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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Malouf, David: Ransom

  Amazon  

5 stars

David Malouf's Ransom is a re-imagining of the events narrated in book 24 of Homer's Iliad. Achilles, mad with grief over the death of his friend Patroclus at Hector's hands, has slain Hector in turn. But contrary to convention, still savage in his unquenchable grief, Achilles daily abuses Hector's body, dragging it behind his chariot around the Greeks' camp, the insult further sorrow to Hector's parents and to the rest of the Trojans. Hector's father, Priam, the King of Troy, is visited by the goddess Iris, who bids him travel to the Greek camp and ransom his son's body. Priam does this, Achilles relents, and Priam returns home with the corpse, which the gods have preserved from decay and Achilles' degradations. Book 24 ends with Hector's funeral.

In Malouf's version the gods are not so clear in their intent. A divine vision gives Priam the glimmer of an idea, that, just perhaps, there is room for man to change his destiny through action, that the gods do not necessarily determine everything. From this spark is borne the idea of the ransom and Priam's journey to the Greek camp. The act is unprecedented. It is not done for a king to step outside his role as figurehead and act as mere man, a mortal father. Priam--apart from a day when he was six years old and seemed destined to a future as a slave--has lived his life in a royal bubble. In the real world he is an innocent, unused to the most mundane of experiences.

The most interesting thing that Malouf does with his story is to introduce a new character. In the Iliad Priam is accompanied on his trip to the Greek camp by his herald Idaeus. In Ransom Priam's companion is a simple carter, Somax, the owner of a pair of black mules and a wagon. For the purpose of the journey, because he is accustomed to being escorted by an Idaeus--though the man behind the name may change--Somax is given the herald's identity. It is Priam's experience passing time with this normal man, who, though respectful, has not been drenched in the royal conventions, that wakes Priam up to the realities of life lived outside the bubble.

Ransom is a short book, but it deserves a slow read. Malouf's syntax sometimes requires concentration; his language is very often beautiful:

"Achilles grunted, gave the sword another push. The whole weight of his body hung on the thrust. Weightless himself. All the force of his brute presence gone now into the blade as he urged it in. There was a still, extended moment when they were joined, he and Hector, by three hand-spans of tempered bronze."

It deserves mention too that the book itself, as physical object, is a beautiful thing, a small hardcover with Somax's black mule in shadows on the cover, and the texture of the dust jacket, somehow, like velvet. Much as I love reading on my Kindle, it can't match the experience of holding a book in this particular case.

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