The Henry

original since 1984


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This passage came to me upon review of my favorite classical text The Iliad. Literary manifestations of compassion have always captured my attention and this, as Homer does best, is exemplified when Priam, King of Troy sneaks into the great warrior Achilles’ camp and begs for the return and proper funeral of his son Hector. In an epic 10 year battle between Greece and Troy, these two men are able to look grief in the eye and see each other as divine:
“Thus spoke Priam, and the heart of Achilles yearned as he bethought him of his father. He took the old man’s hand and moved him gently away. The two wept bitterly- Priam, as he lay at Achilles’ feet, weeping for Hector, and Achilles now for his father and now for Patroclous, till the house was filled with their lamentation. But when Achilles was now sated with grief and had unburthened the bitterness of his sorrow, he left his seat and raised the old man by the hand, in pity for his white hair and beard; then he said, “Unhappy man, you have indeed been greatly daring; how could you venture to come alone to the ships of the Achaeans, and enter the presence of him who has slain so many of your brave sons? You must have iron courage: sit now upon this seat, and for all our grief we will hide our sorrows in our hearts, for weeping will not avail us. The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow…Bear up against it, and let there be some intervals in your sorrow. Mourn as you may for your brave son, you will take nothing by it. You cannot raise him from the dead, ere you do so yet another sorrow shall befall you.” The Iliad by Homer. Book XXIV.

I love the concluding concept of placing “intervals in your sorrow.” Mourning is healing, but unbridled sorrow can lead one to die of heartache. The fact that leaders of two warring empires intertwine their bereavement and sit together as one lends extreme beauty and value to Homer’s narrative.


Written by michaelhenryhersh

October 19, 2008 at 11:57 PM

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