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In Homer’s Iliad, an extremely courageous and noble character is Hector, Prince of Troy. Hector does not want war, so his decision to lead the assault on the Achaean forces may seem strange. However, if there were a noble way out of the war, Hector might have taken it. “Without a noble escape, Hector is forced to fight”(Willcock 62).
It does not seem to be rooted in his own belief that his brother Paris' actions are worthy of defense, or that Helen is a prize absolutely worth fighting for. In fact, although he feels fraternal affection for his brother, he reviles Paris several times for his selfishness and womanizing that has brought such grief to Troy. To Hecuba, he says "A great curse Olympian Zeus let live and grow in him [Paris], for Troy and high-hearted Priam and all his sons." (VI.334-5) He is angry at Paris, not only for the taking of Helen, but for his hiding from battle, allowing the other men of Troy to die for the trophy that Paris keeps in his bed. "You'd be the first to lash out at another -- anywhere -- you saw hanging back from this, this hateful war. Up with you -- before all Troy is torched to a cinder here and now!" he berates Paris (VI.389-90). And later, in the heat of battle, he cries again: "Paris, appalling Paris! Our prince of beauty -- mad for women, you lure them all to ruin!" (XIII.888-9)
He is not fighting, then, out of respect for his brother's right to Helen. It is not that Hector believes that he is doing the right thing according to his own perception of the situation, only the honorable one, out of duty to country. Hector also has a personal stake in the battle -- he sees fighting his hardest as the only possible means of saving his beloved wife and child. He says to Andromache: "I would die of shame to face the men of Troy . . .if I would shrink from battle now, a coward." (VI.523-5) He goes on to evoke images of a widowed and enslaved Andromache, living far from home. However, it appears that his concern here is not entirely for her pain, but for the fact that people will speak of her as the woman whose husband, although brave, was not strong enough to fight off her day of slavery.
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One would expect Hector to have reservations about a war whose cause he considers ill-founded and which he is fighting only to save face and kin. But when Polydamas requests that Hector hold off a planned onslaught after an ill omen is spotted, Hector rebukes him for a coward: "Fight for your country -- that is the best, the only omen! You, why are you so afraid of war and slaughter?" (XII.281-2) His remark is strikingly similar to the attitude that many American citizens take during times of international crisis: my country, right or wrong. Whether or not you agree with the policy of the president (or the actions of the prince), you must fight alongside your other countrymen, because to do anything else would be unmanly, unpatriotic, and suspect. The wheels of war have already been set in motion by Paris' actions, and cannot be halted by a single man. Hector's primary duty, as a soldier, is to protect the community and his family in it. As an individual, he may have his doubts, but it is too late to voice them without seeming traitorous. His decision to do battle is not so strange after all. This warrior code, at once so familiar and so foreign, was a necessary cement to a nonindustrial society where a power's chances of victory were directly correlated with the number of men on the front. In our modern Western world, where battles are won largely through superior technology, open debate on the justification behind military action becomes a luxury that we can afford; not so for Troy.
If there were a noble way out of the war, Hector might have taken it. Seeing none, though, he feels obligated to clash with the Achaeans to save his city and the name of Priam, and his actions on the battlefield are some of the most brutal of any of the Trojans.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Homer: Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
Richardson, Nicholas. The Iliad : A Commentary. Vol. VI: books 21-24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1993.
Willcock, Malcolm M. A Companion to the Iliad: Based on the Translation by Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976