Empathy & Iliad Book 24

“‘Come, Achilles, respect the gods, and have pity on me, remembering your own father; yet I am more worthy of your pity, for I have endured to do what no other mortal on earth has done: to raise to my mouth the hand of the man who killed my son.’

So he spoke, and aroused in Achilles a desire to weep for his father.” (Iliad 24.503-508, trans. Anthony Verity)

After tens of thousands of lines of devastatingly described bloody battle and gory death, the Iliad ends not with a perceived enemy vanquished but with a moment of grace between two men who have been pitted against each other by Fate and the will of the gods. Their brief moment of mutual empathy will not end the war or prevent even one more death. So why is it important? Why end the “song of Ilium” with grace and lamentation instead of victory? What is the poem really “about”?

I have many thoughts, and I’m interested in yours. If you’ve read the poem, what do you think of book 24, and how do you see it fitting into the rest of the poem?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: