Ancient Greece Gives Us ‘A World of Emotions’

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

Wall Painting with Scene from the Sacrifice of Iphigeneia. Fresco on plaster, ca. 62 AD, from Pompeii. Casa del Poeta Tragico Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli / Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo)

NEW YORK—”Think of your father.” These words bring the Greek war hero Achilles to tears when the Trojan king, Priam, requests the delivery of his son’s mutilated body for burial. Achilles had bound the body of Priam’s son Hector behind his chariot and dragged it around the walls of Troy in a fit of rage over the death of a dear friend. Priam then summoned the humility to kneel before Achilles, kissed the hand of his enemy, and made his request.

Upon hearing Priam’s words, Achilles foresees how one day his own aging father might mourn the death of a son. With that realization, his anger transforms into grief. The Trojan king and the unbreakable Greek hero weep together, united by their shared humanity.

The ancient Greeks were well acquainted with representing intense emotions, as Homer elucidated in verse after