Home > Iliad, The > The Humanity of Hector

The Humanity of Hector

Hector is the polar opposite of Achilles. He is not necessarily the ‘hero’ of the story, but he is Homer’s portrait of the true man.

Whereas Achilles has eschewed all ties to family, honor, patriotism, camaraderie, relationships, and self-sacrifice, Hector embodies them all perfectly. Relationships and his fellow man are what Hector is all about. In Book 6, we get a glimpse into his life as he says farewell to his wife and son to go out to battle. Nothing even remotely like this is offered for Achilles.

Hector’s prayer to Zeus at his departure is bittersweet. You can almost tell that even Hector himself knows he won’t be returning (he hints earlier that he thinks Troy will fall). Nevertheless, Hector asks that his wife, Andromache, and his child, Astyanax, be spared. It is a terribly sad moment in the story, as the readers are well aware that by the end of the war, little Astyanax will have been thrown from the walls of Troy and killed, and Achilles’ own son will have raped and taken Andomache for his concubine.

After his prayer, in a tender and prophetic moment, little Astyanax is frightened by his father Hector’s helmet. They very thing that Hector is most known for in battle – his flashing helm – is the very thing he can’t wear in front of his son. In a telling metaphor, Hector betrays his weakness (and his strength) by removing his helmet to comfort his son.

This is Hector’s weakness because it is this same compassion and willingness to lay down his armor that ends up betraying him and getting him killed. A man like Achilles would never have done such a telling thing. Men like Hector cannot hope to defeat men like Achilles. It’s one of the sad truths of The Iliad that the inhuman monster Achilles is the victor while the humane and compassionate Hector ends up killed and disgraced.

Here is Homer’s message: The uncaring monsters will always defeat the caring humans. Mankind is forever doomed in this respect. In order to defeat the enemy, we must sacrifice our humanity to become worse than them. Compassion will not stand up to brutality in the face of men like Achilles. It is only through detaching ourselves from the world that we can survive. We must become monsters, or die.

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