The Iliad Compassion and Forgiveness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Richmond Lattimore's translation.
I myself, who was angry, now will give way before you,
since you were not formerly loose-minded or vain. It is only
that this time your youth got the better of your intelligence.
Beware another time of playing tricks on your betters. (23.601-605)
In this scene, Homer depicts a conflict getting defused before it gets out of hand. (To see the context, read Book 23, or check out our summary.) There are two interesting ingredients in this reconciliation (though you can probably find others). The first is understanding: Menelaos forgives Antilochos because he was young once too, and knows what that's like. The second is reciprocity, or, if you prefer, the idea that respect is a two-way street. Menelaos is going to let Antilochos off easy this time, but he expects him to smarten up in the future.
The son of Atreus rose, wide-powerful Agamemnon,
and Meriones rose up, Idomeneus' powerful henchman.
But now among them spoke swift-footed brilliant Achilleus:
"Son of Atreus, for we know how much you surpass all others,
by how much you are the greatest for strength among the spear-throwers,
therefore take this prize and keep it and go back to your hollow
ships […]." (23.887-893)
Sometimes actions speak louder than words. What could be a truer sign of the reconciliation between Achilleus and Agamemnon than Achilleus admitting Agamemnon's skill at spear-throwing?
How can you wish to go alone to the ships of the Achaians
before the eyes of a man who has slaughtered in such numbers
such brave sons of yours? The heart in you is iron. For if
he has you within his grasp and lays eyes upon you, that man
who is savage and not to be trusted will not take pity upon you
nor have respect for your rights. […]
I wish I could set teeth
in the middle of his liver and eat it. That would be vengeance
for what he did to my son. (24.203-208, 212-214)
Another great enemy of compassion is mistrust. In this case, Priam's wife (and Hektor's mother), Hekabe, tries to convince him not to go ask Achilleus for the body back, thinking he will just kill him. (And who could blame her, given what Achilleus has already done?) Because she is so full of mistrust, the only thing she can think of is vengeance – expressed with a savagery that so far we have only seen associated with Achilleus.