Good Thursday readers!
I hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween. For those of you who don’t or didn’t celebrate this year, I hope you had a happy Tuesday. 🙂
This week, we are looking at Greek mythology in the form of legend. Focusing on characters from Homer’s The Iliad.
In Homer’s The Iliad the concept of heroism runs deep as it usually does in Grecian myths and stories. This story, however, asks us to question the heroes we know so well. The names Odysseus and Achilles are ones we’re all familiar with. Hektor, however; the man that took down Achilles’ best friend, isn’t among our Trojan vocabulary. While he may be known to those who are familiar with Homeric texts as the man whose body was tied to Achilles’ chariot and dragged around for eleven days, he receives little recognition as a warrior when he should receive the most.
It is described that after Achilles discovers Patroclus’s killer is Hektor, Achilles loses his hold on his sanity, it finally breaking once he sees Hektor. Achilles’ strikes Hektor down with the help of Athena, then attaches his dead body to his chariot to drag Hektor around Patroclus’ grave. “He yoked/his team, with Hektor/tied behind, to drag him out” (<—- evidence!) This is how Achilles mourns Patroclus, by circling the dead body of his killer around his grave for eleven days.
While this is Achilles peak in his insanity, this act was the climax of a very steep rise. We can get a good gauge of Achilles’s temperament from these lines: “Xanthus, one of his magical horses, speaks, his voice given [to] him by Hera to prophecy Achilles’ death. Achilles already knows this but is committed to satisfying his rage against He[k]tor, whatever the cost to himself”. A magical horse warns Achilles of his own death, and he doesn’t care because he’s fueled by revenge. This goes to show the type of person Achilles is. He will willingly kill himself so long as he settles the score with Hektor. This makes Achilles not only headstrong but reckless and emotionally-driven. In wartime, those whole are ruled by their emotions risk turning into deserters, or monsters. Achilles is stubborn when it comes to the way he feels; it doesn’t matter what will or might happen to him, he will do what he wants to make himself feel better. This makes him unstable from the start, and the acts of wartime, just take their natural tole.
Despite all this, Achilles is still the fighter people want in their fox hole. Putting myself in the place of a General, Achilles is not the type of fighter I would want. He lacks control and discipline. Before Achilles had discovered Patroclus’s death, he was going to desert, all because someone stole his favorite slave girl. Emotionally-driven, remember? Then he learns of Patroclus’s death, and he wants to fight, but only one person. For the sake of his friend. Even though doing so will seal his fate. He’s unstable and illogical. He may have been mourning his friend, but driving around in circles for the better part of two weeks is a bit excessive. He doesn’t handle the pressures of war well, which is something a soldier needs.
Hektor, on the other hand, is loyal and honorable. He’s fighting an entire war on his brother’s behalf due to his brother’s choice. “Antenor asks Paris to give up Helen and thereby end the war. Paris refuses but offers to return all of the loot that he took with her from Sparta”. He is a respected fighter as the Trojans follow him into battle, not Paris. Where Achilles doesn’t have appropriate ways of dealing with his emotions or stress, Hektor does. While he fights a battle, his wife is pregnant. And yet, he is focused. We know this, because he manages to survive for much of the war. When word comes that his wife, Andromache, is giving birth to their first child, Hektor comes off the battle field to see his son. One could argue this is an unwise, or a decision made to abandon, however, had Hektor not left the field, he may have been distracted. And a distracted soldier helps no one, least of all himself. Hektor spends some time with his newborn son (woot, woot! Ancient Dad award!), and prepare his wife for his ultimate death. A dark gift, in that he can say goodbye while he still has a chance and can create a memory with his first and only child. “‘Oh my wild one, your bravery will be/ your own undoing! No pity for our child,/poor little one, or me in my sad lot— soon to be deprived of you!’” In this scene Hektor has just met his son and in an effort to get Hektor to stay, Adromache tries to manipulate him to no avail due to his loyalty to the cause.
Yet, it seems as though Achilles is the “better” warrior simply because he has a larger death toll and blood thirst.
Hektor may have run from Achilles upon their first meeting, but this is something that can be easily understood. Hektor is a new father who is seeing his greatest enemy for the first time. By evolution of the human body, his reaction to flee and perhaps live another day for his son, overrides that of his warrior sense until the third day when the two fight. Hektor knows he must. He is a solider in a war, afterall.
In a form of poor sportsmanship and conniving cleverness, Athena appears to Hektor as Paris, making Hektor believe that Paris is there to fight alongside him. This is after Athena tells Achilles that she will help him! Neither Hektor’s running away nor Athena’s guise is just battle behavior. Between both fighters, Hektor is the more noble while Achilles is the clear fighter. Again, putting myself in the position of General, I would much rather have Hektor as my second in command, even with the gift of foresight. As a general, I would want someone who had control and clear morals and rules when it came to battle. In other words, an honorable fighter.
Before he and Achilles fight, Hektor asks Achilles to leave his body alone and give it back to the Trojans if he dies. Achilles does not respond to this, instead he changes the subject, allowing for a perfect foreshadow of the next events. “…I’ll not insult your corpse should Zeus allow me/victory in the end, your life as prize./Once I have your gear, I’ll give your body/back to Akhaians. Grant me, too, this grace”. There is a clear formality when it comes to fighting in battle, this is explained when Ajax and Hektor fight. After he wins, Achilles ignores these rules and formalities due to his unstable emotional state because of the death of his friend. While his emotion and rage is understandable, his actions thereafter are selfish.
Achilles has no competition in regard to popularity both on and off the page. But it is Hektor who proves to be the better fighter. He lives by the laws of war and respects the enemy which is the biggest foundation a soldier needs to have before going into battle.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu
Thank you for reading!