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Homer’s The Iliad

Homer’s narrative, Iliad, recounts how and why heroes are born, or made, descend into anonymity, or ascend to honor and praise. Two of the greatest heroes in this story are Hector and Achilles. From the very beginning of the Iliad, it has already concentrated on Achilles and his rage towards Agamemnon. Homer has just introduced to the reader the foundation of what is to be one of the critical pieces of the final conflict of the Iliad — Achilles’ blind anger.

However, the antagonism is no longer directed towards Agamemnon but towards Hector. The Iliad has been known throughout history and literature as a narrative about a woman, Helen, who was taken by a Trojan prince, Paris, to his homeland, Troy. This bold act by Paris spurred the Greeks, along with their thousand ships, to go to war against the Trojans. On the contrary, the Iliad was set after the Greeks are already entrenched in battle with the Trojans. This is really not about the love triangle among Helen, Paris, and Menelaus.

The Iliad attends to a much deeper matter — the struggle and arduous quest of Hector and Achilles for acclamation and fame beyond their lifetimes. This paper, therefore, centers on these two remarkable characters and attempts to delve into their admirable qualities that set them apart from the rest as well as their imperfections that make them all the more endearing and appealing to the reader. On the exterior, Hector and Achilles seem to be uniquely identifiable from each other having very different backgrounds and upbringing. Hector is a prince while Achilles is born a fighter.

Nevertheless, as the epic unfolds and more about the two characters are revealed, the similarities between Hector and Achilles likewise begin to be demonstrated. One apparent similarity is the heroes’ motivations to ensure that they will be remembered long before they are gone. As the plot progresses, the two characters build up their animosity for each other, and they are slowly becoming more alike one another. Their displays of valor as well as grief for a fallen comrade and the manner by which they approach their future are somewhat strikingly connected.

Their fates likewise go together like conjoined twins. Achilles knew that with Hector’s death, his very own death will soon follow. Homer’s The Iliad is an epic narrative of Achilles’ raging anger and its human toll, the most precious of which is Hector. It is a war between Greece and Troy, but ended up being a face-off between two men who stood for these two great civilizations of the ancient times. At the majority of the tale, there was no mention of Achilles and his brave Myrmidons as he has refused to engage the Trojans in war due to personal differences with the Greek king, Agamemnon.

This has caused Greece to suffer a series of painful setbacks in the battle that most Greek warriors fighting the war, including Agamemnon himself, have, at one point in time, questioned the objective of the war and longed to turn back and go home. On the side of Troy, Homer portrays a valiant Hector gaining ground against the Greeks, called Achaeans in The Iliad, with battle conquests after battle conquests. The Trojans have pushed the Greeks back to their own ships and at some point, Hector has even threatened to burn the Greek ships so as to incapacitate the Greeks from returning to their homeland.

The Iliad opens with Achilles enraged with Agamemnon and closes with Achilles grieving the loss of a dear friend, Patroclus. Hector, on the other hand, was fighting his heart out killing many Greeks, one of whom is Patroclus, but his efforts proved futile as his story ended in tragedy — killed by Achilles and his body desecrated, and worst, his beloved Troy will eventually fall in the hands of the Greeks. Hector and Achilles Achilles is the son of Peleus, King of Phthia, and Thetis, a sea goddess. He is therefore a demi-god.

He is the fearless leader of the Myrmidons, the contingent to the Trojan War from Phthia, in fifty ships with fifty Myrmidons each. Peleus’ marriage to the Nereid Thetis was attended by all the gods and they bought magnificent gifts to the wedding, including armor made by Hephaestus and a pair of immortal horses by Poseidon. Thetis deserted Peleus after he interrupted her attempt to make the infant Achilles immortal by placing it on a fire. Peleus then placed Achilles in the care of the Centaur Chiron, who raised him.

Achilles’ infamous rage (menis) is the central theme of The Iliad. Prince Hector of Troy is the oldest son of King Priam and Hecuba. He is the brother of Paris, Helenus, Deiphobus, and Cassandra. He is the husband of Andromache and father of Astyanax. He is the valiant captain of the Trojans in battle and their foremost fighter. Hector has been known as the defense of the city of Troy. Andromache’s father and brothers were killed by Achilles when he captured Thebe during the Trojan War; her mother was spared and ransomed, but died in Troy before its fall.

Andromache herself became the slave and concubine of Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son, when Troy was captured; her son Astyanax was flung by the Greeks from the walls of Troy. On the other hand, King Priam was killed by Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus, upon an altar of Zeus in the center of Troy. The Iliad is a story of the ultimate destruction and annihilation of Troy. The death of Hector was just a precursor. It stresses the point what the wrath of Achilles can bring to anyone who causes him severe grief.

From the aforementioned brief account of the identity of The Iliad’s main heroes certain apparent qualities can already be deduced. In order to fully learn a character, there is a need to see his roots, his pedigree, and his family. Achilles in his disagreement with the leader of the Greek forces, Agamemnon, is independent and irreverent. Book 1 of The Iliad depicts this side of Achilles as he challenges Agamemnon and boldly asserts that he and his Myrmidons will withdraw from the war which will surely debilitate the Greek forces.

Achilles was more than being proud and stubborn at this point, he was defending what he believe is right. He believes that the Greeks’ misfortune in the war has been caused by Agamemnon’s refusal to appease the gods. What infuriates Achilles further is that the Greek king attempted to intimidate him by saying that he will take Briseis away. As a result, the Greeks suffered immense losses. Achilles’ wrath for Agamemnon’s bravado was replaced only by Achilles’ anguish over the death of Patroclus. This intense sorrow later turned into a kind of anger that tethered on him like a shadow that drove him to near madness.

Fury was the only prevalent emotion that Achilles was feeling. His judgment was clouded by it. His virtues became non-existent because of it. He was bent on bringing vengeance to the one who killed his dear comrade Patroclus. The manner in which he violated Hector’s dead body, dragging it around Patroclus’ grave hints of someone who has been blinded by his anger, and is somewhat stripped of lucidity, even for just a moment. He had made it his personal mission to hand Hector his death and he did this like a man possessed.

He even uttered to the dying Hector: “I wish my stomach would let me / Cut off your flesh in strips and eat it raw / For what you’ve done to me. There is no one / And no way to keep the dogs off your head” (Book 22, Lines 384 – 387) Nonetheless, in the last book of The Iliad, Achilles has shown an almost a hundred-eighty degree about-face as he shows compassion for the plight of Priam as the old king pleads for the return of the body of his defeated and dead son. He empathized with Priam as he reminisces the memory of his friend and his father, Peleus.

Achilles consoled Priam, “Let our pain / Lie at rest a while, no matter how much we hurt. / There’s nothing to be gained from cold grief. ” (Book 24, Line 561-563) Achilles is the son of a goddess, Thetis. Therefore, he has some connection with the gods. Throughout the narrative, the gods seem to favor his archenemy, Hector. In Book 14 of The Iliad, Poseidon blames Achilles for his cowardice. Nevertheless, Achilles is not entirely bereft of some divine intervention. He was privy to some diving foreknowledge. His mother, Thetis, was there in the most opportune time to give him guidance.

Specifically, at that specific situation where Achilles is having some trepidation on whether to join the war and assist his fellow Greeks win or not. Thetis warned him of his future which can only be a short but rewarding life or a long but simple life. Book 9 of The Iliad accounts for Achilles’ ambivalence on his own future. It depicts Achilles being faced with two fundamental choices: to live a short life but he will attain glory and be remembered by the sons of his grandsons or to live a long life but will never reach greatness.

Achilles was born, bred, trained and lives as a warrior. Notwithstanding his hesitation to engage in war, he picked the choice that was natural to him — the glory achieved in war. After all, he is a Greek hero with countless of personal victories under his name. The death of Patroclus actually gave him just an enough nudge to push him over the edge. He was already leaning towards obtaining glory for himself and the death of Patroclus gave him an even nobler reason to go for it. With Achilles and his Myrmidons being absent from the war, Greeks were doomed to lose the war.

Gods who are rooting for the Greeks were angry at Achilles for his indifference to war. His fellow Greeks were offended by his lack of concern for them. Even Patroclus and his Myrmidons were imploring him to let them participate in the war. In Book 16 of The Iliad, Patroclus went as far as to curse Achilles for his obstinate attitude towards everyone. No one, not even the gods who opposed him, doubted Achilles’ fighting prowess. In the battlefield, he was revered as almost like a god. His enemies trembled at the mere sight of his chariot.

He was a force to be reckoned with. He overcomes his enemies like an “inhuman fire raging on through the mountain gorges”. (Book 20, Line 554) This display of unique ability was evident during his rampage against the Trojans after the death of Patroclus. Book 21 of The Iliad vividly recounts Achilles capacity to strike down anyone who crosses his path. “He struck over and over, in a widening spiral. / Hideous groans rose from the wounded, / And the river water turned crimson with blood. ” He showed no mercy. He showed no reverence to the gods who attempted to pacify him.

With Hector’s death by his spear, Achilles has sealed his fate. He will be known. His story will be retold for generations by Greeks and Trojans alike. With Hector’s death, the fall of Troy was inevitable, although it would still be after some years later. Hector, on the other hand, is a paragon of a warrior with an innate sense of civility as what can be expected of a prince. He is a more refined Achilles. Where Achilles charges with brute force, Hector leads with refinement and a respect for the rules of engagement in war. He gets agitated in displays of cowardice.

In Book 3 of the Iliad, he berates his brother for being a weakling in front of the Trojan troops and for being jeered at by the Greeks. Hector also displays emphatic behavior when his wife, Andromache, begs that he leads his troops from within the safety of the walls of Troy. To which Hector retorted, “My heart is out there with our fighting men. ” In Book 7, before all hell broke lose, he labored to have a pact with the Greeks regarding arrangements for the funerals of the casualties of war. Such is Hector’s regard for culture. Hector was borne of mortal parents, Priam and Hecuba.

Then again, he is royalty as the one who is set to inherit the throne of Troy someday. The gods too, look upon and speak favorably of him. Several instances in the course of the arduous battle, god have protected him — shielding him from oncoming spears, or placing him in an invulnerable spot. It may be argued therefore that his triumphs were somehow half-baked as there were some form of acts of divine intervention in most of them. This fact notwithstanding, the gods may have looked kindly to him because he accords due respect to the gods.

He does not forget to seek the direction of the gods. In Book 6 of The Iliad, Hector tells his wife Andromache: “War is the work of men, Of all the Trojan men, And mine especially. ” He, likewise, dreams of glory, if not for himself, but for his country, his wife, and his son. He predicts that even if his wife is taken as a slave, someone will say, “That is the wife of Hector, the best of all / The Trojans when they fought around Ilion. ” As for his son, Astyanax, he foresaw as, “Brave and strong, and ruling Ilion with might.

And may men say he is far better than his father / When he returns from war, bearing bloody spoils, / Having killed his man. And may his mother rejoice. ” As Achilles’ ultimate concern is glory for himself, Hector’s concern goes a step ahead that and aspires glory for his loved ones. Above all things, Hector is a warrior. He is the champion of the Trojans. Hector abhorrence of shame overpowers his fear of death and the love and the care that he has for his Andromache and his Astyanax. Andromache even warned that “your courage is going to kill you.

” Whereas Achilles was absent for the most part of the Greek-Trojan War, Hector was there present and rallying his troops since the very beginning. He has been hurt several times and yet he comes back to the front lines every single time. Book 12 of The Iliad gives us a rather astonishing display of Hector’s valor in the thick of battle. “No one could have stopped him, except the gods, In his immortal leap through the ruined gate, And his eyes glowed with fire. ” When the Trojans advanced in Book 15 with a little help from the gods, Hector fired up the Trojans with this cry: “Forget the spoils and go for the ships!

If I catch any man hanging back on this side / He’s dead on the spot with no family funeral. Dogs will tear his body apart before the city. ” He shows compassion in peace but nothing but ruthlessness in war. At the latter part of The Iliad, archenemies Hector and Achilles finally meet in the battlefield. Hector is aware of his capabilities and he knows that if he shall suffer death, it will be most likely through the hands of a premier warrior such as Achilles. As like any man who senses his own death, probably more than ever in this long drawn out war, he trembles at the sight of Achilles.

While Achilles’ courage and bravery is unwavering throughout the narrative, Hector’s valor falters in the end as he panics and runs for his dear life around the walls of Troy. In one calculated throw of his spear, Achilles pierced Hector’s neck. With Hector’s fate, the fate of the great and prosperous city of Troy goes with it. Hector and Achilles came from diverse upbringing, and are on the opposite sides of the temperament scale. Achilles acts impulsively and delivers his point with brutal force. Hector’s actions are somewhat subdued by his strict adherence to civility.

They are both warriors with virtues of courage and bravery inculcated in them. Their fates are intertwined in such a manner that Hector, by killing Patroclus in battle, handed Achilles his most painful suffering as much as Hector died by the hand of Achilles.

References

Bloom, Harold. Homer’s The Iliad. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Cook, Elizabeth. “Achilles. ” The Atlantic Monthly February 2002: 102+. Homer, and Stanley Lombardo. Iliad. Indianapolis,IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997. Muellner, Leonard. The Anger of Achilles: Menis in Greek Epic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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