Is Achilles Treatment Of Hector's Body Conduct Unbecoming A Knight?

Is Achilles Treatment Of Hector's Body Conduct Unbecoming A Knight?

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Based on the text, I find it undeniable that Achilles' treatment of Hector's body was despicable. But the argument can be furthered with the question of Achilles' role in the story. Was Achilles a knight at all? Or was he simply a killer with an army? If Achilles can only be considered a knight technically, then can his actions really be measured by something he isn't truly? If it is assumed Achilles was a "knight" the argument will go one way. But if Achilles is viewed as a killer, all assumptions of proper action are dismissed, and therefore, his treatment of Hector's need find an alternative gauge.
To take it back ten steps, let's first discuss Achilles' treatment of Hector, before Hector was just a body to be discarded. In Homer's The Iliad, Hector, the son of King Priam and the heir to the Trojan throne, is faced in battle with Achilles, a Greek man made invulnerable to harm (and known for his number of killings), except for a bit of his heel that was not dipped (as he was, as a baby) in the river Styx. Their dual follows the wrongful death of Achilles' close friend Patroclus (who had dressed in Achilles' armor and entered battle) at the hands of Hector. Though Hector was mistaken, and Patroclus' death was arguably unnecessary, Achilles holds Hector accountable, and therefore they meet for battle outside the walls of Troy when Achilles comes seeking Hector, and Hector only.
It is important, still, to give clear impressions of these men, before their battle, and the aftermath of it, is analyzed. These are two men who represent very different backgrounds, coming together to fight in a battle that will test the strength of their fighting skills, and morality. Hector is the son of a king, and acts so. He expresses not only his fear of the fight with Achilles, but also of what will happen if he does not fight. "So now, better by far for me/To stand up to Achilles, kill him, come home alive/Or die at his hands in glory out before the walls. (Book XXII 124-131)" Hector embodies a sense of nobility that Achilles does not share. He fights for not only himself, but for the cause of protecting his country and its pride. Achilles fights Hector for revenge. Therefore, Hector enters the confrontation pursuing an obligation, and Achilles enters it hoping to pacify his pain in the loss of Patroclus.

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This difference in their motivation has everything to do with the nature of the fight, and what occurs in its wake.
Because Hector's drive is more political than personal, his mindset is that of a noble fighter, and not as an assassin, the nature of which, it could be argued, is embodied by Achilles. Hector, to put it plainly, is there to fight, while Achilles' only objective is to kill. While it is true, they both have honest intent to kill the other, Hector does not have the vengeance Achilles does, and it is possible this harms his ability to gather courage enough to fight to his fullest potential. Hector begins this battle on the defense, and though they are pitted against only each other, and therefore it can be said they are equals in the fight, Hector lacks the anger Achilles feels… and, in Hector's case, the anger necessary to conjure the motivating drive to win is replaced with fear. Hector is scared. And so, when Achilles comes for him, his instinct is to run. "…so Achilles flew at him, breakneck in a fury/with hector fleeting along the walls of Troy,/fast as his legs would go. (Book XXII 171-173)" One might say that Hector's running away is unbecoming a knight, but then again, knights are human, and so was Hector. Priam is forced to watch his son get hunted down by a killer, outside walls he built to protect his people. "Unbearable—a man I love, hunted round his own city walls/and right before my eyes (Book XXII 201-202)" cries Priam. If anything, this is foreshadowing of the lack of respect Achilles will show Hector's body, as he has no qualms of extinguishing Hector right before his own city's walls, and under the watchful eye of his father.
When Hector stops running, and finally turns to face Achilles, it is clear that Hector's psyche has instilled a great fear in him for his life. It seems, when he stops running from Achilles, that he gives up his life there. To Achilles, Hector makes a plea, making him the first to vocally acknowledge the fact that one of them will die. He tries to appease Achilles by promising him the respect of proper burial, should he be the one to die. "I swear/I will never mutilate you—merciless as you are—/If Zeus allows me to last it out and tear your life away./But once I've stripped your glorious armor, Achilles,/I will give your body back to the loyal comrades./Swear you will do the same. (Book XXII302-307)" It is clear that Hector fears for his own life, and is simply trying to gain sympathy from Achilles.
Although Hector's pleas may have appealed to a side of Achilles that craved power, Achilles' motivation to kill Hector was that of pure revenge for the life taken by Hector's hand. Because of the slaughter, which Achilles views as murder, he does not see Hector as a man. If anything, he sees him as a killer, and the two are as different as man and beast. "There are no binding oaths between men and lions—/wolves and lambs can enjoy no meeting of the minds—/they are all bent on hating each other to the death.
So with you and me. No love between us. (Book XXII 310-313) Achilles refuses to make an agreement with Hector simply because he knows that he owes Hector, the man who killed his friend, nothing. While a knight serves their king, Achilles is not at the walls of Troy to fight Hector on the king's behalf. He is there for a personal reason, and therefore all supposed regulatory actions are dismissed (i.e. all bets are off).
When Achilles refuses, it is clear that Hector not only fears for his life, but realizes that he has already lost it. Hector finally begs Achilles, offering him gifts if he should only allow the Trojans to have his body for proper burial when he is killed. "Wait, take the princely ransom of bronze and gold,/the gifts my father and noble mother will give you—/but give my body to friends to carry home again,/so Trojan men and Trojan women can do me honor/with fitting rites of fire once I am dead. (Book XXII 401-405)" It is not to be forgotten that plenty of men have fallen at the hand of Hector in battle. So perhaps there is a hint of his guilt over those losses coming out in his begging of Achilles for proper action. But then again, Hector never fought as Hector, just as a knight of Troy. Achilles and Hector are warriors with no army. They are two men with weapons.
Hector falls at the hand of Achilles, from a sword through the neck.
When he is dead, Achilles pierces Hector's ankles, and ties him to his chariot with a rope. He then drags Hector's body around the walls of Troy before riding back to the Greeks with Hector's body behind. Once there, he leaves Hector's body in the open so that "not a man came forward that did not stab his body,/glancing toward a comrade, laughing… (Book XXII 438-439)". Not only does he disgrace the sovereignty of Troy, and its promising heir, but leaves Hector's body unprotected, and uncovered once he is done parading him back to the Greeks.
Achilles' disrespect of Hector's remains surpasses that of physical exploitation. "Then he'd yoke his racing team to the chariot-harness,/Lash the corpse of hector behind the car for dragging /And haul him three times round the dead Patroclus' tomb,/And then he's rest gain in his tents and leave the body/Sprawled facedown in the dust. (Book XXIV 17-21)" He shames the position Hector should have assumed as Troy's next king by using him as a show of his power, and a way to grieve his lost friend.
There is no question, Achilles' treatment of Hector's body was unacceptable. But he was not Achilles, the Greek soldier fighting Hector, the Trojan soldier. He was Achilles fighting Hector. There were no flags, no back up, and only one winner. Achilles fought for a life already lost. Hector fought for a life he was sure he'd lose. Regardless of how it turned out, Hector's death alone would not have fulfilled Achilles' driving motivation. Hector's death would have made it even, and that would not have soothed Achilles' anger.
Hector died as Patroclus died. Once his body remained, Achilles simply kept it, ad harmed it, out of a felt obligation to his friend. While Achilles' conduct was unbecoming, it was unbecoming of a human, and has little to do with the standards of a knight. A knight does not run away, yet Hector did. A knight does not beg agreement, as Hector did. Achilles told Hector that he would not agree to anything. Perhaps Achilles' honesty was the most becoming conduct of all. Between nature of action, and motivation, Achilles' drive was the purest.
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