The man is a fighter, but when he is not fighting, earth is his element. One day, he knows, he will go back to it…But for the whole of his life he has been drawn, in his other nature, to his mother's element. To what, in all its many forms…is shifting and insubstantial.
He had entered the rough world of men, where a man's acts follow him wherever he goes in the form of a story. A world of pain, loss, dependency, bursts of violence and elation…at last of death.
For a long moment the taws hang there at the top of their flight; as if, in the father's grave retelling of these events, he were allowing for a gap to be opened where this time round some higher agency might step in and, with the high-handed indifference of those who have infinite power over the world of conjunction and accident, reverse what is about to occur.
[B1] He was waiting for the rage to fill him that would be equal at last to the outrage he was committing. That would assuage his grief, and be so convincing to the witnesses of this barbaric spectacle that he too might believe there was a living man at the centre of it, and that man himself.
He is obliged, in his role as king, to think of the king's sacred body, this brief six feet of earth he moves and breathes in—aches and sneezes and all—as at once a body like any other and an abstract of the lands he represents, their living map.
This time, when I look behind me, what is glowing out from under the coverlet…is the body of my son Hector, all his limbs newly restored and shining, restored and ransomed.
And perhaps, because it is unexpected, it may appeal to him to: the chance to break free of the obligation of being always the hero, as I am expected always to be the king. To take on the lighter bond of being simply a man. Perhaps that is the real gift I have to bring him. Perhaps that is the ransom.
It seems to me…that there might be another way of naming what we call fortune and attribute to the will, or the whim, of the gods. Which offers a kind of opening. The opportunity to act for ourselves. To try something that might force events into a different course.
And I am back there in the very midst of it, looking down that white-dust road into another life. And it means nothing, that other story. In this one the miraculous turnabout has never happened. I am just one more slave-thing like the rest, one among many.
In the end, what we come to is what time, with every heartbeat and in every moment of our lives, has been slowly working towards: the death we have been carrying in us from the very beginning, from our first breath.
He had never in his life till now had to do with any but simple folk like himself, eaters of sheep's cheese and raw garlic, women laying out a bit of washing to dry on a bush beside the road, half-naked children, their heads shaven against lice…He would have to rely on native wit, and such bits of experience as are common to all, whether the gods in their wisdom have set us high or low.
The realm of the royal was representational, ideal. Everything that was merely accidental…all this was to be ignored, left to fall away into the confused and confusing realm of the incidental and the ordinary.
His whole life was like that, or had been. But out here, he discovered, everything was just itself. That was what seemed new.
It was as if you had found yourself peering through the crack in a door (exciting, Priam found, this imagining himself into a situation he would never have dreamed of acting out) and saw clearly for a moment into the fellow's life, his world.
Royal custom—the habit of averting his gaze, always, from the unnecessary and particular—had saved him from all that. And yet it was just such unnecessary things in the old man's talk, occasions in which pain and pleasure were inextricably mixed, that so engaged and moved him.
It was such a comfort just to hold on to her, and feel the warmth of her, and the scratchiness of her hide against my cheek. But whether it was for grief at my loss, or joy that she was safe, I can't tell you, sir. We're such contrary creatures. Maybe both.
He knows what this sudden suspension of his hard, manly qualities denotes. This melting in him of will, of self. Under its aspect things continue to be just themselves, but what is apprehensible to him now is a fluidity in them that on other occasions is obscured.
He isn't [Idaeus]—of course he isn't, he's Somax. A simple workman, who this morning, as on every other morning of his life, just happened to be standing in the marketplace waiting to be hired when two strangers appeared who just happened to be he king's sons, Trojan princes.
[Death] is the hard bargain life makes with us—with all of us, every one—and the condition we share. And for that reason, if for no other, we should have pity for one another's losses.
What he feels in himself as a perfect order of body, heart, occasion, is the enactment, under the stars, in the very breath of the gods, of the true Achilles, the one he has come all this way to find.
This is the first world we come into, he thinks now, his world of hot-water pitchers and oil jars and freshly laundered linen or wool. And the last place we pass through before our body is done with it all. Unheroic thoughts.
Look, he wants to shout, I am still here, but the I is different. I come as a man of sorrow bringing the body of my son for burial, but I come also as the hero of the deed that till now was never attempted.
And for him the misery of this moment will last forever; that is the hard fact he must live with. However the story is told and elaborated, the raw shame of it will be with him now till his last breath.
This old fellow, like most storytellers, is a stealer of other men's tales, of other men's lives.
The most remarkable thing about him was that he was the owner of a little black mule who is still remembered in this part of the country and much talked about. A charming creature, big-eyed and sleek, she bore the name of Beauty—and very appropriately too, it seems, which is not always the case.