Hector, Achilles, and the Battle of Troy

  1. As detailed in the ballad, the Iliad, the primary conflict during the siege of Troy centered around two mighty fighters, Hector of Troy and Achilles, warrior of Greece. Both of these men fought valiantly against the rival armies. Both were known as valiant fighters. They were highly respected by those who held greater power than themselves, as well as their fellow warriors and countrymen. The two men were able to command the attention and respect, of not only mortals, but of the gods themselves. This, however, is where their similarities ended.

Hector was able to achieve more than the respect of his people; he gained their love. As the prince of troy, he commanded justly and kindly. He led by example, heading battle charges and feeling guilty if ever he left the battle for even a short time. He was a family man, well loved by his wife and attentive to his child. At Hector’s death Hellen weeps while detailing the way in which Hector defended her and befriended her. Hector’s father goes to great lengths to reclaim Hector’s body. The city halts its defensive strategies for twelve days to lament the death of Hector, their hero.

Although Achilles was an esteemed warrior he was feared by those he commanded. Achilles, in the Iliad, is a slave to his anger and pride. In the beginning of the story he nearly kills Agamemnon, his king, and is only just stopped by the goddess Athena. When Achilles does not get his way he pouts and cries to his mother to fix it. Achilles is disrespectful to the messengers of Agamemnon, and ignores the king’s attempt to restore relations. After defeating Hector, he will not give the body up for honorable burial, but attempts at first to desecrate it. Although the fighting skills of Achilles are coveted, few wish to be around the man himself.

  1. Achilles is brought back into his balance when he sees Hector’s father lamenting over the body of Hector. During the battle, rage is the only god that Achilles submits to. Morals have ceased to exist, boundaries that once guided him have vanished. Achilles demonstrates his complete loathing for his enemy by dragging his body behind horses. Achilles is able to dehumanize Hector in his mind so that he becomes a symbol of his victory over the Trojans. Seeing Hector’s father however, he can no longer desensitize himself. He sees his own father in the man. As he remembers who he is in relation to other human being’s — outside of the law of war — he is reminded of the morals which guide this existence. He is removed from the normalities of war and remembers the true horror of death. His existence is once again, if only momentarily, guided by the normalities and morals which he grew up in.
  2. Hector demonstrates that it is possible to manage oneself in the home and the battlefield. He is able to generate love from his wife and from his soldiers. The risk is that in devoting himself to one, he may lose the other. In Hector’s case it is impossible to be devoted to his wife without entering the battle. As the battle itself is a siege against Troy, were he to stay home and refrain from fighting, he would show that he cared nothing for the livelihood of his family. Even if he had no family, in devoting himself to the battle he would be devoting himself to the protection of other families. In Hector’s case, the two responsibilities cannot be separated.

Achilles decision is different. He has the option to entirely give up the battle and all future fights, going “somewhere else’ to start a family. Although likely he could maintain his life as a fighter, while starting a family, in his mind these codes are mutually exclusive. He is not willing to take the risk of being dragged down by a family, unless he has already given up his life as a warrior.