is a novel by Australian author David Malouf
David George Joseph Malouf is an acclaimed Australian writer. He was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2000, his 1993 novel Remembering Babylon won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1996, he won the inaugural Australia-Asia Literary Award in 2008, and he was...
. It retells the story of the Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...
from books 16 to 24.
It is studied in Australian high schools as an English text.
Summary and Analysis
The story begins with Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus during the Trojan War. Achilles, enraged at his friend's death, slays Hector, Patroclus' killer, and drags Hector's corpse behind a chariot around the walls of Troy. This terrifying side of Achilles is amplified from the original Iliad
. Malouf tries to explain the psychology of Achilles, asking how a man capable of anything takes out his frustration. The narrative then shifts towards Priam, Hector's father and the King of Troy. Priam cannot stand the abuse of his beloved son's body. Malouf explores this parallel of loss between Priam and Achilles that Homer, in the original Iliad,
left unsaid. After a visit from Iris, a godess, Priam then explains to Troy that he will make his way to the Greek camp with ransom treasure for Achilles, hoping to stop his mistreatment of Hector’s body, to which Queen Hecuba points out is a suicide mission. Priam goes on the journey, despite warnings from his wife. He eventually meets Achilles at his tent, where the exchange is made. Priam appeals to Achilles' conscience, reminding him of his own father, in trying to persuade him to return Hector to Troy for a proper burial. The retelling ends with the proper burial of Hector, within the walls of his home city.
Differences from the Iliad
It is clear that Malouf has taken several interesting liberties with the text that Homer created. The most obvious liberty would be the inclusion of Somax, a new character. Somax is the carter who accompanies Priam to his meeting with Achilles. Somax is the most successfully developed character in the entire narrative. With characters like Priam and Achilles, Malouf takes liberties with their personality that are not entirely in succession with their depictions in the Iliad. However, with Somax, Malouf manages to create a perfect character foil for Priam. Priam has lived in a very safe royal bubble for his entire life and is now forced to exit it to bury his son. Somax, who has by no means lived any life of luxury, unintentionally teaches Priam about the world outside of the palace: he is a personification of the ordinary. He is not the type of person that normally has anything to do with the royal family, but is enthused with the opportunity. It was an unreal experice to talk with Priam. Despite differences to the original, Malouf is successful in creating his own characters.
There are also a number of small, but interesting changes that Malouf has made. To modernise the text Malouf reduces the amount of divine interference. Another choice Malouf has made is the amount of time allotted to different parts of the book. There are about 50 pages devoted to Priam and Somax’s journey to visit Achilles filled with brilliant descriptions of landscape and interesting insight from Somax, but only about 30 pages devoted to the actual conversation between the Trojan King and the Greek Warrior. Malouf is suggesting that, more like the Odyssey than the Iliad, Ransom is much more about the journey than the end result.
was shortlisted for the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is an international literary award for a work of fiction, jointly sponsored by the city of Dublin, Ireland and the company IMPAC. At €100,000 it is one of the richest literary prizes in the world...