Achilles and Hector are two heroic characters in Homer’s classic Iliad and both these fearless warriors display honour and virtue in their characters. The personal resolve, decisions, behaviour, valour and the commitment shown by these two act as the key to the development of the plot of the book. Both these characters appear to be “distinctly different at first glance, but upon closer inspection are very similar in terms of their basic characteristics. Hector and Achilles both are courageous soldiers, relatively honourable men, and respected leaders, but they also both have human failings that eventually lead to tragedy”. Achilles all throughout the book is pictured as a peerless soldier with superior physical powers; however his incessant anger and his strong decision to avenge the death of Patroclus by mutilating and showing disrespect towards Hector’s corpse makes one suspicious of his actual honour and virtue. On the other hand, Hector who epitomizes the Achaean strength, proves himself to be worthy of receiving the honour of a true warrior fights heroically and sacrifices his own life for his people.
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The courage, individual conviction and the heroism shown by Hector before and during his fatal fight with Achilles is splendid. The greatness of his personal virtue stems from the fact that it was his personal choice to meet his destiny fearlessly-to undergo a glorious death. Robin Sowerby describes this heroic resolve of Hector as “the conscious choice to risk a glorious death rather than forgo glory for the sake of holding on to an insignificant life. Moreover the choice is made wholeheartedly”(p. 8). Similarly, Achilles proves himself to be the major central figure in the book because of his unmatched physical power as well as by the choice he made in deciding to join the Trojans. As Sowerby (1995) rightly puts it: “Achilles is the supreme embodiment of the hero by virtue partly of the suspicious physical prowess that enables him to excel others in the fight but even more so by the virtue of the choice he has made in being at Troy at all, for he reports that his goddess mother Thetis had told him that he could choose between two destinies: a long and undistinguished life if he returned home, or eternal fame if he remained at troy”(p8). Achilles is not hesitant to opt for the latter as he valued honour and glory more than leading a long happy life. His clash with Agamemnon over the loss of Briseis was mainly due to his belief that Agamemnon did not admit his significance and magnanimous personality. Later Patroclus’ death makes him reconsider his decision and we do find Achilles moving by beastlike revenge. But the way he desecrates the dead body of Hector casts suspicion regarding his heroic virtues and honour and he becomes a disrespectful figure. Later with divine intervention he makes amends for his grave mistake by handing over the dead body of Hector to his father Priam and thus offering an opportunity to provide a decent funeral to Hector. Thus, Achilles at the end regains his lost virtues.
Any study on the features of honour and virtues in Homer’s Iliad is to be understood from the Trojans’ and the Greeks’ strong belief that fighting heroically to defend one’s country’s pride and territory was something heroic, and therefore meeting with death in one’s attempt to do so was considered as greatness. Similarly, Achilles’ murder of Hector is a result of his belief that the dead Patroclus will be honoured only when he takes revenge on his murderer. Thus, one can undoubtedly state that both Achilles and Hector had an obsession for honour, a feeling of oneness and belongingness to the side they represented, and that both of them display remarkable virtues in their exercise of duties.
“Free Essays – Hector and Achilles as Classic Heroes of Homer’s Iliad.” 2008. Web
Robin Sowerby. The Greeks: An Introduction to Their Culture. Routledge, 1995.