Hector and Heroism
By Eamonn Flynn
Achilles is the protagonist of the Iliad, but most readers see Hector as its moral "hero." Yet is the conventional wisdom here wise?
Throughout the Iliad, Homer portrays Hector as a mighty warrior and leader: as the oldest of the princes of Troy, the people look to him for protection, but in Book XXII, Hector fails. Tragically, Achilles surpasses Hector in military prowess; thus, fighting Achilles one-on-one ensures Hector’s death. Nevertheless, Hector refuses to seek protection inside the city. Even though he realizes that he might die, he knows that facing Achilles will bring himself glory, even at the expense of his family and of Troy. Hector neglects to consider the grief his death will bring to his family. Additionally, without a leader, Troy will fall—causing suffering to the Trojans. Therefore, Hector’s stubborn desire for glory results in grief and suffering.
His father, Priam, warns him that remaining outside the walls will cause death. While Hector waits on the battlefield to fight Achilles, Priam urges him to “come inside the walls, my child, that you may save the Trojan men and Trojan women.” As one of the last princes remaining, Hector must protect his city; without him, Troy will fall and the citizens will die. He has two options: stay outside and fight Achilles alone, which would almost certainly lead to death, or retreat into the safety of Troy. Despite his father’s warnings and pleas, Hector believes that “it would be far better, then, for me to confront Achilles, either to kill him and return home, or to die with honor at his hands, before my city.” Evidently, Hector only cares about personal glory and honor, disregarding the safety of his city. If Achilles kills Hector, then Troy glorifies Hector because he faces death boldly; if Hector wins, Troy honors him for defeating the enemy: either way, Hector wins praise. However, his death means the Trojans will certainly lose the war, and the Achaeans will kill much of the city’s populace. By facing Achilles, Hector fails to protect his people, which results not just in his own death but that of many other Trojans.
Hector’s death also causes private grief. When Hector’s wife, Andromache, discovers that Achilles killed Hector, “she was stricken to the point of death”; “Dark night descended over her eyes, she fell backward and breathed out her soul.” This sorrow too is born from Hector’s stubborn refusal to retire into the safety of Troy. While he lived, Troy retained hope that it would defeat the Achæans, but with their greatest warrior dead, the Trojans despair. Andromache grieves more intensely than anyone else as his widow, but on another level, she represents the grief of the whole city. All she dreads will now come true: the Achæans will conquer Troy and ruin her life.
In fact, as the defender of Troy, Hector’s death not only suggests but specifically foreshadows the death of Troy. As the oldest prince and foremost warrior, Hector leads the Trojans in battle; without him, they have no leader. Indeed, Achilles even wonders if the Trojans “will abandon their high city now he is dead.” Had Hector fought from inside the walls, like his brother Paris, instead of brashly confronting Achilles in single combat, Troy would have retained hope; but that would not gain him glory and honor. Hector places personal glory as his chief goal with no regard for the suffering of others. When people selfishly elevate themselves, they do not practice wisdom or obtain a worthwhile glory; they reap calamity on behalf of others.
Eamonn Flynn is a high school senior from Libertytown, MD. He lives with his parents, three brothers, and one sister; three other sisters are married, and he has two nephews and two nieces. He is considering studying actuarial science and biblical studies, and hopes to attend Bob Jones University. Outside of schoolwork, he enjoys chess, soccer, reading, time with friends, and church activities.
Student contributions to the Journal are composed by students from all over the country who have achieved some of the highest CLT scores on their date of testing. Congratulations to Mr. Flynn on his CLT score! If you enjoyed this piece, you might like our series on the great ideas as well, adressing topics like the history and theory of warfare and the nature of time itself. Thank you for reading the Journal, and have a nice weekend.
Published on 3rd March, 2023; page image obtained via Wikipedia Commons (source). Depicted are the excavated remains of the East Gate of Troy VI; “Troy VI” is the archæological phase of the city whose end dates very roughly to the period claimed by the ancient Greeks for the Trojan War.