Compare and Contrast Achilles and Hector From the Iliad
- Date:Jul 30, 2019
- Category:The Iliad
- Topic:The Iliad Essays
The Trojan War does not portray Troy as a tyrannical of vice, deserving destruction by the courageous, virtuous Greeks. Troy is a targetedby the warlike Greeks, whose virtues lie in their prowess, and who want nothing more but to despoil the fair city, beloved of the gods. The Trojans, seeking to defend their homeland, are the protagonists of the Iliad; and the epic unfolds into a tragedy.
Hector and Achilles represent the best of the two sides, and the prowess of one is a match for the other’s. The sheer force of their will rallies the Greeks and the Trojans to battle. They care deeply for honour, as when Hector chastised his brother Paris for his initial cowardliness in battle, or when the proud Agamemnon stained the honour of Achilles by taking his captive maiden from him. Their skills in battle are also similar; the generals of the Greeks and the Trojans initially fight in cars (chariots), wielding javelins at their enemies. On foot they use their javelins in ranged and close combat; and when these fail, they draw out swords.
They are, however, markedly different on what they stand for. Hector is a champion of Troy; he is the warrior that leads his countrymen to battle. He is the warrior who will fight for hearth and home, whose stake is his family and his loved ones. He is attached to the fate of Troy. Achilles, meanwhile, is a warrior of feats. He is the kind of hero that one hears of accomplishing impossible acts of strength, surpassing the skill of any man. He is heroic in his daring feats of power; but he is not heroic for any country. Therefore he finds little kindred with the king Agamemnon and the Greek cause.
To him, the Trojan war is only one more avenue to display his prowess, nothing more. One might hear of Achilles in other battlefields, and in other kingdoms; one might hear of Achilles wrestling with warriors of repute, across any nation; but Hector’s fate lies with Troy.
The consequent acts of both characters, then, would make sense according to how they view the conflict. Hector will stand by his adulterous brother, because at stake is Troy itself. He will see the war to the end. Achilles, meanwhile, only wants what is due to him. He doesn’t care what the war is about. To him, like to most of the other Greek heroes, it is more about the glory in the field. Naturally, when he is dishonoured by the king he nominally owes fealty to, he easily refuses any more combat. His loyalty is not as deeply attached to the Greek cause as Hector’s is to Troy’s. One might as well have asked Hercules to fight for the Greeks; for in Hercules’ case, his reason for leaving a quest was just as petty: he lost a companion to a nymph and refused to go on.
At the heart of the Iliad is Troy. Because of this, the story will naturally revolve around Troy’s most beloved son, Hector. Hector is the soul of Troy, and the epic will leave and breathe his life. All the other heroes and characters are in the background. Even Achilles does not play as major a role as Hector. So long as the Trojan lives, Troy will live to see another day.
Hector’s character is the most fleshed out in the Iliad. Though Homer gives every warrior his due and narrates each one’s homes, family and loved ones as he fades from life, the story of Hector includes that of his brother, his wife and infant child, his family, and his Troy. He has the most time on the battlefield, being the chief commander of the Trojan camp.
One gets to peek at Achilles’ life only from the few scenes where he is present. There is the first scene of the Iliad, the deputation, and the fateful death of his companion Patroclus and his following acts of vengeance. This is not his story, after all.
Achilles’ scenes stand aloof of the war itself. When he goes out to battle, it is to seek vengeance. It is like a quest in the middle of a war where his prowess seeks him. He finds humility and humanity from the pleading of a piteous King Priam. He is out of place in the Trojan War, a demigod forced to fight in a war of men. For this reason, it would be equally logical to set his story apart from the Iliad itself.
The Iliad is a tragedy of Troy and consequently of Hector, while Achilles becomes the main plot device that drives it to tragedy. The unfolding scenes of the despair of the Greeks and Patroclus’ sacrifice were meant only to prepare for the final act of the Iliad where Hector finally meets his doom. Achilles was just the instrument. If one is to analyse the ending and then review the story, it can be said that the Greek warrior was indeed implicitly present throughout the Trojan conflict. He was a doom held back until the last moment, making Hector’s struggles all the more heroic.