English & EAL

Ransom: Chapter IV

by
Lisa Tran

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Plot

Meanwhile, Achilles continues to exist in a state of grievance. Patroclus last moments were shared with Automedon, who is now Achilles’ squire*. Achilles resents Automedon, since ‘his presence is both a reminder and a rebuke’ [pg 169] of the tragic events. The men around him are noisy and quarrelling at the dinner table but Achilles ‘barely notices all this’ [pg 172].

He then sees a figure advancing towards him. It is a ‘tall, spare…old’ [pg 173] figure, leading Achilles to believe that it is his father. The silhouette captivates him as he has been parted from his father for nine years. However, to his surprise and disappointment, the figure is revealed to be Priam. The old king pleads, ‘I have come to you, Achilles, just as you see me, just as I am, to ask you, man to man, as a father, for the body of my son. To ransom and bring him home’ [pg 175]. Priam continues to explain that the god, Hermes, guided him and that “Idaeus” is waiting outside with the treasure. Automedon exits and returns with Somax, confirming the incentive. Achilles is bemused at the presence of the Somax, since he finds it odd that the king’s famous herald is a ‘rough-looking fellow’ [pg 178]. Somax struggles to explain the situation, but Priam emotionally takes over, sharing that Somax has been good company on his journey. Hearing the king’s words, Somax is moved and ‘rubs his nose’ [pg 181]. The ‘two old men, who belong to such different worlds – the humility of the one, the awkward shyness of the other’, intrigue Achilles. He orders that the carter be fed, leaving the two rivals alone.

The king expresses that he is aware of Achilles’ son Neoptolemus. Achilles has been parted his son for most of the boy’s life, much alike Achilles and his own father. Priam pleads Achilles to ask himself what it would mean if he were to see Neoptolemus dragged in the dust for eleven days consecutively. Priam states that he has come to Achilles’ home undefended, in order to speak as a father to another father for the return of his child. Achilles is struck by Priam’s words. Achilles envisions his son killing the king and declaring, ‘There father! There Achilles! You are avenged’ [pg 186]. Horrified at this possible ending to the king’s life, he grants Priam’s wish, offering the old man a hand and declares that they will wash and prepare Hector’s body.

That night Achilles and Priam hold a ceremony for Hector. At dinner both men ‘ate together…wary at first, though also respectful, and at last quite easy, though Priam had continually to remind himself who it was he was breaking bread with’ [pg 198].

The next day, when Priam is leaving the Greeks, Achilles warmly invites Priam to ‘call on him’ [pg 200] if Troy were in trouble. Priam is surprised at his own words, asks what if Achilles was the one who were to cause the trouble in the first place. In return, Achilles states, ‘then alas for you, Priam, I will not come’ [pg 201]. He is aware that the gods are mocking them, since he and the gods have both seen Priam’s fate in the hands of Neoptolemus.

Notes:

*A young nobleman acting as an attendant to a knight before becoming a knight himself.

Analysis

Achilles

The act of revenge has taken its toll on Achilles. He is ‘a mess in his hut’ [pg 167] and only interacts with those around him when necessary. Even when he makes an appearance at dinner, he ‘sits apart’ from his comrades, highlighting his sense of isolation. The description of the Greeks’ lifestyle as noisy and playful while feasting highlights the importance of this part of their culture. However, Achilles must ‘force’ [pg 170] himself to eat and ‘sits with a full cup of wine before him’ [pg 168]. The wine symbolises power during Ancient Greek times and demonstrates that Achilles’ is no longer “powerful” like his Myrmidons who drink plenty of wine, but weak from the burden of his guilt and suffering. In another reference to Christianity, the red wine is also a representation of redemption, as Jesus sacrificed himself after the last supper. It is now “sitting before” Achilles, waiting for him to free himself from his misery and begin his path to absolution.

In a link to the beginning of Ransom, Achilles refers to ‘mov[ing] into his mother’s element and is open again to her shimmering influence’ [pg 172]. The reference to his dead mother again depicts his need to be “protected” or “nurtured” during this dark stage of his life.

Father and son relationships

All father and son relationships in Ransom are separated by distance. The first example is Achilles and his father, Peleus. When Achilles sees the dark figure approaching, he assumes it is his father. Achilles sharp change in tone from melancholy to excitement and anticipation highlights his desire to be with Peleus. It appears as though he has hoped to reconcile with his father after many years apart, ‘you! At last, at last!’ [pg 172]. Secondly, Achilles and his own son Neoptolemus have lived apart for most of the young boy’s life. These relationships give reason as to why Achilles was so connected with Patroclus since he lacked any other male figure in his life. It is because of this circumstance that Achilles eagerly concludes that the figure is his father who has finally come for him. In what is perhaps fate or chance, Priam’s desire to appear simply as a father connects with Achilles’ need of a father figure, since he is ‘tall, spare [and] old’ [pg 173] with ‘wrinkle folds [and] eyes deep set under the knotty brows.’ It is because of this connection between Achilles’ father and Priam that Achilles can finally see that Priam is just another father and agrees to their truce.

Thirdly, Priam’s relationship with Hector is also established through their distance. Having gone to extraordinary lengths to reach Hector’s body, Priam’s love for his son blossoms throughout his journey. From a king and prince relationship to loving father to son, the distance apart from Hector’s body allows Priam to develop a strong emotional bond with his son. This bond between father and son is demonstrated through Priam’s passionate and touching plea to Achilles about what it means to be a father. Although all relationships between father and son are physically far apart, it is shown that this distance in fact drives the men to be more emotionally conntected to their father or son.

Important Passages

‘You! At last, at last!… And he offers the man, who seems suddenly too weak to get up without assistance, his hand.’ [pg 172 – 187]

‘At the feet the body of his dead enemy… has all this time been waiting and keeping watch.’ [pg 188 – 191]

‘Call on me, Priam…and on word from the driver the cart jolts on out of the camp.’ [pg 200 – 201]

Important Quotes

‘Achilles barely notices all this.’ [pg 168]

‘Him, Achilles tells himself bitterly, not me. In his arm, not mine.’ [pg 169]

‘For his own sake, but as a reminder too of what he himself was just a season ago.’ [pg 171]

‘You! At last, at least!’ [pg 172]

‘I am Priam, King of Troy…I have come to you, Achilles, just as you see me, just as I am, to ask you, man to man, as a father, for the body of my son. To ransom and bring him home.’ [pg 175]

‘…Hermes the giantkiller, he takes heart.’ [pg 176]

‘Fortunately Priam sees the difficulty he is in and intervenes.’ [pg 180]

‘Priam is deeply moved.’ [pg 181]

‘…the humility of the one, the awkward shyness of the other.’

‘And he offers the man, who seems suddenly too weak to get up without assistance, his hand.’ [pg 187]

‘After eleven days in the sun the body has neither the discolouration nor the smell of corruption.’ [pg 188]

‘Priam pauses, and the cruelty of the answer that comes to his lips surprises him.’ [pg 200]

‘Achilles feels a chill pass through him.’

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