Reunion and Reconciliation; a Quest to Restore the Home
The Odyssey and the Iliad are often compared as they share many similar themes and motifs revolving around two warriors in a pursuit of rising to heroic wrath. Book 24 of the Iliad and 23 of the Odyssey parallel with overarching themes regarding divine intervention, anger, and family with each of these themes encompassing a degree of irony that is crucial in contrasting both epics. As visitors to unwelcoming homes, Priam and Odysseus must work to infiltrate a very protected inner circle and the outcomes are ironically foreshadowed by the climatic battles that led them there—hector begs to be granted his honor from Achilles and the suitors beg for forgiveness. The final chapters reflect on how these last wishes have transferred over to Priam and Odysseus. As they struggle to make amends with Achilles and Penelope, they are reminded that they must also fight for honor and forgiveness.
Priam and Odysseus both look to the gods, hoping that they can aid them in their quest for reconciliation. For Priam, this assistance highlights the abilities of his mortal strength. In his quest to retrieve his son’s corpse, he is supported by the gods on Mount Olympus as they have watched in horror while Hectors body has been dragged each day only to be left face down in the dust (Il. 24.21). With great pity for a prince, Apollo sways the other gods to grasp the misfortune that have brought upon the city of Troy by choosing to help Achilles who in their view outranks Hector. However, the “almighty” Achilles has brought shame to the Divine world with such childish actions that the gods cannot help but pity hector. Apollo exposes him for who he really is, “a man without a shred of decency in his heart…his temper can never bend and change,” equaling him to the barbaric ways of a lion—his wild temper overpowering his grasp on humanity (Il.24.46). Once a prince, Hector has now been mistreated and stripped of his honor, therefore, the gods band together to grant Priam of his final wish—to hold his son once more and weep his fill (Il.24.271). First visited by Iris, followed by Hermes, the gods have come down to earth to reassure Priam of their intentions and more essentially their knowledge of Priam’s ability to stir Achilles’ heart; forcing or merely tricking him into emitting kindness.
Help is given to Odysseus by the goddess Athena, however, instead of leading him down a road towards triumph she helps more clearly define his limitations as a mortal man. Odysseus has become a master of trickery by the end of his journey and as he prepares to face Penelope—a woman who knows him better than he knows himself—he still falls back on an attempt to mislead her because it is all he has known for the last 20 years. He is foolish to believe that he can deceive everyone in Ithaka because even the maid Eurykleia could recognize him by his scar—a stark imperfection setting any mortal apart from the gods (Od.23.74). Athena ascends to aid him in his performance, suffusing him with great beauty she makes him taller, thicker, and with curling locks hanging down from his head—"gilding him with grace,” she transforms him to appear immortal (Od.23.156-163). By making him appear godlier than he did when Penelope last saw him, she is cautious to believe it could actually be him. Her loyalty to him is so strong that her worst fear is betraying him, so consequently Athena’s help is further exemplifying his mortal restraints on manipulating the people around him. Instead of divine intervention benefiting the mortals in this position, Penelope fears this deception as the gods tricking her into disloyalty to her husband—resisting the will of the gods proves her overwhelming devotion to her husband over any inclination of divinity.
Interestingly enough, in order to be loyal to her husband, Penelope must be at first disloyal in a different way—acting as if she doesn’t love him. Here, Penelope is embodying one of the main themes of the epic; disguise and reversals. As she disguises her feelings towards this “stranger” she is reversing roles with him without even knowing it. To be loyal, she must act disloyal; to love him, she must act as though she doesn’t, and acting this way towards Odysseus causes him to act out in anger. In this instance we see Odysseus in a fit of rage for the first time—known as a “planner”, things not going how he expected can wreak havoc on everyone around him. Ironically, Odysseus is unable to handle his anger in this scene, and calls Penelope stubborn; a woman with a heart of iron (Od.23.172), but when Priam tries to break through to Achilles, he ends up taming the “murderous” Achilles’ inner beast. This contrasts what Apollo stated about him earlier in the chapter about his fixed temper as Achilles even warns him to not anger him for his temper flaring could lead to bad things. This sense of warning—sense of caution—is a complete role reversal for Achilles, and even with a forceful visitor entering into his hut he exhibits a sense of civility for the first time since his dear friend Patroclus was killed. Achilles is not cured of his anger but in offering such a truce he is willing to reconcile for the actions that his anger led him to.
The way in which Achilles reconciles with Priam, brings forth the deep-rooted love that he has for his father. Watching Priam strip himself of his pride by kneeling before the man whose “terrible hands” stripped him of his son, Achilles is reminded of the loss he has endured by taking part in this tragic war (Il.24.599). Reminded of his own father, the two weep together; finally seeing eye to eye. He knows he will never see his father, Peleus, again but more importantly, that his father will never see his son again. He envisions Priam’s anguish on the face of his own father, and that overwhelming sorrow strikes him like the sword he so forcefully used to kill Hector. In this moment, he pities Priam but also understands why he is greatly valued by the kingdom of Troy—he stands as a father figure to everyone. His ransom is priceless for what he has endured and the two resolve their conflict, at least for the time being, and put their grief to rest in their own hearts (Il.24.591-610). The theme of family runs deeply in both of these epics and instead of Odysseus losing his son—he gains him back. Telemachus accepts Odysseus back into his life with much more ease than Penelope, but in order for Odysseus to fully make amends with his family as a whole, he must reconcile with his father who has grieved for him constantly (Od.23.359). The father figure is very prominent between both of these stories and proves that even a great warrior has someone with whom they look upon as greater than themselves. The importance of the love between father and son is far greater than any warrior’s wrath.
Even though there are many similarities, the main disparities between the two epics come into play at the end. For the Odyssey, disguise and reversal, and in contrast, the end of the Iliad highlights genuineness and a bold straightforwardness that really sets the two stories apart. With divine intervention, or lack thereof, these epics illustrate how the gods can only go so far and it comes down to a warrior himself to set things straight with others around him but also in his heart. Both Priam and Odysseus have risen to the same heights of heroic wrath by rehabilitating the nuclear family unit in order to bring stability to their kingdoms.