An illustration of Hector and Achilles in a moment of deadly combat.
The Iliad by Homer focuses on one small part of the Trojan War, nine years into the siege. It is primarily about the war as it is affected by Achilles' wrath. Achilles is the main character and his inaction or withdrawal from the fighting is crucial to the plot. Hector occupies a special place for his sterling qualities. However, both Achilles and Hector are great warriors for their armies.
Achilles commands the Greek army, while Hector commands the Trojan army. They are heroes of their respective sides. The virtuous Hector, a good husband, father, champion of Troy is contrasted with Achilles, the passionate and isolated half-divine hero who, after Patroclus' death, was filled with superhuman power and ferocity.
Hector is the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. He is the commander of all the Trojan forces. He always fights in the first rank of the Trojan Army. He appeals to us for his essential humanity. Homer calls him a 'noble hearted man but Achilles lion-hearted'. Hector is always conscious of his duty and responsibilities to his people and will not let his personal interest interfere with his national duty. He is a loving husband, an affectionate father, a dutiful and respectful son tender and gentle to even a cowardly brother who has brought ruin to his country.
Hector has not the advantages which Achilles has. His mother is not a goddess who can fetch divine help for him. His armor is not made by Hephaestus. It was the decree of Providence that he should try to defend his country against the onslaughts of the mighty adversaries. He tried and failed and we feel sorry at his glorious defeat.
Hector represents the civilized ideas of life. He stands for hearth, home and city-state and is the defender of the principles of the individual self-control and a constructive way of life. But Achilles is the personification of primitive brutality, anti-social destructiveness. Hector is a true patriot.
According to some critics, he is more human than Achilles. He loves his country very much and he is ready to sacrifice his life for the interest of country people. He shows his deep love towards country through his refusal to take wine from his mother who tried to refresh her son with wine. Hector says - "No wine for me, my dear mother; you will cripple me and make me forget that I must fight ". Hector decided to fight for his country. And his decision is made difficult with Paris' lack of discipline as king with his episodes with his new wife Helen. This anger Hector, "Look, your people dying around the city, the steep walls, dying in arms -and all for you''.
On the contrary, Achilles is very selfish as he would not take any care of his nation. He seems to only care about his own pride and selfish intentions. Though fighting for a noble cause he has proven himself to be a savage and a dishonorable warrior. For instance, after losing Briseis, he decided not to take part in the war through that was very imprudent for their country. Even in the extreme crisis moment of Greek force, he withdraws from the battle. Here we consider him a traitor while Hector is a patriot.
Both Achilles and Hector have genuine love for their parents. But it is strange that they go to war and are killed before the death of their parents. Both Hector and Achilles are kind to women and sincerely respect their position. When Agamemnon brought his daughter Iphegenia on the false pretext of giving her in marriage with Achilles, he wanted to save her but in vain. Briseis also spoke of his kind behavior to her when she had to leave him for Agamemnon. In this respect, Hector was superior to all. On the eve of his departure for fight with Achilles, he showed his concern for Andromache as if he lost the battle. Even he was kind to Helen, the main cause of the destructive battle between the Trojans and the Greeks and was very much tolerant of her faults.
Battle and acts of bravery are constantly taking place throughout the epic. It is obvious that the people living in the times of Homer took war very seriously and gave much honor and respect to those that showed bravery in battle. Undoubtedly, Hector and Achilles show much bravery in battle. Simply by participating in the bloody war they prove that they are formidable and honorable men that value bravery. But in their own way, and at certain times, they are either proven completely not brave, or at the very least, avoiding battle for reasons that they believe are astute at the time. First, Hector shows the only true cowardice when he learns that Achilles is on his way to avenge Patroclus.
He runs around the city walls three walls in an attempt to forestall the fight that is to ensue. Only when Athena takes the shape of Deiphobus and assures Hector that they will fight Achilles together does Hector regain his courage. But even when he does muster the courage to go face Achilles, he begins to tremble at the sight of Achilles in all his rage. Also, it could be argued, that while Achilles does have courage, he shirks from battle when he has his disagreement with Agamemnon.
Achilles is a product of the heroic age when to be soft and meek is unthinkable. Everything about Achilles is keyed to the highest pitch. He is strong in his likings and dislikings. For Hector, Achilles is an unassailable figure. He cannot be ignored, cannot be avoided, cannot be defeated, cannot even at the end be confronted with dignity. Throughout the story, Achilles remains to Hector a riddle an uncomprehended force. Between these two heroes there is a kind of vacant space at the center of the Iliad. This vacancy, at the end the poet reveals to us.
Achilles is the great hero of the Iliad, and the Iliad is the story of the death of a hero, but Achilles does not die in the Iliad. The death of Achilles or rather, his morality is a ruling fatality of the Iliad, but the pathos of the poem is concentrated in the death of Hector.
The writer is a freelance contributor