your own father, great godlike Achilles—
as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age!
No doubt the countrymen round about him plague him now,
with no one there to defend him, beat away disaster.
No one—but at least he hears you’re still alive
and his old heart rejoices, hopes rising, day by day,
to see his beloved son come sailing home from Troy.
With these words, spoken in the middle
of Book 24, Priam implores Achilles to return
Hector’s corpse for proper burial. He makes himself sympathetic
in Achilles’ eyes by drawing a parallel between himself and Achilles’
father, Peleus. Priam imagines Peleus surrounded by enemies with
no one to protect him—a predicament that immediately mirrors his
own, as a supplicant standing in the middle of the enemy camp. Moreover,
the two fathers’ situations resemble each other on a broader scale
as well. Hector was the bulwark for Priam’s Troy just as Achilles
was the bulwark for his father’s kingdom back in Phthia, and with
the two sons gone, Priam’s enemies—the Achaeans—will now close in
on him just as those of Peleus will. Priam claims that the parallel
fails in only one respect: Peleus can at least hope that his son
will come home one day.
But it is this one alleged hole in Priam’s comparison
that truly summons Achilles’ pity and breaks down his resistance,
for, unknown to Priam, Peleus is also destined never to see his
son again. Achilles knows, as Priam does not, that he is fated to
die at Troy and never return home to Phthia. He realizes that one
day Peleus will learn that his son has died at the hands of enemies
and that he will never see his body again, just as might happen
to Priam if Achilles doesn’t return Hector’s corpse to him. Priam’s
comparison turns out to be more true than he knows.