusement that they found the royal feet every bit as disappointing and without interest as the driver’s.’ [pg 117]

‘…allowed himself to be persuaded and took one of the little cakes in his fingers, broke off a morsel, and tasted.’ [pg 121]

‘That was the price of the new.’ [pg 122]

‘The realm of the royal was representational, ideal.’ [pg 124]

‘On the whole he felt easy with himself, both in body and spirit; comfortable restored.’ [pg 125]

‘What he had to say, his pleasant way of filling the time, was of no importance. It was full of something. Interest.’ [pg 127]

‘But the truth is, we don’t just lie down and die, do we, sir? We go on. For all our losses.’ [pg 131]

‘You didn’t expect this, eh, when you decided to set out?’ [pg 153]

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