The supernatural is not nearly so strong a force in Ransom as it is in the Iliad, where gods are continuously intervening in human affairs, often in extreme or fantastical ways. With that said, the novel does draw a clear distinction between the spiritual and the physical, and it uses the elements of water and earth to illuminate that distinction. This is particularly clear in Malouf’s depiction of Achilles, whose spiritual and immortal side has a quite literal connection to water; in Greek mythology, Achilles’s mother was the sea goddess Thetis. The fluidity of water, however, also makes it an appropriate symbol for the spiritual world, which is not bound to fixed physical forms (e.g. bodies). By contrast, earth represents human physicality and mortality. This is true not only in a literal sense—Achilles, for instance, knows that his body will eventually “go back” to the soil—but also in a metaphorical one. In the aftermath of losing Patroclus, Achilles succumbs to a kind of living death, unable to move on or even feel anything other than emptiness and grief—a state the novel describes as “earth-heaviness.”
Earth and Water Quotes in Ransom
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 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.
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.
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.