Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, creates two very distinct heroic figures: Achilles and Hektor. These men come from different backgrounds and have different reasons for fighting in the Trojan War; Achilles fights for honor, whereas Hektor fights to defend his city, and yet both know that if they fight, they are fated to die. Because of their differing motives for engaging in warfare, both characters have distinct traits and factors that shape their views of honor and their fates. Achilles places personal honor above the group; he believes that if he chooses to fight and to die in this war, it will be on his own terms. For Achilles, honor and anger drive most of his actions. However, Hektor fights to protect his people, and to defend his city's honor; Hektor, in general, focuses more on the group and is more concerned with the well-being of his people than with his own safety. Nevertheless, despite their many differences, The Iliad proves that neither of these men are lesser or greater heroes, and that none of their traits are absolute: at times Achilles is selfless and vulnerable, whereas Hektor can be self-centered and individualistic. Homer uses these complex characters to explore heroic figures and to illustrate that there is not one archetype for a hero.
[...] In Book one, Achilles says, “Zeus of the loud thunder on Olympos should grant me honour at least. But now he has given me not even a little. Now the son of Atreus, powerful Agamemnon, has dishonoured me, since he has taken away my prize and keeps (Lattimore, The Iliad, 353-56) Agamemnon slights Achilles, and Achilles feels like his honor has been lessened in the eyes of the Greeks; he also feels that the gods should not have allowed this to happen. [...]
[...] Throughout most of the epic poem, Achilles is driven by anger and the need to protect his honor. Achilles refuses to fight during the most difficult time for the Greeks because his anger toward Agamemnon has not been sated. In book nine, Odysseus, Phoinix, and Aias come to Achilles with gifts from Agamemnon to try to convince him to rejoin the battle. However, Achilles does not want the gifts, he wants Agamemnon to apologize because to him, only after Agamemnon humbles himself will Achilles regain his honor. [...]
[...] In contrast, the need to protect his society and family motivates Hektor throughout most of the poem. Hektor feels an obligation to fight for his honor, his father's honor, and his wife's honor. Even though he does not agree with this war and knows that the Trojans will lose, he fights because if he did not, the people of Troy would be disillusioned and disheartened. They would know that their end was imminent because Hektor was the only Trojan warrior who could save Ilion. [...]
[...] Throughout about half of the poem, Hektor's decisions are dominated by the what his society, and more specifically his family, needs. Nonetheless, Homer also shows that Hektor's original intentions are corrupted by the intervention of the gods, and he therefore becomes very individualistic. A very interesting component of The Iliad is that the heroes are fated to die. However, Achilles has some control over his fate; whereas Hektor does not. Achilles can choose not to fight and live a long life without glory, or he can fight and die young, but always be remembered as the mighty Achilles. [...]
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