New Thoughts and New Deeds
Malouf highlights the need for new concepts and deeds to challenge the traditional expectations that limit protagonists of the text, suggesting that it is the assertion of these previously unheard of notions that inspire their positive metamorphoses and their liberty. Set in Ancient Greek times, Ransom emphasizes that the convention roles man a defined within are not only limiting but ultimately cause the loss of one’s humanity. Consequently, Priam’s envisioning of ‘something new’ underscores that ideas which defy tradition are able to inspire actions previously unheard of in the search for one’s ability to assert their free will and similarly, the new experiences he witnesses throughout his journey allows him to transcend the customary ways of thinking, thus catalyzing his transformation into a man from a king. Moreover, the text highlights through the interactions of Priam and Achilles that one’s assertion of something new in turn liberates another as it can inspire their envisioning of new thoughts and actions. In this way, Malouf suggests that transformation requires transgressing the conventional norms which is achieved through ideas and feats that challenge these impending expectations.
Limited by the narrow context of their roles, the protagonists are left feeling impotent by old ways of thinking. Achilles was born to become the warrior, and in fulfilling his role, he has lost his ability to express his emotions in a humane way. Confined in the ‘rough world of men’, Achilles loses the fluidity of his identity which tempers the ‘earth heaviness’ of harsher emotions, and despite his assertions of vengeance, he remains woefully a ‘dead man feeling nothing’, highlighting that he is trapped by the expectations of being a man and a warrior. Symbolically, the death of Patroclus and Hector in Achilles’ armour suggests that the brutality of war has resulted in his own spiritual demise, and thus, he transgresses the standards of the Greeks and his own standards by desecrating Hector’s body as he ‘forgets his duty… [And is] overcome with the need for revenge’. In this way, Malouf suggests that the expectations defined by being a warrior has caused Achilles to engage in barbaric acts of revenge which see his humanity being ultimately lost. Moreover, the losses sustained in the war highlights that Priam, too, is virtually dead. Priam’s choices are restricted by his kingly role in which he must stand in ‘ceremonial stillness’, and is seen as a representation of Troy, a ‘living map’, rather than a man. Despite understanding the importance of his role, the old protagonist emphasizes that he has suppressed the ‘real man inside’ in order to fulfill his role, and thus, with his actions always determined by role and expectations, he has forgotten what it is to be a man.
In light of the damaging ramifications of traditional views, Malouf asserts that it is the thinking outside current limitations which give the protagonists the opportunity to be liberated. Priam’s choice to ransom himself facilitates the opportunity to step outside convention and open oneself up to ‘something new’ as he describes it as something unprecedented, something that has ‘never before been… though of’. Despite being ‘bewildered’ by the notion of chance, the king is ‘strangely excited’ by this thought as it is new; traditionally, is it accepted that it is the gods who determine one’s fate, and the ability to assert one’s own agency is unimaginable. Consequently, he feels almost ‘defiant’ in that there is the possibility for the choice to step outside of his kingly role, to do ‘what any man might do’, feeling a ‘freedom’ in his subversive thoughts. Thus, Ransom suggests that in thinking something new, one can challenge the deterministic world by transgressing the limits placed on them by a role. Furthermore, a new perspective on life is presented to the king through Somax’s experiences, suggesting that one can understand himself more deeply through the agency of another. The carter’s stories allow Priam to reflect on his life and develop an understanding of what is means to be human outside the symbolic façade that is his royal life. Through ‘imagination’ Priam is able to connect to the ordinary facets of life by forming common bonds and experiences with Somax’s anecdotes. Consequently, a new understanding through these stories prompts self-examination and assists Priam to develop a more nuanced appreciation of life and human relationships through the juxtaposition of Somax’s expression of loss and grief with his own ‘formal and symbolic’ relationship with his children. In this way, Malouf highlights that new ways of thinking can be developed from the influence of another, and can ultimately prompt one’s introspection to reveal a transformed self.
Similar to new thoughts inspiring new deeds, it is demonstrated that previously unknown experiences can impel one to develop a new way of thinking. Priam through being subjected to the world outside his role learns to appreciate the beauty in the ordinary and common things which rekindle his humanity. Initially, the king, in the presence of Somax is ‘like a child’, and is unaccustomed to the surroundings outside the royal sphere. Despite being ‘bewildered’ by the simple occurrences in daily life, he soon finds out that ‘what [is] new could also be pleasurable’, and these small pleasures, such as dipping his feet in the stream or enjoying griddle cakes, provide new sensations which prompt reflection. Priam begins to see himself as a normal ‘old man’, whom even the fish did not ‘take much account of’ when he dipped his feet into the lake. Consequently, Ransom demonstrates that feats which defy tradition, such as Priam ransoming himself as a common man rather than a king, propel a fresh perspective on one’s life in which their humanity surpasses their limiting roles. In experiencing ‘something new’, the Trojan is left feeling ‘easy with himself’ and ‘comfortably restored’, thus highlighting the ability to be renewed by unprecedented deeds.
Furthermore, it is these unprecedented actions performed by one individual that catalyze the transformation of the other. Achilles, who according to Priam is looking for ‘the chance to break free from the obligation of being always the hero’, requires the appearance of ‘something new’ to quench his undying thirst for vengeance. Rather than approaching the warrior as an adversary, the king appeals to Achilles ‘as a father’ and as ‘one poor mortal to another’, highlighting that Priam is building a connection between the traditional foes rather than challenging him. . Priam’s evocation of Achilles’ son which ‘touched a sore spot’ enables the king to challenge the notion that rivals must always respond to each other in terms of winning and losing, as he declares that they ‘should have pity for one another’s losses’. Despite the nine year separation, Achilles is still able to clearly remember Neoptolemus’ characteristics, fondly recalling his ‘flamy’ hair and the ‘saddle of freckles’ that crosses his nose, highlighting the warriors’ fervent love for his son and thus, he is able to shed the ‘earth heaviness’ of his role. It is thus the reminder of his son which catalyses the transformation of the warrior, allowing for ‘something in him to be freed’ and thus the two protagonists’ connection as fathers, at least temporarily, takes precedence over their enmity. Achilles’ transformation is not into a different character but rather a restoration of his true self since his capacity for empathetic understanding has been deepened by Priam’s assertion of free will which is mutinous against traditional conventions. The resulting eleven days truce highlights the impact of new ways of thinking and behaving, in that the challenging of tradition is ultimately an assertion of free will, suggesting that man can have control over his own agency.
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Malouf highlights the need for new concepts and deeds to challenge the traditional expectations that limit protagonists of the text, suggesting that it is the assertion of these previously unheard […]