He seizes the old man by his hair, and drags him, slipping in the blood of his son, to the altar to dispatch him. Later we hear that Priam’s body has been left on the shore, missing its head, for the animals to eat. It is not enough for Pyrrhus to have killed him, he must also dishonor him—mutilating his body and depriving his soul of its eternal peace. The hope kindled in the meeting between Achilles and Priam is snuffed, utterly, by the son.
Once inside the palace, Pyrrhus chases down the Trojan prince Polites, killing him in front of his father, the aged King Priam, who has taken shelter at the household alters. The old king, in one of the most moving moments in the Aeneid, rises, trembling with grief and age, to deliver a ringing speech that calls down the wrath of the gods upon Pyrrhus for his double blasphemy: killing a son in front of his father, and defiling a sanctuary. As a further reproach, he compares him to his father, unfavorably: “Not even Achilles behaved so to me. He knew how to respect the laws of the suppliant; he returned my son’s body to me, and sent me safely home again.” This is a reference to the famous scene in the Iliad where Priam goes to Achilles’ tent to beg for Hector’s body, and Achilles relents–a shining moment of mercy and hope in an otherwise bloody work.
Neoptolemus grew up with a head of red-gold hair, and so earned the nickname Pyrrhus (fiery, the same root as the word pyre). Of his childhood, we know little other than that he was raised on Scyros by his mother and grandfather, with help from Thetis. Like his father, he was named in a prophecy: Troy would never fall unless Pyrrhus came to fight for the Greeks. When his father was killed in the tenth year of the Trojan War, Pyrrhus sailed for Troy. If the timing seems off to you, it is—even if we give Achilles a few years to get to Troy, Pyrrhus should still only be around twelve, absolute maximum.
Briseis, Achilles’ spear-captured bride, was a fascinating part of this production, and an excellent contrast to the unwavering, loyal Andromache so idealized in the Iliad. Homer never gives her a voice, but Briseis as written by Eaton and played by Nicole Dalton is strident and progressive, jaded, tough, and witty. She recognizes that Trojans and Greeks alike see her as inferior due to her gender, but uses her allure to her advantage and the advantage of her city. Here, her capture by the Greeks is shown to be an intentional ploy meant to place her before Achilles as a distraction. Is her apparent affection for Achilles a cunning performance meant to win his confidence and keep his attention away from the fighting? Or would Eaton have us believe a prisoner might fall so quickly for her captor? It is right that we are ever unsure. Denied control over her own fate, Briseis walks a dangerous line with her loyalties divided between her cousin Hector and her lover Achilles. Eaton’s writing conveys this nuance well.
Comparison of Book Iliad and the Film Troy | Achilles | Hector
Other departures from the source material were smaller in scale but crucial to effect. Eaton makes Hector less certain that he will fall to Achilles’ sword. If he does die, Hector says, in order for Troy to continue on, “All that needs to survive is / The smallest ember.” This hopefulness struck a sentimental note not only not present in the original, but at odds with the political symbolism seemingly at work between the lines elsewhere in the play. The Hector of the Iliad minces no words when he tells his wife Andromache there will come a day when sacred Ilium will fall, and Priam and the sons of Priam will fall by an ashen spear. That tragic force is diminished rather than deepened by the superfluous (and thoroughly modern) hope Hector bears with him into battle.
It is demonstrated by Achilles and Hector
Achilles’ sea-nymph mother, Thetis, desperate to keep her son from an early death at Troy, dressed him as a woman and hid him on the island of Scyros, in the court of King Lycomedes. But Lycomedes’ daughter, Deidameia, discovered the fraud, and she and Achilles conceived a child—Neoptolemus. Shortly thereafter, Achilles was found out, and sailed for Troy, leaving his wife and unborn child behind, for good.
Comparison and Contrast of Hector and Achilles
Sadly, that is only the beginning. After killing Priam, Pyrrhus goes in search of Andromache, Hector’s wife. When he finds her, he seizes from her arms her infant son, Astyanax, and smashes his brains out against the wall. (In fact, in some lurid versions of the story, he uses the baby’s body to club the grandfather Priam before killing him.) Andromache herself he takes captive, as his slave-wife. It is a horrifying cruelty: forcing her to share the bed of the man who murdered her son, and whose father murdered her husband. Then, before returning to Greece, Pyrrhus sacrifices the princess Polyxena on his father’s tomb.