ransom essay

Submitted By Shyam-Kannan
Words: 793
Pages: 4

During the interlude at the stream, fish tickle Priam's toes, midges swarm on his sweat-puddled skin, cicadas shrill and falling leaves spiral through the air. Priam half-hears the carter prattling and reflects that ours is "a prattling world", a buzzing sensorium of diffuse, distracting incidents. It is a revolutionary perception, comparable to Virginia Woolf's account of experience as a blitz of atoms in her essay ‘Modern Fiction'. Epics want to tell the greatest story of all: the fall of Troy, the fall of man. But in Malouf's Troy, as in any modern city, neighbours go to war "over the most trivial affronts". Novels are content with trivia, and know how to find meaning in circumstantial minutiae or stray reminiscences. Hecuba recalls that the infant Troilus was slow to walk, and reminds Priam that she was in labour with Hector for 18 hours. An epic would discount these details, which predate the heroic adulthood of her sons; for a novelist, such anecdotal prattle tells the most confidential and emotionally endearing tales.
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