There was a time before the written word, yet when the written word was still young, when story tellers were celebrities and the tales of Gods and heroes were recounted from memory around camp fires late into the night. David Malouf has us in mythical territory, and just like those story tellers of the ancient world, he seeks to recount a tale that is not without some relevance to our everyday lives.
In simple terms David Malouf conjures a dramatic, poetic retelling of Priam's meeting with Achilles, when the king of Troy seeks to pay ransom for the return of his son's body, Hector's body, whom Achilles has killed in combat and then proceeded to haul around the battlefield tied to the axle of his chariot day after day, eleven days so far, in a vain attempt to assuage his grief and guilt over the death of Patroclus, his closest and dearest companion. So, Achilles has lost Patroclus and Priam has lost his son, Troy's hero, Hector, only for Priam he is one of many sons, and he has never really known any of them, not as a father should, but only as a king knows an heir, the offspring of wife or concubine, remotely, tangentially, occasionally.
Malouf imagines a journey, a journey conceived by Priam himself as a simple ransom request, where he travels across the plain of battle to the camp of the Greeks, travels as a common man not a King, travels to the place where Achilles struggles with his demons, to seek, beg if necessary, ultimately to trade for his son's body, on a journey which becomes an awakening, where a King comes to understand a little of the ordinary lives of his subjects, what it is to be a father and in so doing becomes a father himself.
It is drama based on mythology and it applies to all our lives, just as the Greeks realised then when they sat around the camp fires late into the night and listened to the story tellers.