Hector And Achilles Essay

In The Iliad, many of the male characters display heroic characteristics
consistent with the heroic warrior code of ancient Greece. They try to win glory
in battle, yet are often characterized as having a distinctly human side. They
each have certain strengths and weaknesses, which are evident at many times
throughout the conflicts described in The Iliad. Prime examples of such
characters are Achilles and Hector. These two characters have obvious
differences in their approaches to fitting the heroic mold to which they both
try to conform. However, despite their differences and the fact that they are
fighting for opposing armies and meet each other with hatred in battle, they
also have numerous similar traits that logically lend themselves to a comparison
between the two men. They both display behavior that could be described as
heroism. The first way in which Achilles, who fights for the Greeks, and Hector,
who fights for the Trojans, act differently is how they approach war and the
inevitable violence and death that accompany it. Although Achilles knows that he
is fated to be killed in battle, when his faithful and devoted friend Patroclus
is mercilessly and dishonorably cut down in combat, he puts aside his pride and
chooses to temporarily forget about his previous feuds with Agamemnon that have,
up until now, prevented him from participating in the war. He joins the fighting
with a deadly and vengeful mindset that will likely play a major factor in the
outcome of the war. Today, this lust for revenge might be considered a glaring
character flaw. However, this passion for retribution undoubtedly conforms to
the heroic code of Greek society. Meanwhile, Hector is full of indecision and
reluctance about whether to take part in the war. He too believes that fate has
dictated that he will be killed in battle. He spends much time with his pleading
wife Andromache, who begs him not to go to war, both for his sake and for his
family’s. He does not want to die and thus widow Andromache, leaving her
“at the loom of another man.” Indeed, when he bids farewell to his
young son Astyanax, clothed in his shining war gear with gleaming helmet
complete with plume crest (the quintessential picture of a bold Greek soldier
going off to battle, which today is a symbol of courage, bravery, and true
heroism), Astyanax cries with fright, showing that bravery and heroism in war
cannot coexist with the care and love that a father shows to his son. Thus,
while Hector is indeed heroic is his departure for the war, his human side is
overshadowed by this. Another situation in which Hector and Achilles use
different approaches to behave as heroes is in Book Twenty-Two, the main section
in which Hector and Achilles and their separate personalities and character
traits interact. Hector, now courageous as ever and boldly confronting his fate,
decides to remain outside the ramparts of the fortified city, within which the
rest of his supporters that might defend him are safely secure. Priam,
Hector’s father, upon seeing the advancing Achilles, implores Hector to
retreat behind the safety of the walls, but to no avail. Pride and honor play a
role in preventing Hector from backing down. Hector’s fearless confrontation
of his destiny is an extremely heroic action. However, then Hector flees from
Achilles, behavior quite unlike that of a hero. One might infer that now
Hector’s human instinct of survival is playing a role. This illustrates a
seemingly-common conflict among characters who might be considered heroes: the
internal contest between the heroic code within the character and the human
emotions and instincts that sometimes present contradictory impulses to the
heroic code. Each hero responds in a different manner to this conflict. Hector,
in this case, decides to react upon his human impulses and flees from Achilles,
who instantly gives chase. After a cunning trick by Athena which causes Hector
to decide to stand his ground and fight, perhaps the most conspicuous
contradiction between a warrior’s heroic code and the warrior’s human side
is evident. Achilles, vengeful and bloodthirsty, kills Hector in a manner,
which, by today’s standards, would be unnecessarily cruel and barbaric. He
allows Hector to die a slow and agonizing death, after which he shamelessly
desecrates the body, without caring in the least about the feelings of
Hector’s family and supporters. These actions are undeniably consistent with
the heroic warrior code of the Greeks, which puts tremendous value on valiance
in battle and merciless retribution. Nevertheless, even the most valiant and
stonehearted soldier must have a human side, which definitely must object to the
savage and brutal killing that is ubiquitous in war. On the other hand, when
Achilles and his soldiers get some type of obscene pleasure and glee from
repeatedly and grotesquely stabbing Hector’s lifeless and bloody corpse,
another kind of human emotion is being displayed. This is the pent-up anger and
hostility that builds up during one’s quest for revenge or simply battle,
being directed towards the most apparent figure or symbol that represents the
source of this hatred. So, it might be concluded that the heroic code and the
human emotions might not conflict with each other after all. When Achilles
decides to return Hector’s body to his father, Priam, so that it might be
honorably buried, he is violating the unfeeling and uncompassionate heroic code
to which he earlier tried so hard to conform. He has decided to act upon the
nobler human quality of pity and sympathy and another’s loss, even when the
loss is that of a hated enemy. Truly, in this scenario, Priam had to simply draw
on the common bond through which all humans feel linked, for no amount of
rational thought would have swayed Achilles to make this compromise of
principle. Ultimately, this is an excellent way to end the narrative of The
Iliad, for it shows that Achilles, the character with which the reader most
often identifies, has exhibited his independence from the heroic code and that
he is capable of making decisions that have no basis in precedence, and that he
is able to choose his own destiny and live his own philosophy, and one who
accomplishes this is truly a hero by anyone’s standards. A careful comparison
of the actions and thoughts of the two characters provides the reader with a
perhaps unexpected insight. It seems that while Hector is indeed possessive of a
human side, in that he is afraid of dying in war, he loves his wife and family,
and does not at first want to accept his fate, Achilles is, in fact, the more
human one. He uses both his human emotions and the warrior code that he learned
since childhood appropriately and in proportion, so that there is the least
friction between the two and so that the resulting actions are indeed admirable
and praiseworthy. He is able to construct a perfect formula containing both the
heroic code and the human mind that presents the most ideal result. Achilles
seems to have successfully navigated his way through the heroic progression in
this manner. Thus, both Hector and Achilles behave as heroes throughout The
Iliad. While they both try to win glory in war for their families, their
country, and themselves, they both have certain strengths and weaknesses in
their character that dictate their very different courses of action and their
thoughts. They are both presented with conflicts and dilemmas throughout the
story, the resolutions of which must be made using both their intuitive human
side and their aggressive heroic side, and it appears as if Achilles meets with
the most success in this difficult task. Therefore, the heroic warrior code and
the human conscience present certain contradictions to which the characters must
respond in order to survive and in order to achieve their goals.

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