King Priam in The Iliad: Characteristics & Analysis

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

King Priam is the Trojan king in Homer's 'The Iliad'. He is a caring father and courageous king, but he lets Paris, his son, do as he pleases, which results in the fight with the Achaeans. This lesson teaches you all about King Priam's character.


You've probably seen a dad give in after seeing his son throw a temper tantrum before, right? In Homer's The Iliad, King Priam is that dad. King Priam is the king of Troy and the father of Hector and Paris (and over fifty other children). He has many strengths, which include empathy, love for his sons, courage, and a desire to protect his people. Those strengths, in many cases, turn out to be some of his greatest weaknesses too. But hey, it's better to have complex, human characters than predictable ones. This lesson will teach you about King Priam's character, and we will analyze him by looking at a series of quotes.

Priam is Courageous

Priam is a courageous king and father. After Achilles kills Hector and drags his body back the Achaean camps, Priam sneaks into the camps to ask for Hector's body back. He is surrounded by his enemy, and yet he is willing to do anything to get his son back and give him a Trojan burial.

When he arrives at Achilles's tent, he says to Achilles, ''Honor the gods, Achilles; pity him. Think of your father; I'm more pitiful; I've suffered what no other mortal has, I've kissed the hand of one who killed my children. 'He spoke, and stirred Achilles' grief to tears; He gently pushed the old man's hand away…''

Priam sobs and he kisses the hand of his enemy because he so desperately wants his son's body back. His willingness to put himself in harm's way shows how courageous Priam is despite his other weaknesses as a leader.

Priam and the Will of the Gods

Sure, the gods definitely interfered with the start of the Trojan War because Aphrodite offered Helen to Paris even though she was already married…but that doesn't mean the couple is blameless, does it? Priam would argue that it does make them blameless because he holds so much faith in the gods that he fails to see any fault in mortals.

When Priam and Helen sit on the walls, preparing to watch the fight between Paris and Menelaus, Priam says to Helen, ''take your seat in front of me that you may see your former husband, your kinsmen and your friends. I lay no blame upon you, it is the gods, not you who are to blame. It is they that have brought about this terrible war with the Achaeans…''

Priam removes any accountability from Helen, citing that everything that has happened and that will happen is in the hands of the gods. Priam's dedication to fate and the will of the gods prevents him from making practical choices. He relies on signs from the gods, and when things go good or bad, he points to the gods. Priam means well, but he could have forced Paris to give Helen back, instead of allowing a major war to occur because he felt it was the will of the gods.

Priam Doesn't Have the Heart to Watch Paris Die

Priam loves his sons. In fact, when Hector dies, he wishes that the rest of his children would have died in his place. He is a man who has the ability to love with deep emotion. But before Hector's death, Priam shows affection for Priam right before the duel between Paris and Menelaus.

After they have prayed and swore to fight honorably, Priam says, ''Hear me, Trojans and Achaeans, I will now go back to the wind-beaten city of Troy: I dare not with my own eyes witness this fight between my son and Menelaus, for Zeus and the other immortals alone know which shall fall.''

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