Exploring the Different and Somewhat Unique Characteristics of Hector in The Iliad

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

The Iliad is a tale that really lends itself to the eventual glory of the Greeks – most notably Achilles – and their endless resilience, pain and suffering. Yet, despite this, Hector is the perhaps the most interesting and heroic character present in the Iliad. Although, he does present the characteristics of what we would expect of a hero in a Homeric Epic, the Homer goes out of his way to manipulate the story to show another side of Hector – through his interactions with his family members. The pivotal moment in shaping Hector’s characterisation occurs at the end of XI, with his conversation with his wife, Andromache. In this conversation two key facets of his character are highlighted: his sense of duty in defending the city, regardless of knowing its fate, but perhaps more importantly, the text makes clear that Hector deeply cares about the future of his wife, who he knows will become a Greek slave when Troy falls. The contrast explored by Homer between seeing Hector in public – playing the role of a hero – and in private -playing the role as a loving and caring family man – allude to the inner struggles that Hector faces. This not only makes him seem relatable to the reader, but also largely increases the sympathy that one feels for him – ultimately making his death all the more tragic.

Hector from the offset is described as the greatest hero among the Trojans. He is first introduced to the reader in I, as ‘man slaughtering’ (81 : 241) as Achilles warns that if he withdraws from battle the tide may change. Thus, it is clear that Hector is seen as a highly dangerous and powerful hero who only the great Achilles can restrain. This image of him is continually built in the I-V. In II he is singled out as ‘The Trojan leader,’ (114 : 816) and also described as ‘Tall Hector of the shinning helm’ (114 : 815) To be described as such may seem that his appearance is almost God like. In III, we are able to see once clear instance were his own ideals are highlighted. These are shown when Paris retreats following Menelaus stepping up to duel him. Hector takes it upon himself to critique and ultimately convince Paris to fight. He does this through mainly insulting terms – ‘it would be better had you not been born …. Then to have you with us to our shame’ (118 : 39-42). This shows that Hector values Kleos as of key importance to himself, and to his family. He thinks it would be better to die fighting, rather than cower away losing face, especially in front of the enemy. However, despite this early portrayal, in IV and V, we begin to see cracks in Hector’s characters. In IV, we see that ‘the Champion of Troy gave back then’ (144 : 505) Perhaps one would expect such a champion to not be retreating, and to be fearless. In V, Hector is barely seen until the second half of the text, and even then he only appears because he is insulted by Sarpedon – ‘Where now, Hector, has gone that strength that was yours’ (159 : 471) Hector had earlier been gloating about his brilliant craft in battle. Thus, despite earlier indications, IV and V may suggest a crack in the idea of Hector being a brilliant Hero. Yet, to understand why he may have reservations, we must carefully analyse his motivations for fighting – and perhaps whether they can even be considered ‘heroic’ by Greek standards. To do this, we should carefully analyse VI.

The setting for XI is very important to understanding Hector’s character. He begins by leaving the battlefield and returning to ask the Trojan women ‘to make prayers to the immortals and promise them hecatombs,’ (174 : 114) in a hope to end Diomedes’ rage. Yet, at such a crucial time in the battle it is odd to contemplate why he would decided to leave the battlefield. After all ‘[he] is the greatest in every course [they] take, whether it in thought or fighting’ (173 : 78-9). When considering that Hector is the only character that we see properly interacting with his family, it is clear that Homer feels the need for the reader to witness Hector in this family environment to aid the development of the plot of the Epic. Having completed the task that Hector is sent on, he decides to complete two additional task. Firstly, to convince his brother to return to the fighting in order to assist in saving the city (180 : 326-30), which, certainly falls within the realm of reasonable from a military standpoint. Secondly, however, through his role as an epic hero, he has no reason to carry out his next personal visit – to his wife. The location of the meeting at the Gates of Troy may present an explanation for such a visit. This is the first time in the Epic that we see Homer and Andromache meeting in public, and the gates provide the perfect backdrop for the divide between their private life in Troy, and the slaughter occurring outside the gates. Despite, the fact that Andromache’s ‘speed to the wall’ (181 : 388) is characterised as that of a ‘woman gone mad’ (181 : 388-9), it provides Hector an opportunity to see the anxiety that his wife feels for him, and the deep care both share for each other. In fact, it is possible to suggest their final farewell when both husband and wife have reached the gates is representative as the bridge between their public and private roles. Thus, this moment is in not only included, but also emphasised by Homer in order to represent the struggles that warriors face between their two duties, on the very spot that they interchange.

During there interchange, Hector makes it clear that despite Andromache’s tearful and emotional protests that he has ‘learned to be valiant and to fight always among the foremost ranks of the Trojans’ (183 : 444-5) and despite the fact that he believes ‘there will come a day when sacred Ilion shall perish,” (183 : 446-8) he must continue to fight because otherwise how would he look upon the Trojans ‘if [he] was to shrink aside from the fighting’ (183 : 443) This displays the classic tenants of heroism in Homeric society – to fight valiantly, but to also have concern for how one is looked upon by others. This sense of duty has tragic consequences in XXII when he is struck down by Achilles. Yet, despite the fact that this may be perceived as selfish towards his own family, in reality, it is clear that Hector knows his own fate, and the fate that the city will fall. Thus, it is possible to suggest that he is fighting not for glory among the Trojans, but instead it may be more of a vein fight to attempt to save his family. When his death does come around, he accepts it heroically, and only cares for the fate of his family and most importantly to him his wife. However, despite his inner feelings, it is clear that to Hector he is expected to act differently in public. Thus, when in VII he he challenges the Greeks to a duel, he suggests that either Troy of ‘strong towers’ (188 : 71-2) will fall or that the Greeks will be ‘broken’ (188 : 73) beside their vessels – showing that especially when in front of one’s enemies or your own people, a hero may not share their true thoughts. Thus, the exchanges mentioned show the importance of duty to Hector to his dominion, while simultaneously showing his inner conflict and worry about his family – which is arguably his primary motivation for fighting. After all, the first time that Hector features prominently in the poem is when he is surrounded by his family members – perhaps notifying that at heart he is a family man. But, nevertheless even if he has lost hope with Troy, and is only defending his family, the outcome is the same – he must look strong and courageous as the protector of Troy.

The final passage that one’s attention should be drawn too, when exploring Hector’s motivation for fighting is the interaction between Hector and his son in VI. At first, his son is scared, ‘screaming and frightened at the aspect of his own father’ (183 : 468) However, once again Hector shows his family side, by lifting his ‘helmet from his head’ (183 : 472) Homer’s symbolic use of dress can serve to help us understand further Hector’s motivations for fighting. At first, this unbeknown warrior is frightening to his son, which changes once he removes the helmet for his head. In a society where child raising seems to be left to the mother, it seems odd that Hector would be so comfortable ‘toss[ing] him about in his arms.’ (184 : 474) Yet, this confirms the love that Hector has for his family. Nevertheless, we then see Hector turn towards his role as Troy’s protector as he begins praying to Zeus that his own son will ‘rule strongly over Ilion’ (184 : 478) and in some of his final words in the Epic to Andromache, he once again reaffirms the fact that he has to go and fight because ‘all the men must see to the fighting …. But I more than others’ (184 : 494).


Read more