Ransom Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Difficult Conversations (motif)

This book could be seen as a foil to Homer's original Iliad. Homer's story prioritized honorable warfare above much else, since after all, Hector is assured his path to the afterlife by the gods for his valiant fighting. But this novel shows the other side of valor—the willingness to be open-minded and humble, and the ability to get advice, and to make business deals that are fair, and to listen well to people who aren't socially or politically "important."

That's what Priam demonstrates throughout the book, first in his conversation with Iris, and then his wife, and then his advisors, and then the cart man, and then the god Hermes, and then the army—at every step, his noble character leads him to be socially successful, and if Achilles is a master of war, then Priam is a master of peace.

Ransom (symbol)

Think of the emotional experience Achilles undergoes. He is confounded by hatred and regret, but then, a mysterious man comes by way of the gods, and he gives Achilles a gift in exchange for the body. That exchange a symbolic one. By forgiving his enemy, Achilles can stop thinking about Hector's dead body, and he can start living his life again. In other words, the bounty represents Achilles' discovery that there is a reward for humility and decency, and that doesn't bring his friend back, but it does restore balance.

The simple cart (symbol)

Priam wisely stops his servants from assembling a cart for him in royal splendor. Maybe he knows that they'll kill him if he marches into an enemy camp in splendor, or maybe the severity of his emotions led him to the correct attitude—one of humility. He finds a simple driver and a simple cart with a single donkey—just like Jesus Christ—and he rides into the camp to do business, not to do war. So the cart represents the king's ability to succeed through humility as well as his ability to reign in splendor. He is a master of both worlds.

Hector's body (symbol)

Hector is a real person to Priam and Achilles, but his body is not. His body symbolizes something greater than himself, and in the end, it represents Achilles' ability to acknowledge a greater power and reconcile with his enemies. This stems from his inability to truly desecrate Hector's body, which returns to its intact state every morning after he drags it. Although the gods are miraculously involving themselves, the imagery is clear: Achilles is unable to continually punish Hector beyond death, which means that he himself does not have absolute authority.

He will need to humble himself if he wants to deal with death in a healthy way, because after all, he doesn't have the power to bring Patroclus back from the dead, and holding a grudge against the dead Hector is not productive. When he manages to appreciate Hector as a member of a community with a family in his wake, he finally figures it out and finds health again.

Neoptolemus (symbol)

There's a surprising flash-forward in the book where Achilles learns that, although his son will kill Priam, he will do it in a way that brings disgrace on Neoptolemus. This imagery is another representation of Achilles' hatred and the way that his habits of dealing with anger are unethical. His son is a brilliant depiction of this, because the apple never falls far from the tree. Achilles' punishment for beating the dead body of Priam's son is his own shame and disgrace, through his son.