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Hector and Achilles – Two Examples of Heroic Code

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Warring forces: Achilles and Hector

“They ran beside these, one escaping, the other after him. It was a great man who fled, but far better he who pursued him.” (22.158-161) Achilles and Hector, the two great warriors of the Iliad were both very similar by being the heroes of their own story, each displaying traits that directly opposed another while also complementing each other. Achilles and Hector both were moral examples of the heroic code by displaying attributes such as pride, humanity, and heroism; however, only Hector exemplifies these traits in a way that proved him the true hero of the Iliad.

Pride is a common trait that many Trojans and Achaeans alike share, but its most significant impact lies on the fates of both Hector and Achilles themselves. Achilles’ pride, which gives him great strength also binds him. Achilles’ pride is wounded once Agamemnon takes Briseis away from him, and this causes him to withdraw from the war as well as ask his mother to persuade Zeus to “Hem the Greeks in between the fleet and the sea.” (Homer 1. 426) Achilles asks this hoping that people lose faith in Agamemnon so that he can have his petty revenge. This decision, however, takes many lives from the Greeks including Patroclus himself, Achilles’ best friend. Hector’s pride is what drives him to partake in the war, but also what ultimately takes him from his family. Hector’s pride is based on duty and others’ opinion of him and this can be seen when he reluctantly leaves his family for the war, all while saying, “I would die of shame to face the men of Troy/ And the Trojan women trailing their long robes /If I would shrink from battle now, a coward.” (Homer 6. 523-525) By this Hector means that despite his wishes, it is his pride that inhibits him from indulging himself and his family and is what propels him to battle. While pride both inhibits and strengthens both heroes of the Iliad, it is Achilles that is burdened the most by it and, Hector that is most liberated by it.

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Humanity is a sparse quality to spot in a war setting, but the two heroes of the Iliad manage to possess it nonetheless. Achilles fights for glory and honor and to conquer. It is in numerous instances that Achilles is shown without a shred of humanity such as; when he mercilessly killed Laomedon who had just escaped slavery, of which Achilles himself had sold him into, or even when Briseis describes him killing her husband in front of her. Furthermore, the act that lacks the most significant amount of humanity is when Achilles drags Hector’s corpse face down by his ankles behind Achilles’ chariot for all of Ilion to see. However, one must remember that this act was inspired by the love Achilles had for Patroclus. By the humanity Achilles showed in mourning Patroclus’ death and crying for him when he laments, “My friend is dead/ Patroclus, my dearest friend of all. I loved him/ And I killed him” (Homer 18. 84-86) There is also great kindness Achilles shows in the act of politely returning Hector’s body to Priam. Hector’s humanity is shown through how he fights for his people; to protect them and maintain peace. Although, it is a little contradictory how Hector’s humanity propels him to fight to protect his loved ones even when it means leaving them behind. A crucial scene is when Hector visits his child while he is clad in battle armor. When Astyanax screams out in fright he understands his child immediately and takes off his helmet, prompting Astyanax to laugh in delight. This is important because; although, simply a child, the near-infant recognizes his father in an instant as the kind caring man who makes Astyanax feel secure in his presence, thus showing Hector’s gentle nature and unquestionable humanity. Achilles and Hector are no doubt not without their flaws, but the presence of their inherent humanity helps to balance their shortcomings; however, it is Hector that proves to be the more humane of the two, with an overwhelming portfolio of kind acts when addressed relatively to that of Achilles’.

Heroism is perhaps the foundation of the heroic code, for it is what a hero must no doubt possess in order to be considered a true hero, and Achilles and Hector are undoubtedly two individuals that embody this trait completely. When Achilles hears of Patroclus’ death any previous semblance of petty anger leaves him and he is imbued with only a passion for retribution that certainly conforms to what heroism is portrayed to be in Greek culture. Achilles displays his heroism when showing his fierce loyalty to Patroclus by avenging his death. Hector’s heroism is shown through the way he confronts his family, for even at the prospect escaping death and living with them, he bids farewell to his wife and young son to fight in the war, which is a true show of heroism. Even at times when his family begs for him back with compelling monologs, such as when his mother pleads, “Hector, my child, if I’ve ever soothed you/ With this breast, remember it now son, and/ Have pity on me. Don’t pit yourself/ Against that madman. Come inside the wall./ If Achilles kills you…/Dogs will eat your body by the Greek ships.” (Homer 22. 90-99) Hector pushes forwards with bravery that represents the heroic code in its whole. Hector and Achilles are both no less than heroes in the eyes of Greek literature, but it is Hector who is the ultimate embodiment of heroism, for even when terrified and staring at of death in the form of Achilles, he pushes onwards to confront his destiny in a true show of heroism.

Achilles and Hector, both with similar strengths and weaknesses, values, and warring natures both conform to the typical Greek heroic code but it is only Hector that remains the ultimate victor of the Iliad. It is true that it is Achilles who vanquished Hector; however, simple skill in combat is not what makes a hero. Pride, humanity, and heroism are the three key elements of the heroic code, both heroes possess them, yet only Hector is able to epitomize these three traits in a manner worthy of a hero.

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