Comparing and Contrasting Paris and Hector of Iliad
Hector does not express any unwillingness in being the leader of the army that defended the city of Troy, until the fated day of his death in the hands of Achilles. Paris, who is the root of it all, almost ended up with the same fate as Hector in the hands of Menelaus, the husband of Helen. By taking away Helen from Menelaus, Paris endangered the city of Troy. But Paris is evading a confrontation. Infuriated by the behavior of his brother, Hector remarks (Rieu 1950, 65):
Is this how you were when you got up a crew
And sailed overseas, hobnobbed with the warrior caste
In a foreign country and sailed off with
A beautiful woman with marriage ties to half of them?
You’re nothing but trouble for your father and your city,
A joke to your enemies and an embarrassment to yourself (Book 3. 50-56)
Thus, Paris agrees to fight and provokes Menelaus into a duel. The rewards for the champion are the Helen and the war’s finale. The fight is indecisive and only the intrusion of the deities can give the conclusion. With Aphrodite’s intrusion, Menelaus wins the duel. The war carried on. In a somewhat similar scenario, Hector confronts Achilles. Hector accidentally kills Patroclus, Achilles’s favorite friend and highly valued comrade, which deeply angered Achilles. Both Hector and Paris took away someone valuable in the lives of their foes, which then spurred the two most memorable duels in Iliad. But the way Hector deals with the challenge differs from how Paris confronts Menelaus.
When Paris sees Menelaus approaching, he feels indescribable fear, and retreats and hides at the back of the Trojans. Hector is embarrassed seeing his brother cower in front of this enemy. So he insults Paris and provokes him to confront Menelaus. Paris then approaches the Trojan line, gripping his spear. This act is intended to show that he is not asking for a fight. King Menelaus then says (Lombardo 1997, 53):
Listen to me, for this is my affair. It is well that the Greeks and Trojans should be at peace, for there is no quarrel between them. Let me and Paris fight together, and let him of us two, be slain whose fate it is to die. And now let us make a sacrifice to the gods, and swear a great oath over it that we will keep to our agreement. Only let King Priam himself come and offer the sacrifice and take the oath, for he is more to be trusted than the young men his sons (Book 3.100-112).
Paris at last agrees to fight Menelaus, proclaiming that the duel will decide peace between Achaeans and Trojans. But during the fight, Paris succumbs to Menelaus and without the help of Aphrodite Paris could have died.
Similar to Paris, Hector is also provoked to a duel with Achilles. Yet, unlike Paris, Hector faces Achilles courageously. He does not give way to the persuasion of his father and wife to avoid the duel with Achilles. Hector, unlike Paris, who refuses to take responsibility for his actions, completely redeems himself by refusing to hide behind the walls of Troy. He cannot will himself to show cowardice after seeing the deaths caused by his unwise instructions to camp outside the city’s fortifications. And lastly, unlike Paris, Hector does not receive any help from the gods which leads to his ultimate death.
Lombardo, S. Iliad. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997.
Rieu, E.V. The Iliad Books 16-18. New York: Penguin Books, 1950.