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Priam


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In myth, son of Laomedon; king of Troy at the time of its destruction by Agamemnon. When Laomedon refused to pay Heracles the promised reward for saving Hesione from the sea‐monster, Heracles killed Laomedon and all of his sons except Priam, whom he spared and made king of Troy. Priam's principal wife was Hecuba, though he had other wives and concubines. He was father of 50 sons including Hector, Paris, Deiphobus, Helenus, and Troilus, and daughters including Cassandra and Polyxena (though the latter is not mentioned by Homer). When the Greeks came to Troy with Agamemnon, Priam was already an old man. Homer depicts him as an amiable character, tender to Helen, although he disapproves of the war and its cause, respected even by his enemies for his integrity and esteemed by most of the gods (though Hera and Athena are hostile) for his piety. He takes part in the truce and has returned to the city before it is broken. He tries to persuade Hector to come to safety within the walls after the rout of the Trojans and after his death goes to the Greek camp to ransom his body, moving Achilles to pity (Iliad 24). The lost ‘Sack of Troy’ (see epic cycle) told of his death at the fall of Troy, killed by Neoptolemus while taking refuge at the altar of Zeus Herkeios in his own palace. The most powerful description in surviving literature is bk. 2 of Virgil's Aeneid. Priam's name became almost proverbial for a man who had known the extremes of contrasting fortunes.

Neoptolemus killing Priam at the altar is a popular scene in art from the early 6th cent. on, as a separate scene or as the centre of a Sack of Troy, and is often associated with the death of Hector's young son, Astyanax. Priam is also shown coming to ransom Hector's body from Achilles.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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