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Achilles and the two jars

Achilles and the Two Jars

Q Let's focus on the VERY END of the Iliad, after all the brutality of war, and see if we can find some wisdom. Plot recap: Achilles kills Hector and takes his body You remember the Trojan prince Hector, son of King Priam, has killed the Greek fighter Patroclus, Achilles' "special friend." (If you don't remember, review.) Achilles is lost without his lover and war buddy Patroclus — he is lost and EXTREMELY angry. So Achilles puts on his new armor (made by Hephaestus, the blacksmith god, to replace what he lost when Patroclus died), • and he goes out to the battlefield (remember that's a BIG DEAL, because he hasn't been fighting throughout this entire poem, ever since he got mad at Agamemnon at the very beginning), • and with the help of the gods he KILLS HECTOR, showing no mercy. Now Hector is dead, and Achilles has killed him. Is that good enough for revenge? Achilles *could* leave Hector's body to rot in the dust, prey for the birds and dogs. That was the usual operating procedure. But no, that wasn't gruesome enough for Achilles and his sick appetite of rage. Achilles lashes Hector's body to his chariot, and rides around the city of Troy SEVEN TIMES — dragging Hector's dead body in the dirt behind him. Achilles then brings Hector's body back to the Greek camp, and back to his tent. Achilles chilling in his tent, with Hector's dead body on the floor, as pictured in an ancient Greek vase (early fifth century BCE), now in the Louvre museum (Links to an external site.) in Paris. Old man Priam asks for the body back Now let's focus on Hector's father — old man Priam, king of Troy. A man whose city is besieged by the Greeks, now for 10 years. A man whose son has just been killed. And with the death of Hector — the best Trojan fighter — it is clear that Troy will soon fall. Stricken with grief, the night after Hector dies, Priam does something amazing. He leaves the city of Troy, alone. Priam walks across the battlefield, walks into the Greek camp, and walks into Achilles' tent. He asks Achilles to give him back his son's body. Old man Priam arrives at Achilles' tent in order to ask for the body of his dead son, as depicted on a vase from the early fifth century BCE, now in the British Museum in London. Achilles responds to Priam What will Achilles do in all his rage? Will Achilles kill this old man, just like he killed his son? No. Strangely, no. Achilles has suddenly changed. After so much rage, he comes back to his humanity, right at this moment. Achilles looks old man Priam in the eyes, and he thinks of his own father Peleus (now dead), and he weeps. And Priam looks at Achilles, the killer of his son, and he also weeps. Lot of weeping, by men who are sick and tired of war. King Priam of Troy kneeling before Achilles and asking for his son's (Hector's) body back, as imagined in an 18th century painting. According to the poem, Achilles weeps as he looks at old man Priam, thinking of his own father. Look at Achilles' posture — it is an attitude of resignation, not anger. Achilles' speech about the jars At this fraught moment, Achilles makes the following speech, reflecting on how Zeus, the king of the gods, allots goods and evils to mankind. This version is from the translation of the Iliad by Fagles (Links to an external site.) (see screenshot below), and the text is copied from this website (Links to an external site.): Let us put our griefs to rest in our own hearts, rake them up no more, raw as we are with mourning. What good’s to be won from tears that chill the spirit? So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men live on to bear such torments – the gods live free of sorrows. There are two great jars that stand on the floor of Zeus’ halls and hold his gifts, our miseries one, the other blessings. When Zeus who loves the lightning mixes gifts for a man, now he meets with misfortune, now good times in turn. When Zeus dispenses gifts from the jar of sorrows only, he makes a man an outcast – brutal, ravenous hunger drives him down the face of the shining earth, stalking far and wide, cursed by gods and men. – Iliad 24.610–622 (trans. Fagles) Writing prompts Answer the questions below based on the text. The first two questions are relatively factual questions about the text, and the third asks you to reflect on your own ideas about the text. First — In your own words, what is in each jar? (Zeus has two jars -- and there is only ONE KIND OF THING in each jar, not a mixture.) Second — How does Zeus distribute the stuff in the jars to people — people like Achilles and Priam and presumably also like you and me? If someone only gets stuff from one jar, not both jars, what is that person's life like? BE SPECIFIC — the details make it interesting. Third — What is the wisdom in Achilles' speech? What is the timeless truth about life and human nature? Does the point of this story seem pessimistic, or realistic, or something else? Reflect on the meaning of Achilles telling this story about the two urns to Priam, at this specific moment in the Iliad. Checklist • As always in this class, write more than one paragraph. • Make sure to understand the story in its details, and also make sure to reflect broadly on how you see the world. Optional: printed version of Fagles' Iliad translation Just FYI — a screenshot of the text at the Internet Archive (Links to an external site.) — note especially lines 610 - 622, the story of Zeus's two jars: Optional: Achilles and Priam meet in movie "Troy" (2004) Below is the meeting scene as imagined by Hollywood. Note that Achilles (Brad Pitt) refers to Patroclus as his cousin — not exactly authentic to the original, but close enough I guess. This cinematic version of the meeting of Achilles and Priam does not tell the story of the two jars, alas. PreviousNext

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Achilles And the Two Jars Zeus, the king of the gods, identifies with two jars that stand on the floor of his halls. As captured from the materials in Canvas, these two jars contain different elements that he bestows on man; these include miseries and blessings. I believe that the two jars represent evil and blessings. In one jar, Zeus stores evils, which can be identified with misfortune and immoral and wicked actions and reactions; and in the other jar, blessings which can be identified with favors, mercies, and benefits.