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Achilles & Hector

Updated on November 22, 2010

Homer’s epic poem The Iliad is set at the end of a bloody war waged between the Greeks and the Trojans.  The Greeks have landed their ships at the shores of the Trojan city of Troy and the final battle wages over the fate of the star-crossed city.  Warfare was very different then, compared with today.  It was a much smaller world and combatants would know their foes before battle began; able to identify the opposing side’s champions by uniquely crafted suits of armor.  In this particular war there were two such champions: Achilles and Hector.  Upon the shoulders of these two great men rested both the outcome of the war and the fates of their own people.  One man would fight for pride, revenge, and ego, while the other would fight for duty, homeland, and family.  Within these contrasting motives of Achilles and Hector lye the lessons of The Iliad.

            Hector’s royal lineage had born him a heavy heart for his fellow countrymen.  Being the son of King Priam and the champion of the Trojan army, he is tasked with the defense of the city in which his own family lives.  He fights for the life of his son Astyanax and for the sanctity of his marriage to his beloved wife Andromache.  His family pleads with him not to enter the war, but Hector knows that he must if he is to ensure their safety.  He fights for the safety of all of his doomed seaside city’s inhabitants. 

            Achilles’ is the most gifted champion in the Greek army.  He is a warrior of legend across the lands and has turned the tide of many conflicts simply by entering the fray.  Unfortunately, Achilles is all too conscious of his legacy and is hindered by his own ego.  When Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae, callously procures Achilles’ war-bride Briseis, Achilles refuses to take up arms against his king’s enemies.  He refuses this war not as a negotiator would bargain to increase his gains, but rather as a tempestuous toddler would in throwing a tantrum.  His boastful pride and selfishness hold sway in this champions mind.  It is only after the slaying of his best friend that the sulking, spoiled Achilles enters the field.

            Hector is a natural born leader: devoted, courageous, consistent, and well-rounded.  Achilles is a natural born diva: exceptional, untouchable, demanding, and uncompromising.  Achilles allows countless Greek comrades to fall in battle without his presence, simply so that his feud with Agamemnon can be more poignant.  Hector sacrifices his own life so that he may attempt to save his loved ones.  Achilles is the model of how not to behave in life and in war; Hector is the shining example of valor and service to one’s kin and country.

            With the gods many interventions in the battle for the city of Troy, many men met their end on the field of battle.  No exception to this was Achilles and Hector.  Although both men lost their lives, Hector had much more to lose.  While Achilles knew that by entering the battle his life would end, he favored his ego and chose to live on in legend.  While Hector knew he must defend his people, he dreaded the knowledge of his family falling to the hands of invaders.  Although Hector lost more in the bloody war, he would unknowingly be the victor in that his example of leadership and character would live on in parallel to Achilles’ egotism and flaws.

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