Raging Achilles kills Hector, prince of Troy, in book XXII of the Iliad. This climatic chapter in the epic story begins with the Trojans fleeing ‘like deer’ away from the Achaeans and seeking refuge behind the walls of their city. Achilles is on a mad rampage; filled with grief over the death of his friend Patroclus, he is determined to kill all of the Trojans and especially Hector who he holds personally responsible. Hector is standing outside the safety of the city’s fortifications waiting to fight Achilles one on one. As he waits his parents call out and beg him not to fight, “So they wept, the two of them crying out to their dear son, both pleading time and again but they could not shake the fixed resolve of Hector.”
Hector wavers wondering to himself whether it is a good idea to try and negotiate or barter with Achilles for peace. Despite his personal misgivings and understandable fear, Hector stands to face a vicious, demigod of an opponent, who not only kills him but humiliates and ridicules him in the process and even afterwards. When Hector is dead Achilles desecrates his corpse and parades it before his grief-stricken family and comrades.
Even though Hector wavered and entertained the idea of negotiating rather than fighting with Achilles, and despite fleeing in terror before being chased down and brutally killed — he is not cowardly or weak. His demise is humiliating, however, Hectors ' nobility, honour and decency shine on, even eclipsing the feats of his triumphant killer.
Not everyone agrees with this perspective on the two major opponents of the Iliad. S. Farron from the university of Witwatersrand calls Hector a coward in no uncertain terms and even goes to great lengths in his essay ...
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... a real place in the world compared to bachelor soldier far from home. Book XXII ends with the lamentations of Hectors family members and his wife who cries poignantly “O Hector - I am destroyed! …Now you go down to the House of Death, the dark depths of the earth, and leave me here to waste away in grief…” as she rips off her beautiful headdress and wishes she had never been born and grieves for the lost future of their now fatherless boy.
That he was put to such shame by the barbaric Achilles does not lesson Hectors bravery but rather highlights his underlying sense of decency and of fair play that was so badly violated in his last moments on earth. The odds were stacked against him such that this was like a fight between David and Goliath only in this scenario Goliath won by a landslide and then proceeded to desecrate the corpse of a fine and decent human being.
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