Every civilization throughout history has had its heroes, those who represent the values of their society to the highest degree. In today's society, we think of heroes as super-humans who run faster than a speeding train and leap over buildings in a single bound. In ancient Greece, heroes were people who demonstrated great feats of strength and tremendous courage in battle. Greek heroes possessed wealth, power, and courage which earned them respect and honor in the community.
In the Iliad, Homer tells the story of two warriors, Achilleus and Hektor, both of whom exhibit many of the qualities of a Greek hero. Although Hektor fights against the Greeks, Homer expounds on his good qualities and even makes him more heroic than Achilleus. Hektor's shows his heroism in Homer's description of him as the greatest of the Trojans. Homer describes Hektor's strength and greatness several times in the epic. In Helen's conversation with Hektor in Book VI, she appeals to Hektor and makes several statements about him being the best man among the Trojans, much better than her husband Paris. Helen says, 'I wish I had been the wife of a better man than this is'; (book VI, ll.
26). The 'better man'; to whom she refers is Hektor. Hektor also receives praised at his burial ceremony when the women of Troy speak in his honor. Here, his wife, Andromache, says, 'There were so many Achaians / whose teeth bit the vast earth, beaten down by the hands of / Hektor'; (book XXIV ll.
286-289). Andromache makes it very clear that Hektor fought bravely and dominated the Greek forces. Even the gods concede Hektor's greatness in their speeches. In book XV, Thetis warns Achilleus that Hektor has great strength and that Achilleus should not go to fight him without divine armor. Homer's description of Hektor's power and strength lays a solid foundation for proving that Hektor's heroism exceeds that of Achilleus because he is the greatest of the Trojans. Priam does not fight due to his age and Paris does not help the Trojan forces, so Hektor burdens the entire weight of the war on his own shoulders.
He gives his help for the good of his city. Hektor shows his love for his community several times in his speeches to fellow Trojans. In his talk with Paris, he urges Paris to join the battle for the sake of Troy, especially since the war is being fought for him. Also, in his talk with Helen, Hektor says, 'Already my heart within is hastening me to defend / the Trojans, who when I am away long greatly to have me'; (book VI ll. 37-38). Hektor shows that he knows he controls the fate of Troy and he acts as its sole protector.
He also protects Troy to help his loved ones, in particular Andromache and Astyanax. His relationship with Andromache, shown during their conversation, has love and compassion, especially compared to Helen and Paris' loveless relationship. Hektor shows his love for his son, Astyanax, in the scene when he plays with Astyanax after he was crying. In these scenes, Homer gives Hektor a loving, fatherly image. Homer shows this very human side of Hektor in contrast to his greatness as a warrior. The emotional side of Hektor illustrates his heroism just as much as his strength and power.
Homer makes the honor of man a central theme of the Iliad. Several characters of the Iliad, especially Agamemnon, Achilleus, and Hektor, let their actions be driven by pride and honor. According to the ancient Greeks, living and dying with honor was of prime importance to one's heroic status. The Iliad discusses Hektor's honorable life and death twice. In Hektor's conversation with Andromache, Andromache says she wants him to stop fighting because he is fated to die.
Hektor replies, 'I would feel deep shame / before the Trojans, and the Trojan women with trailing garments, /if like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting'; (book VI ll. 117-119). Hektor clearly would rather accept his fate and die than be dishonored and not fight. The mindset of Hektor in book XXII when he is at the Skin Gates and debating whether to retreat into the city also shows Hektor's honor and pride. He decides to stay outside and accept his fate rather than go inside the city, risk his honor and have to be scolded by his brother Polydamas. Homer's description of Hektor's courage even in the face of death shows his willingness to preserve his honor at all costs.
Although the Iliad describes Achilleus as a hero, Homer shows some flaws in Achilleus' character that would cause people to doubt his heroism. One major flaw Homer shows in book I, is when Achilleus talks with his mother-goddess, Thetis. In his conversation, he wants Thetis to ask Zeus to help the Trojans push back the Achaians so they will realize that they need Achilleus in order to win. This disgraceful act by Achilleus diminishes my view of him as a hero. Wishing one's army to lose, no matter what the circumstances, lacks true heroism.
Achilleus only wants his army to lose so Agamemnon will need him and apologize for dishonoring him. He clearly fights in this war for personal glory and gain as opposed to Hektor, who is fighting for Troy and for honor. Achilleus' treason strongly diminishes his heroic status. Achilleus' heroism is also diminished in his fight with Hektor in book XXII. Although, Achilleus defeats Hektor in battle, and therefore seems to be a 'mightier'; warrior, one has to look at how Achilleus wins to determine who truly fights better.
Achilleus only won because he had help from the gods. Hektor, on the other hand, actually had the gods against him. Athene tricked Hektor into fighting by disguising herself as his brother and convincing him to fight. Athene then deserted him in the middle of the battle. Conversely, Achilleus had the help of Athene.
Hektor had no help from the gods after Apollo abandoned him shortly into the chase. Achilleus' divine help also appears in the first spear throws of each of the warriors. Achilleus' throw misses while Hektor's throw only fails because it hits Achilleus's held. The god Hephaistos made this shield, which represents another way the gods helped Achilleus win the battle.
Homer does not show who would win if this was a 'fair'; fight. In fact, some might say he shows that Hektor is stronger because Hektor's first spear throw was on target. Although being favored by the gods may be a heroic quality to the Greeks, in today's society it is not associated with heroism. Although this essay is meant to praise Hektor and diminish Achilleus, I must concede certain points that can weaken my arguments. There are several examples when Homer describes the heroic acts of Achilleus. For example, Achilleus wins the battle and kills Hektor, therefore, one can argue about Achilleus's uperiority over Hektor in battle.
Achilleus' devotion to his friend, Patrokolos, who died in battle demonstrates another one of his heroic qualities. Achilleus stays loyal to his friend even after he accepts the ransom and then asks for Patrokolos' forgiveness. Lastly, Achilleus shows a human side that eluded him throughout most of the epic. He gives back Hektor's body to Priam and even praises Priam for his bravery. After all his hate and anger, Achilleus shows compassion, although not nearly as much as Hektor.
Despite these facts, Hektor surpasses Achilleus as the greater hero of the Iliad. In the Iliad, Homer brilliantly shows the heroism of two opposing warriors. The contrasting heroes themselves become a major theme and add an interesting element of contrast to the story. Fascinatingly, Homer makes Hektor, a Trojan, the greater hero of the Greek epic, the Iliad.
The contrasting heroism between Hektor and Achilleus is one reason we are still reading the Iliad over 2000 years after its creation.