Hector: Not Just the Hero of Troy



          The reader gets to know Hector, a prince of Troy, fairly well in Homer’s Iliad.  Hector is one of the sons of Priam, and he also happens to be one of the Trojans prized warriors.  The Iliad concludes with Hector being dead, and the ultimate fall of Troy.  Even though Homer wrote the Iliad from the Achaean perspective, he does not demonize Hector.  In all fairness, Homer makes Hector seem more like the hero the reader can identify with unlike Achilles who is somewhat a static character throughout most of the story.  Hector differs from Achilles in many ways, but nevertheless, he still has several qualities that Campbell thought to be attributes of a hero. 

          Being aware of Hector’s status as a prince, the reader already knows that he does not reside with the middle class.  He is an heir to the throne of Troy.  Just like Achilles, Hector has the support of his men, but he does not fight for revenge.  Hector fights to protect his brother, his own family with a child, and his city, Troy.  However, the fact that Hector is a prince is not why his people respect him so much.  In comparison to his brother, Paris, the citizens of Troy would adore Hector.  Near the conclusion of Book Three, the soldiers’ sentiment reveals a level of disgust towards the prince of Troy: “if any were to have seen him (Paris)—he was hated by all of them like black death (Homer, Iliad, 3:50). 

          Leading into my next point, Hector’s “call to adventure” comes about because Paris takes Helen from her husband Menelaus.  Hector taking the call to protect his homeland from Agamemnon and his army “signifies that destiny has summoned the hero” (Campbell 58).  Hector realizes it is his duty to save Troy from the Achaeans.  A passage in A Hero with a Thousand Faces could easily be describing Hector’s character: “He is ‘the king’s son’ who has come to know who he is and therewith has entered into the exercise of his proper power” (Campbell 39).  By answering the call to defend his country, Hector has set the events that take place in the Iliad into motion. Similarly to Achilles, Hector seems to think “of his strength as his own” (Campbell 337).  In the battles that take place, the author shows the reader Hector’s abilities as a warrior.

          In contrast with Achilles, Hector’s parents are both human, but his skills as a soldier are quite exceptional.  For example, the encounter between Ajax and Hector demonstrates Hector’s strength as a warrior.  Not all the Trojans are feared on the battlefield.  This is not the case for Hector; he gains respect from even his opponents from the Achaean army.  Homer refers to Hector as “godlike”, and Agamemnon tells his brother Menelaus that “Even Achilles shudders to meet this man in the fighting where men win glory, and he is a much better man than you” (Homer, Iliad, 7:112).  After he makes this comment, Ajax says that he will do battle with the glorious Hector.  During the fight, Ajax wounds Hector on the neck where “dark blood wells out”, but he refuses to accept defeat.  The gods eventually intervene and stop the conflict between the two men.  The scene that follows the fight signifies Ajax respect for Hector.  Both men engage in a moment of xenia where they exchange gifts.  Homer writes, “… so that people will say, both Achaeans and Trojans: ‘These men two fought together in rivalry that ate at their hearts, and then when they parted they were joined in friendship’” (Homer, Iliad, 7:302).  Xenia, which can be defined as the guest-host relationship, “was an indispensable device for foreign relations in the Dark Age, for when a stranger came to another demos he had no rights and could be mistreated and even killed” (Pomeroy 60).  Up to this point, the reader can infer that Achilles and Hector have several similarities as “heroes”, but Hector understands that fighting Achilles may cause him to sacrifice his own life.

          The confrontation in the Iliad between Hector and Achilles reveals a heroic quality in Hector to the reader.  Achilles has come to do battle with Hector over the death of Patroklos.  Joseph Campbell has an excellent point in his book where he states, “…the hero would be no hero if death held for him any terror;” (Campbell 356).  Right before these two men engage in battle Hector says, “But now my heart prompts me to stand and face you—I shall kill or be killed” (Homer, Iliad, 22:345).  Homer prepares the reader for “subsequent conduct and fate of Hector” with these words (Allan 1).  The reader can believe that Hector knew he was going to die.  He was facing a god amongst men on the battlefield.  The two heroes fight, but only one could emerge victorious.  However, Hector’s death has an impact on the reader.  What Hector fought for and the qualities he possesses are admirable, and that is why he is a hero for all and not just the Trojans.