The Imbalances of War

1.     Hector’s relationship with his fellow Trojan’s seems to be the Greek model of the selfless soldier. His men respect him, he has a family that the people also speak highly of, and he fights for his country even in the face of sure death. This is not necessarily the Greek ideal of a man, though. I wonder if Achilles’s relationship with his fellow Achaeans, though less amiable than Hector with his Trojans, is closer to ideal. Hector strives for Victory but very little for Honor. Achilles, on the other hand, is willing to sacrifice Victory for the sake of Honor and his relationship with the Achaeans is one of a more intense rivalry than even perhaps his rivalry with Hector. This brings me to the main similarity between the two heroes. They are both described as the strongest and well-respected among their respective groups of soldiers. In some ways it makes perfect sense that they would end up fighting one on one.

2.     After leaving the battlefield, Achilles is confronted by Priam, Hector’s father. Priam entreats Achilles to think of his own father and friends. During this scene, Achilles is probably reminded of his friend Patroclus, whose death was the catalyst for his berserk episode. Having already secured a significant Victory, Achilles’s lust for Honor seems to be cooling off. Perhaps this is an example of Tim O’brien’s view on war. “At its core, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life.” Achilles, after spending a long time staying out of battle, sacrificing Victory in pursuit of Honor, is suddenly thrust into battle, his friend dies, he slays the most important enemy he possibly could have and grossly defiled his body. How could he not feel closer to the human side of war after experiencing the opposing extreme, the completely animal, base side? He is so close to death that when Priam calls him to examine his closeness to life, he realizes that human kindness is within his reach as well. The significance of his following act is great – it shows an interest in the story for something beyond Victory and Honor. It shows a reverence for the human values of empathy and respect.

3.     The Warrior Code and the Familial Code are not mutually exclusive – in theory. The ideal situation would be a man that pursues Victory and Honor effectively enough to return home and care for his offspring and spouse. Hector and Achilles are both supposedly searching for that ideal, yet in the face of the realities of war, the two codes are much more difficult to reconcile. In some ways, each characters inability to balance the two codes is a major part of their own downfalls.

Achilles has been unable to make much progress towards having a family to honor with the Familial Code and seems to be a little bit unhinged because of it. His rampant lack of empathy for other soldiers contributes to his tunnel-vision of Honor. He needs a family to care about and offspring to fight for to help him balance his thirst for Victory and Honor; he needs to care as much about returning victorious and alive as he does about returning rich and well-respected. But he does not for a significant part of the story.

Hector, on the other hand, is fueled but also distracted by his dogmatic adherence to the Familial Code. His family calling to him, witnessing his climactic battle with Achilles and subsequent death, had to have been a distraction. I believe that the epic is showing that caring only about his family and not having an equal drive to gain Honor and Victory for his own and their well-being was part of his downfall. The codes are not mutually exclusive but rather two sides of a scale that when unbalanced, brings down the mightiest of men.

3 thoughts on “The Imbalances of War

  1. jwmaring

    Regarding your third point, I agree with most of what you have to say. I also believe you write very well. But the only thing I do not agree with is how you describe Hector and his actions. Hector I believe was the ideal warrior, caring and compassionate towards the fellow Trojan whom he fought along side as well as honorable for being driven to save Troy and all its inhabitants. This is evident where he proclaimed, “So, Patroclus, you thought you could ransack my city [a]nd ship our women back to Greece to be your slaves. You little fool. They are defended by me, [b]y Hector, by my horses and my spear. I am the one, Troy’s best, who keeps their doom at bay” (226). The only fault I can find with Hector was that he was undeniably defeated in battler by a superior opponent. Hector theoretically had the choice to avoid conflict or confront Achilles in combat, but the fact he did not shy away and accepted his inevitable fate is testament to his character. For he had this choice andthe possibility of achieving almost certain defeat of the Greeks had he succeeded in defeating Achilles, or just one alternative; retreat and show everyone around him that he, the greatest fighter Troy had, could not defeat Achilles. This would have sent a message of inevitable defeat to all who stood alongside him in battle. Faced with such a prospect, Hector made the very astute determination that death was the far more desirable option.

    1. sehoyos

      I have to agree, in his final moments Hector was very much the warrior. I think to add onto the idea that a message of inevitable defeat would have been sent had Hector turned back and not faced off Achilles, Hector was also driven by his shame. As a war leader, he had an acute sense of responsibility for his soldiers. When Achilles showed his face, he is the one that chose not to retreat, causing half his men to lose their lives. How could he take refuge behind the wall after that? It would be cowardly of him not to take on the man he allowed his army to face. It is up to him, as their leader, to get rid of the threat.

      1. swtrinchet Post author

        Both of you have great points. I’d like to clarify that I love Hector as a character and have great respect for him. I’m wrestling with a question, though – if Hector was the consummate warrior and family man, why did he lose? Yes, in the real world it could have just been that he wasn’t as good a fighter, but in the world of gods and Fates and Homer, I feel like there was a reason he lost. I don’t have a concrete answer, him not fulfilling the warrior code was my attempt at one. The symmetry between Achilles and Hector appealed to me. But I can definitely see both of your reasoning and thank you for helping me understand Hector as character.

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