David Malouf's Ransom Essay

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David Malouf’s revision of Homer’s famous Iliad, Ransom, explores the conventional stereotype of the hero and questions the traditional idea of courage. Malouf challenges the ancient Greek understanding of heroism, which was primarily centered on prowess, power and confidence. He questions this characterization and suggests that celebrating a hero who is dehumanized by the rage and violence of war is unwise. Malouf shows that there are greater acts of courage than those achieved in battle. He argues that it takes great courage to break free of convention and expectation.

Ransom questions the classical interpretation of the hero as a powerful warrior, and instead subverts this understanding by presenting those individuals as anti-heroes. Achilles, the hero of the Iliad and the quintessential embodiment of power and the “warrior spirit”, is presented by Malouf “hunker[ing] down… shoulders hunched” in the opening of the text. From the outset the reader is presented with a weak anti-hero so troubled he is searching for “the voice of his mother”. Hardly an impenetrable hero, he is “darkly divided”. Heracles, a figure from Priam’s early history, too is a hero. “The whole terrible machinery of the man” is just “rank meatiness” unable to understand Hesione, Priam’s sister, and her compassion in trying to rescue her brother destined for a life of slavery. Such love is beyond his realm of understanding, he “expected [Hesione] to choose some gaudy trinket”. Malouf portrays Heracles as “foolish” and a “brute”. Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son and avenger, is like his father a “youthful hero”. He goes to Troy’s palace to kill king Priam in the final section of novel where Malouf travels out of the immediate time frame. In what is supposed to be a triumphant and heroic deed turns awry when Neoptolemus botches the killing of Priam, he is left feeling “heartsickness, animal sadness, despondency”. Neoptolemus, who was supposed to triumphantly avenge his fathers death instead...
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