Achilleus and Hektor
Achilleus and Hektor are the two main heroes of “The Illiad of Homer.” After reading the Homeric tale, I am going to answer the question: who was the better man, Achilleus or Hektor?
Achilleus’ personality is rather muddled in the beginning and, at first, an opinion can not be formed about him. The characteristics that fit him would be: very proud, seemingly honorable, completely straightforward, somewhat rash, and fiercely stern. These adjectives seem to work well, and a summary can be formed about him as a hero with a temper. This is plainly said in the first line of the book: “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians…”1 His honour is also mentioned early in the book: “Since, my mother, you bore me to be a man with a short life, therefore, Zeus of the loud thunder on Olympos should grant me honour at least.” 2
Further into the book, Hektor, the hero of Troy, is introduced into the story. His personality is in some ways similar to Achilleus. Hektor is shown as a man of honour, kindness, anger, reverence, fearlessness, awareness and glory. He is a great warrior and believes in the honour of women more than most of the other characters in the “Illiad.” He greatly reverences the gods and won the favour of many of them. For instance, it is written: “She spoke, nor did Hektor fail to mark the words of the goddess.” 3 Yet, he bears also a great temper like that of Achilleus and also bears the same sense of honour. An example of his sense of honour follows thus: “But Hektor lifted his voice and cried aloud to the Trojans: ‘You high-hearted Trojans and far-renowned companions, be men now, dear friends, and remember your furious valour…”4 A good summary for Hektor would be a kindly warrior.
The reasons for fighting are very different between the two heroes and even between the heroes and their men. Hektor was fighting against the Achaians to defend Troy’s women and children and to defend the honour and glory of Illion (Troy.) Achilleus, when he finally fought, battled for revenge of his friend, Patroklos, who had died under the hands of Hektor. Achilleus also fought to gain honour and renown and death.
As for the sides of the war that the heroes took, Achilleus seems to take the right side for he was fighting with the Achaians who were trying to retrieve Helen who was st olen wrongfully. Hektor was fighting on the side of the Trojans who were trying to keep Helen. Yet, Hektor did not wish for Helen to stay in Troy. So said Hektor: “Evil Paris, beautiful, woman-crazy, cajoling, better had you never been born, or killed unwedded”5His was on side of his people’s livelihood and on the glory of Troy. Hektor, however, was not on the right side altogether for he was still fighting against the Achaians who were trying the take back Helen, and Hektor was opposing this even though he might not have wished to. This does not make the Achaians’ side all good, however. They still had the idea to take over Troy and take away the children and wives of the Trojan men, and Achilleus really did not care about Helen. For Achilleus said: “’Food and drink mean nothing to my heart but blood does, and slaughter, and the groanings of men in the hard work.’” 6
Looking at both Hektor and Achilleus, I would say that Hektor had the most honour in his fighting. Hektor proves this when he says: “Brutal as you are I will not defile you, If Zeus grants to me that I can wear you out, and the life from you. But after I have stripped your glorious armour, Achilleus, I will give your corpse back to the Achaians. Do you likewise.” 7 Yet, Achilleus entirely defiled the body of Hektor and gave him no honour as a soldier of Troy though he may have been his enemy and slayer of his friend. Achilleus had the sense of wordly honour, of stories, and tales, and fame, and of the honour of revenge. Hektor seemed to understand a little better of the honour of the person and the honour of defending the innocent.
Courage is not frail in either Hektor or Achilleus. Both had the courage of warriors in battle. Yet, there was a different kind of courage in each man. Achilleus fought with the recklessness of a revenging spirit about him. He also had little to fear from most of the warriors since he was the most renowned warrior of all, and was one who wore the amour of the gods. Hektor was not born of an immortal mother and not a warrior as renowned. His skills in fighting were the best in Troy, but he was pinned against a foe more powerful than himself, and he had much to fear during his fight with the Achaians. He, therefore, needed courage. So, I would say that Hektor had the most courage.
Thinking about these two warriors of the “Illiad” has led me down a winding stair of thought. Now that I have reached the bottom, I would say that the better man is Hektor for he really was a man, someone with weaknesses and failings and who had the grain of truth in the many of his ways. Achilleus appears to me as, to put it bluntly, an arrogant, rash, revenging person. After reading the Illiad and looking closer at the actions of them both, Hektor is the real hero of the Illiad.
1. Verse 5 pg. 59
2. Verse 350 pg. 68
3. Verse 805 pg. 97
4. Verse 110 pg. 156
5. Verses 35-40 pg. 101
6. Verse 210 pg. 397
7. Verse 255 pg. 442
The Illiad of Homer
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637
Copyright 1951 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.