The Character of Hector: Tragically Human

March 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

The Iliad celebrates the heroics of some of the most famous Greek heroes, yet perhaps the most memorable character to appear in the epic poem is the Trojan warrior Hector. Throughout the poem, we get the impression that Homer treats Hector as a unique character who should be looked at differently from the Greek heroes. While the likes of Achilles and Diomedes fight thousands of miles from their homelands to achieve glory and to make a name for themselves, Hector fights to protect and defend his family and Trojan homeland which stands a mere heartbeat away from battle. In Book 6 he tells his wife Andromache that he fights to prevent her from being forced into slavery by the Achaean armies. With no other character in the poem are we given such a touching insight into their personal life or inner-most feelings. In this scene as well as many others, we see Hector as something different than the other heroes of the poem; he appears to us as both a mighty and fearsome warrior and a loving and compassionate “human” who is inevitably racing towards his own tragic fate.The first time we are really introduced to Hector’s character is in Book 3 when he chastises his brother Paris for running from Menelaus. In this scene we see Hector as a brother, which introduces a recurring theme of Hector appearing in many different kinds of relationships with people; we will later view him as a husband, a father, a son and a leader of men. As a brother to Paris, Hector does not hold back in his frequent disgust in Paris’ many less than heroic actions. In this particular scene, Hector is obviously displeased with Paris’ cowardice and he has no reservations in showing it. In his relationship with Paris, Hector clearly looks down upon his younger brother and treats him with disdain, but we also get a feeling of some type of brotherly love and human care. Hector is constantly criticizing Paris’ actions, yet he does so because he wants to make Paris act more like a man. In this particular instance, Hector’s show of disgust shames Paris enough that he gathers the courage to face Menelaus. Hector has succeeded in getting what he wants from Paris; that is to take more responsibility for his actions and to act more heroically as his position as a Trojan prince necessitates.Hector once again rebukes the actions of Paris in Book 6 when Hector returns to Troy for a brief hiatus from fighting. In this scene, Paris is making love to Helen when he should be helping the Trojan cause, considering that it was his kidnapping of Helen that unleashed the fury of the Greek armies in the first place. This scene is a further characterization of Hector’s attitude towards Paris; however, Book 6 also contains many other events that further flesh out Hector’s character and relationship towards other people.Hector’s mother Hecuba is the first person to greet him on his return to Troy. Their relationship is one of family love and bonding, and they both treat each other with mutual care and compassion. While their interaction may not be as fleshed out as Hector’s relationship with Paris, Hecuba’s greeting of Hector is extremely important in the poem because she is the first person he sees after he has departed from the battlefield. Homer immediately contrasts the brutality of war with the loving ties of family by having Hector interact with his mother so soon after coming off the battlefield. This reminder of the humanity of the warriors is crucial to the emotional undercurrent of the poem.In Book 6, we also find Hector having an encounter with Helen for the first time. There relationship is an interesting one; Hector could easily hold resentment and contempt for the woman who is the cause of so much grief, yet he does not seem to single her out or blame her. He also perhaps resists some type of pass made by Helen, who asks him to come sit with her because she feels pity for him in that he is the one hit hardest by the fighting that she has caused. But Hector proves to be above the pettiness of self-pity or any other distraction that will cause him to lose his focus. The strength of Hector’s resolve is plainly illustrated here, for he wants to see his wife and his infant son and will not be bothered by insignificant things. This is in stark contrast to Paris, who is easily swayed and enticed by his own desires and who constantly tries to take the easy way out.The scene between Hector and his wife and son is one of the most powerful and moving passages in The Iliad. Here we clearly see Hector as a family man capable of the same love that all husbands and fathers normally show. Perhaps Homer is using Hector as an example for all of the warriors of the poem because they all have families themselves and personal stories beneath their exploits on the battlefield. Homer reminds us of the humanity of the soldiers by showing Hector here with his family; however, because he is the only character we are actually given this personal insight to, Hector seems to stand apart from the other major characters of the poem.Andromache pleas with Hector to refrain from battle because she has lost her father and her brother at the hands of mighty Achilles, and Hector is now all that she has left. But Hector knows that she is in more danger if he stays away from the fighting, and he confesses to her that the desire to prevent her from being carried off as a slave is the principle driving force behind his fighting spirit. This strikes us as rather unusual for such a great fighter, for at heart he appears not to be a warrior but a loving husband. While we are never specifically given insight into the inner psyches of most of the other great fighters of The Iliad, we are generally led to believe that their quest for glory and honor is what drives them to excel in war. Homer separates Hector in this way because he shows him to fight for that which he loves and wants to protect, and this perhaps creates a deeper connection between us and Hector because his reasons for fighting have more qualities of simple humanity than heroism.Hector’s relationship with his son Astyanax also helps to separate him as a character. In an absolutely unforgettable scene, Hector raises his infant son to the sky and proclaims that he wants his son to grow up to be greater than himself. In a poem filled with characters possessing incredible ego’s and stubborn pride, here exists a humbling statement made by one of the mightiest of its warriors. This might be the most human and compassionate of all of Hector’s actions; he does not care about the satisfaction of his own ego as a soldier as much as he does about wanting the best for his son. The theme of a father loving and wanting more for his son than he has himself is a universal human sentiment that spans the course of human history. Homer has created much empathy for Hector because he does not simply appear to us as a great warrior but as someone who shares the same values as most ordinary men.While there are many instances in The Iliad showing Hector as an ordinary human being, most of his time in the poem is spent with him being the great and fearsome warrior that he is most traditionally known for. In Book 7, he challenges the Achaean troops to send their finest warrior to face him in a duel to the death. Hector’s challenge illustrates partly his brazen and courageous attitude when it comes to fighting, and it also shows that he has as much a desire for fame and glory as do the other warriors. Here we also find out how much the Greeks respect and fear his skills, as Homer writes, “A hushed silence went through all the Achaean ranks, ashamed to refuse, afraid to take his challenge…” (Iliad 7.106-107). In the end, the Achaeans agree to draw lots among their finest warriors to choose who will fight the mighty Hector, and Great Ajax is picked and duels the man to a standstill. One of the functions of this scene is for Homer to establish Hector’s prowess and fame on the battlefield, establishing him as equal to or better than all the great Greek warriors save Achilles. While there are many other Trojan warriors whom Homer illustrates as brilliant, there are none that he really puts on the same level as the Greek heroes except for Hector.Of all the heroes in the poem, perhaps there is none so loved by the king of Gods Zeus as is Hector. It is Zeus who helps Hector rout the Achaeans in Book 8 and drive them all the way back to their ships. It is also Zeus’ love for Hector that partially allows him in Book 14 to burn one of the Greek ships and threaten to end the war right there. In all of these passages, Hector carries all before him, clearly towering above all other soldiers on the battlefield and striking the fear of death deep into the hearts and minds of the Greeks. But the real reason Zeus allows this is because it is the will of fate; he will let Hector and the Trojans drive the Achaeans back to their ships only because it will force Achilles back into battle. From then on, the Trojans will be driven back into the walls of Troy by Achilles, and their city will eventually fall. Hector knows that this is the fate of his city, yet he has become too self-deluded by his own greatness and pride to accept this. The tragic elements of Hector’s story start to come out in full force now; he fails to see that he is merely an instrument of the gods and fate, and this is what will eventually lead to his downfall. This is understandable though because Hector is too great a character to lie down and accept the will of the gods. In this way, Homer is perhaps further showing the humanity of Hector; we are all subject to forces beyond our control, yet it is the way we live our lives in the face of these forces that shapes our character and determines what kind of people we are.Hector’s downfall begins sometime around the events of Book 16, in which Patroclus dons the armor of Achilles and returns the Myrmidons to battle. Hector’s pride and self-delusion begin to get the best of him in this Book, as he kills Patroclus, strips him of his armor and threatens to drag his body back to Troy. Hector is unable to grasp the fact that it was the work of the gods that caused the death of Patroclus, and his defiance is further showed in his wearing of Achilles armor and his threat of mutilating the body of Patroclus. Homer is foreshadowing Hector’s own tragic destiny; Hector has put on the armor of Achilles, a far greater fighter, and intends to drag Patroclus’ body back to Troy as a warning to the Greek armies. In Book 22, Hector will be brought down by Achilles, who then drags his body back to the Achaean camps in retribution for Patroclus’ death. If Hector is a tragic hero, than his tragic flaw would be his stubbornness to accept the force of fate and his own delusional belief in a Trojan victory. But beneath these flaws are the works of understandable human feelings; Hector does all this because of his desire to protect Troy, his people and his family.In Book 18, Hector makes a glaring misjudgment that he and the Trojans will pay for dearly. Instead of listening to Polydamas, who says that with Achilles’ return the Trojan army should return to their city where it is less dangerous, Hector obstinately refuses to leave and keeps his army camped out in the field, close to the Achaean forces. Hector fails to see that the fury of Achilles will soon be unleashed, and that that man’s wrath, previously aimed at Agamemnon, will now be focused and borne upon by Hector’s shoulders. Thousands of Trojan soldiers will soon perish because of Hector’s mistake, which was partially caused by Hector’s self-isolation from his comrades and from reality. Hector cutting himself off from his fellow humans in some way parallels Achilles’ seclusion from society. However, Achilles was fueled by his own divine anger and by the injury to his pride; Hector has been blinded by the success Zeus has given him, and he does not want to give up the hope that Troy can be saved from ruin.Hector’s death in Book 22 of The Iliad can be seen as the climax of the epic poem, further illustrating the incredible importance that Hector’s story bears on the work. Hector standing alone prepared to meet Achilles outside the gates of Troy is one of the most symbolically significant events of the poem. Here these two foils who serve as the two principle characters of the poem meet each other in a separate arena and battlefield than simple war. Together, their encounter seems to take place beyond merely the physical world and exists on an artistic plain of two polar forces clashing with each other to determine the literary outcome of the poem.Before he meets Achilles, Homer gives us one last glimpse of Hector as a son, as both his parents Priam and Hecuba plead with him to take shelter behind Troy’s walls. But Hector cannot listen to their cries, for there are far greater forces that are compelling him to stand tall and face Achilles2E In one of the most brutally honest insights into his inner self, Hector debates as to what course of action he should take. He realizes that he alone is to blame for what has happened, saying, “Now my army’s ruined, thanks to my own reckless pride” (Iliad 22.124). The realization of this enhances the tragic quality of Hector’s downfall.For one last time, Hector attempts to delay his own fate by running from Achilles when he first seems him, letting himself being chased around the walls of Troy three times. It is only through the trickery of Athena that Hector turns to face his tormentor; perhaps proving that in the end Hector still is reluctant to accept the course of life that fate has ordained for him2E Even though he does not want to accept his death, he still meets it valiantly and heroically, and perhaps finally embraces it when he says, “My time has come! At last the gods have called me down to death.” (Iliad 22.350-351). But even in this acceptance, there are still hints of the strength of Hector’s resolve and his rebellion towards fate. Right before he rushes to duel Achilles, Hector proudly proclaims, “Well let me die—but not without struggle, not without glory…” (Iliad 22.359-360). Even in the face of his own demise, Hector still stubbornly clings on to the hope that he is stronger than the forces that control the lives of men and that he can perhaps kill Achilles and save Troy. Thus, his death at the hands of Achilles is the most moving and tragic of all the many deaths that occur in The Iliad.Hector’s death effectively symbolizes the fate of Troy itself. Though the war will continue, Troy will soon be plundered and destroyed now that its guardian Hector has been killed. The poem does not narrate the fall of Troy; the last action of war that it deals with is the death of Hector. This fact further separates Hector from the rest of the warriors; even Achilles does not mean so much to his side’s cause.Though The Iliad is mainly seen as the story of the rage of Achilles and its consequences, the poem ends not with Achilles but with Hector. This might show Homer’s secret sentimentality for the character of Hector and that perhaps he views him as more important to his epic than even Achilles. When Hector’s body is brought back to Troy, Andromache, Hecuba and Helen speak on behalf of the greatness of Hector’s character. This is a touching moment to end such a violent epic, and we finish our reading of The Iliad with the character and tragedy of Hector most glaring in our thoughts.The Iliad is an epic poem that traditionally is thought of as being about Greek heroes. Homer’s characterization of the Trojan prince Hector seems to rebuff this sentiment, as Hector’s story can easily be argued to be the main driving force behind the literary achievements of the poem. Homer holds nothing back in showing Hector to be a special character who is deeply complex and important. It is in his characterization of Hector that Homer is probably most able to convey his deep artistic truths and display his own literary genius.

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