Hector and Achilles

The contrast between Achilles and Hektor that weaves its way throughout the Iliad is really Homer’s means of developing the conflict between individual values versus societal values. Achilles embodies the individual, alienated from his society, operating within the framework of his own code of pride and honor. He tends to represent passion and emotion. Like so many great epic heroes, he is ultimately not understandable. In contrast, Hektor, the great Trojan hero, is more human. He tends to exemplify reason over passion. He has a wife and son. He fights to save his city even though he knows the basis for the quarrel (Paris/Helen) is not worthy of the resulting destruction. Even in war, Hektor demonstrates more human qualities than Achilles. He hesitates; he gives ground; he is wounded; in the moment of crisis, he runs. Readers see more of themselves in Hektor, the family man who cares about his commitments. Achilles, the estranged loner, lies outside the reader’s comprehension.In terms of values, Hektor clearly upholds the norms of society. Book VI is justly famous for its presentation of Hektor with those close to him — his mother, Hekuba; his wife, Andromache; and his son, Astyanax. In this book there exists a tenderness and intimacy of feeling that occurs nowhere else in theIliad. Society depends on the bonds of love and family, and Hektor encompasses and fights for those bonds. Andromache seems to urge Hektor to leave the battle, but fleeing destroys the values of the society even more surely than fighting and losing does.
In contrast, Achilles has only Briseis, a prize of war. She is a slave/concubine, and while she evinces emotion toward Achilles and Patroklos, there is no real relationship between them. Achilles withdraws from battle because of Briseis, but only because he feels cheated of booty. Achilles is the individual, acting on the basis of a personal code, with little concern for how his actions may affect the greater community. Achilles follows…

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