The Power of Vulnerability: Priam’s Negotiation With Achilles

The Power of Vulnerability: Priam’s Negotiation With Achilles

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  • Teaching Notes
Abstract

After Achilles kills his arch-enemy Hector, maims his body, and takes it back to his camp, Hector’s father, the Trojan king, Priam, comes to recover the corpse of his son. The old man arrives at night, in secrecy, and endangers his own life by entering Achilles’s hut with gifts of ransom for Hector’s body. In addition to these, the old man falls on his knees, kisses the hands of his enemy, and points out the similarities between himself and Achilles’s own father, King Peleus, a lonely old man possibly surrounded also by armed enemies. Achilles commiserates and allows him to retrieve his son’s body, adding also a truce between the two parties, in order to allow for Hector’s funeral. In negotiating his dead son’s return Priam shows his social intelligence both as a king and as a father, precisely by drawing a bridge between himself and his enemy Achilles, by gently highlighting their similarities, as unlikely as they may seem. He also subtly questions Achilles’s positive view of himself, when he pictures his father, Peleus, under the vicious attack of warriors like Achilles. In this case study, students will need to consider the circumstances when vulnerability can constitute a sign of strength and how displaying weakness to a rival might actually draw a connection or affinity between the two parties, rather than emphasize their antagonistic status.

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