Throughout the epic poem, The Iliad, Homer demonstrates that the bumpy road to compassion and sympathy is dignified and vastly superior to the courses of rage and stubbornness. Achilles illustrates mammoth anger as he destroys the body of Hector, the greatest Trojan warrior and the son of Priam. The desecration of the body violates the funeral rites of the Greek culture, which implies that a warrior, like Hector or Patroclus, should receive a proper burial. Achilles' fury over the death of Patroclus prevents him from having compassion for a fellow warrior and enemy, which can be seen with Hector and Lycaon. When King Priam attempts to liberate Hector's body, the act rekindles a sense of empathy in Achilles, who has become struck with an unquenchable sense of revenge after his argument with Agamemnon about Briseis, the prize of Achilles, and Patroclus' death. The king of Troy achieves this act by beseeching himself and reminds Achilles of the common misfortunes that both have suffered throughout the war. Priam also helps Achilles regain compassion and suppresses his fury that began after Achilles' argument with Agamemnon, ongoing throughout The Iliad, which reaches its peak after Patroclus' death. Homer stresses the change of his epic hero, Achilles, through the uselessness of relentless rage and the magnitude of compassion with some aid from Priam.
In many societies, war and the obliteration control the lives of the citizens. During the Trojan War, many Trojan and Greek soldiers die in battle and many praises are given for their bravery, cleverness, and power. When a warrior dies in battle, it is crucial that the dead receive a burial according to the culture in the Greek society. For example, the Achaeans over exaggerate
the funeral procession and prepare the burial of Patroclus with great detail to give him a proper burial. Achilles "set two-handled jars of honey and oil beside him, leaned them against the bier" (23.195-196). During the ceremonial rites, the body of Patroclus is burned on a pyre to remove the body of infections. Achilles also burns "four massive stallions" that will be Patroclus' guides, along with two dogs, and twelve Trojans that Achilles caught when he was too tired to kill and all this will be Patroclus' slaves in the underworld (23.197).These acts, along with the funeral games and other services, allow Patroclus' spirit to have a life in Hades's domain. If the performances of the ceremonies are not done, then the spirit of Patroclus' will never enter the underworld and will have to wander the earth for eternity or until someone gives that spirit a burial. The king of Troy, Priam, has to deal with this solemn situation with the death of his son, Hector. The famed Greek warrior, Achilles, kills Hector, the best Trojan warrior, to take revenge for the death of Patroclus. Instead of returning Hector's body back to Priam for a proper burial, Achilles, takes the body, desecrates it, and then drags the body back to his own camp site by the beach. Priam grieves and wants to give his son the proper rituals so that Hector can go live a life in the underworld. He longs for Hector to have a proper burial and that Hector go down calmly into the underworld. Thus, Priam sneaks into the Greek camp to beg for Hector's body from Achilles and Homer also uses Priam to seek compassion in Achilles.
Therefore, the king of Troy must beg for the body of Hector from Achilles to guarantee Hector's warrior funeral and to alleviate the sorrow felt by the people of Troy, especially his own family. Even the gods feel that Achilles should stop his merciless actions and become more sympathetic to Priam's troubles. Then, Zeus sends Thetis, mother of Achilles, to allow Priam to take back Hector's body. Hermes, the messenger god, also helps Priam by guiding him through the Greek camp to Achilles' tent. As Priam enters into the tent, he "clasped his knees and kissed his hands, those terrible man-killing hands that had slaughtered Priam's many sons in battle"
(24.560-562.). Priam demonstrates noble respect towards Achilles by beseeching himself to a younger yet fierce Achilles. Achilles welcomes Priam in a detached manner and yet still with a lot of respect. Being a good father, Priam is willing to do anything to bring the body of Hector back to Troy for the burial. Priam does not act as a king but as a common citizen and father who begs for his son back from Achilles to help with Priam's own dilemma. Achilles is reminded of his own father by Priam and the joy that he feels when he hears that his own son is alive. Priam also asks for Achilles' compassion. Priam's circumstance is more difficult to accomplish than that of Achilles own father because Priam forces himself to "put to [his] lips the hands of the man who killed [his] son" (24.591). No father should ever have to go through the actions in Priam does. After this gesture, Achilles allows Priam to take his son's body back to Troy. In this action, Homer stresses the nobleness of sympathy by illustrating that the gods want Achilles to let go of his anger and return the body to Troy.
After the encounter with Priam, Achilles has finally reached a state of empathy and this condition is reached when one has suppressed his own anger, which is a vicious emotion. From the beginning of The Iliad, Achilles becomes enraged by Agamemnon hurting his pride and the death of his best friend, Patroclus. With his anger and rage in hand, Achilles annihilates everyone and everything that comes in his way. One instance would be when Achilles kills many Trojans by the river, Xanhus. Lycaon, one of Priam's illegitimate sons, begs for his life, beseeching himself to Achilles, who in turn responds, "now not a single Trojan flees his death, not one the gods hand over to me before your gates, none of all the Trojans, sons of Priam least of all! Come, friend, you too must die" (21.116-119). Achilles razes many Trojans by Xanthus and was completely blinded by his own rage, which did not allow him to show any compassion. The emotion, anger, can cloud one's judgment, thus making one act in an unreasonable way toward others. This can be seen with Achilles and his manner towards his fellow Achaeans, with his
absence from the Trojan War in response to Achilles' own bickers with Agamemnon. This act was selfish and thus led to the death of many fellow Greeks. Achilles even begs Thetis, the mother of Achilles, to supplicate Zeus to let Troy defeat the Greeks in battle to prove that the Greeks cannot win without Achilles. Achilles tells his mother to "sit beside him[Zeus], grasp his kneesâ€¦.persuade him, somehow, to help the Trojan cause, to pin the Achaeans back against their ships, trap them round the bay and mow them down"(1.484-487). Achilles' fury is not only destructive to one's self but also to his fellow Achaeans. Achilles can never reach any sympathy for others while he is consumed with his own rage and stubbornness. It takes Priam, a wise old king, who has experienced parallel difficulties to alleviate some of Achilles' fury and to bring him back to his senses. By connecting the misery with Priam, Achilles changes and finds the empathy that he needed throughout the epic poem.
Throughout the duration of the poem, the emotions of Achilles have run high, from relentless rage to some sort of compassion, with some help from Priam. He is also a sensible and dignified character, however he takes the role of a heartbroken father who attempts to rescue Hector's dead body. Priam shows immense integrity and, consequently, alters the fury of Achilles into consideration and graciousness that is vibrant in an epic hero. King Priam needs to ease his own grief, his family's grief, and the Trojans' grief by reclaiming the body of Hector and performing a proper burial. Even though many soldiers were killed and a large amount of devastation occurred during the Trojan War, enemies can still reach some universal position and together find the path to compassion. Therefore, in The Iliad, Homer accentuates the senselessness of anger and the enormity of compassion through Priam, to stress the transformation in Achilles.
Homer, and Robert Fagles, The Iliad. New York: Penguin Group, 1990. Print.