Who is Hector in The Iliad? - Description & Characteristics

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Hector is the greatest of the Trojan warriors in Homer's epic 'The Iliad', and in many ways, is a more sympathetic hero than the poem's central figure, Achilles. This lesson looks at Hector's character and description with reference to his key scenes.

Hector in The Iliad: An Overview

Hector is the leader of the Trojan forces in Homer's epic The Iliad, which covers the final period of the long war between the Greeks and Trojans. Besides being great in battle, Hector is next in line to the throne of Troy, being the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Although Achilles, who fought for the Greek forces, is the central figure in the epic, Hector is also a major character and appears frequently in the poem.

Homer's Descriptions of Hector

All the main characters in The Iliad have Homeric epithets attached to them; these are simply descriptions that are repeated each time we read the name of the character in the poem. In Hector's case, his epithets range from general heroic descriptions such as ''great'' and ''godlike,'' to more specific descriptions such as ''tamer of horses'' and ''of the shining helmet.''

Hector in Battle

Although we read references in The Iliad to Hector's previous battles, his primary skirmishes within the poem are his fight against Patroclus, Achilles's best friend, and his confrontation with Achilles himself. Hector's battle with Patroclus ends with him celebrating Patroclus's downfall, causing Patroclus to predict that Hector's celebration will be short-lived since Achilles will almost certainly get revenge. Patroclus is correct—when Achilles learns that Hector has killed his close friend, Achilles faces Hector in battle. He defeats Hector soundly and then drags Hector's body around the gates of Troy, an act which understandably upsets Hector's loved ones.

Hector's Character

In many ways, Hector can be considered the more heroic of the heroes in The Iliad. While Achilles is forever brooding and nursing his wounded pride, Hector seems to have a less selfish mentality. Many of Hector's speeches throughout the epic have to do with concern about the fate of his city and worry about his family. It is also easy to feel sympathy for Hector since the gods have decided that Greece will win and Troy will lose, and they interfere in the battles to achieve this end. In short, Hector never has a chance.

Hector and Achilles

Since Hector and Achilles are the greatest warriors in their respective armies, they are frequently compared to one another. While Achilles is famous for being angry and proud, Hector is a more sympathetic character. With the exception of Hector's celebration of killing Patroclus, he tends to be a less selfish fighter than Achilles. For example, neither Hector nor Achilles is a big believer in the war, but Hector continues fighting because it is the honorable thing to do, while Achilles withdraws from the conflict because his pride is wounded.

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