Priam bravely chooses to do "something impossible. Something new", and emphasises that his overture to the enemy is "novel, unthinkable". There is a literary manifesto in Malouf's varying of the repeated adjective. In the eighteenth century the novel counted as a new form because it had the courage to secede from classical rules. More was at stake than technical innovation: the novel brought about a moral renovation when it looked away from the rampages of ruffians like Achilles and instead investigated the quiet lives of those who, like Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch, rest in "unvisited tombs". The Iliad concludes with Hector's grandiose funeral ceremonies, which last for ten days. But near the end of Ransom, Achilles is taken aback to find himself thinking "unheroic thoughts" about the sanitary preparations for those rites, taken care of by laundresses and washerwomen who compel him to leave before they go to work on Hector's body. Only a novel can penetrate this private, secret world, from which a hero who performs his brutish deeds of valour in the public arena is debarred.
Although Homer invented literature, that was only a beginning. He left later writers with the obligation to reinvent it, adjusting it to new realities. In Ransom, the all-seeing and modestly all-knowing Malouf has done exactly that.
Priam objects in principle to the notion that our stories are written in advance by the gods. He might be objecting on Malouf's behalf to the predestining power of myth, which makes our lives mere recapitulations of some previous event and turns every mother-dominated son into Oedipus or every father-fixated daughter into Electra. Malouf himself breaks that transfixing spell when he reinterprets the Homeric story; in the same way, he made Ovid, whom he calls "the poet of ‘the changes'", undergo a wrenching moral metamorphosis in An Imaginary Life. Hecuba warns Priam against the metaphysical offence involved in this revisionism: "Imagine what it would lead to, what would be permitted. The randomness, the violence. Imagine the panic it would spread." She is prematurely paraphrasing