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The Heroic Hector in Greek Mythology

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Trojan War is one of the most famous events from Greek mythology, and most people today have heard of it. Today, there is no way of knowing whether there was a war between the Achaeans and the Trojans in early antiquity, but the mythological tale of the war, or at least a large part of it, can be found in Homer’s Iliad.

The names of many heroes who fought at Troy are still recognisable today, and the likes of Achilles, Ajax the Greater, Odysseus and Diomedes are relatively famous. These four heroes though are Greek heroes, and those heroes who fought for Troy are less well known; Paris is arguably the most famous Trojan, although he is often portrayed as being unheroic; Aeneas is more famous for events after the fall of Troy; and then of course there is Hector.

The Iliad

Hector of Troy

In the time when the Iliad is set, King Priam is on the throne of Troy, having been made king years earlier by Heracles. Priam was famous for his large number of children, possibly 68 sons and 18 daughters, by several wives.

Hector though, was the eldest son of Priam and Hecabe, and therefore brother to the likes of Deiphobus, Helenus, Cassandra and Laodice.

Hector was the favoured child of Priam, and was heir apparent to the throne of Troy; destiny though played out differently for the Trojan prince.

Hector and Andromache

Sergey Petrovich Postnikov (1838–1880) PD-art-100

Sergey Petrovich Postnikov (1838–1880) PD-art-100

Hector in Greek Mythology

Hector comes to prominence during the Trojan War, and there is little mention of the Trojan hero previously. That being said, the gathering Greek forces, recognised that to ensure victory they would have to overcome the mightiest of Trojan warriors, Hector.

Hector was married to Andromache, a Cilician princess; and together the pair would later have one son, Astyanax.

Andromache is often portrayed as the perfect wife, but during the war, she would implore Hector not to go onto the battlefield outside the city, but to remain at her side, and stay alive.

Hector would refuse his wife’s request, even though he recognised that it was almost inevitable that Troy would fall to the attacking forces. Hector believed that his first duty was to his city, rather than his wife.

Hector would place the blame for the predicament of Troy squarely on the shoulders of Paris, his brother, but nevertheless, Hector did his duty. It was this dutifulness, as well as piety and courage, which ensured Hector was held in the very highest esteem by the Ancient Greeks.

Hector Admonishing Paris

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751–1829) PD-art-100

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751–1829) PD-art-100

The Warrior Hector

Hector is primarily remembered for his courage and his fighting skill. Hyginius in Fabulae would suggest that Hector alone killed 30,000 or more of the Achaean force, although, in most cases, the entire Achaean force only comprised of an army between 70,000 and 130,000 men.

Heroes at Troy are normally described by the number of worthy opponents that they killed, and as such, Hector is normally credited with killing 30 Achaean heroes, including the likes of Protesilaus and Archesilaus.

Hector is primarily remembered for three individual contests during the Trojan War.

Hector and Ajax

Hector, angered by Paris having brought a besieging army to Troy, seeks to end the conflict quickly, and goes out to meet the Achaean forces. Hector makes a challenge, calling for the bravest of the Achaean forces to face him in single combat.

Initially, no one on the Greek side comes forth, but when lots are drawn, Telamonian Ajax, Ajax the Greater, goes forth to fight Hector.

Hector and Ajax fight the whole day, with neither gaining a significant advantage over their opponent. With night drawing in, the pair agree to call the fight a draw, and are impressed with the courage, skill and strength of their opponent. In recognition of each other, gifts are exchanged. Hector receives a girdle from Ajax, and Ajax receives a sword from Hector; both gifts would play a role in the downfall of both heroes.

Hector and Patrolcus

As the war dragged on, Agamemnon and Achilles fell out, and the latter would subsequently refuse to fight. The absence of Achilles allowed the Trojan forces to gain the upper hand in the conflict, and the Trojans came close to burning the Achaean ships.

Patrolcus, Achilles’ closest friend, managed to convince Achilles to lend him his armour, and Patroclus would push the Trojans back from the shoreline.

The day’s fighting is almost over when Patroclus encounters Hector. Patroclus may have the powerful armour of Achilles, but he does not have his skill, and is not a match for the ability of Hector either, and Patroclus is soon killed.

The Achaean forces manage to reclaim the body of Patrolcus, but by then the armour of Achilles is in the possession of Hector.

Hector and Achilles

The death of Patroclus convinces Achilles to fight again, and with new armour he re-enters the battlefield. Hector briefly withdraws from the frontline, as it has been foretold that he would die at the hands of Achilles, just as it had been foretold that Achilles would die soon after Hector’s death.

Achilles and Hector recognise the inevitability of the situation, and so the pair end up fighting each other. An immense fight begins, although Achilles is aided by the guidance of Athena, and eventually Achilles’s spear penetrates the neck of Hector, killing him. Troy has lost its greatest hero.

Achilles Triumphant

Fresco from the Achilleion Palace PD-life-70

Fresco from the Achilleion Palace PD-life-70

The Body of Hector

Achilles was still angry over the death of Patrolcus, and so Achilles tied the body of Hector to his chariot, making use of the girdle of Ajax, and so the body of hector was pulled behind the chariot. Achilles even thought of giving the body to the dogs, and refused to hand the body over to the Trojans for proper burial.

Hector though had not been completely abandoned by the gods, and Aphrodite and Apollo used their powers to ensure that the body was protected despite being pulled behind the chariot.

Eventually, King Priam would enter the Greek camp looking for his son’s body. Priam was aided by Hermes, who shielded the king from the sight of the Achaean guards. Priam arrived at the tent of Achilles, and asked the Greek hero directly for the return of Hector’s body. Thetis had already warned her son of the need to return the body, and taken with the words of Priam, Achilles allowed the king to return to Troy with his son’s body.

Troy mourned the loss of their favourite son, just as Andromache mourned the loss of her husband, and for 12 days funeral games were held in honour of Hector. With the death of Hector though, Troy had lost its last hope.

Priam comes for Hector's Body

Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1806–1858) PD-art-100

Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1806–1858) PD-art-100

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Comments

Colin Quartermain (author) on February 02, 2015:

Thanks for reading - yep Hector is one of those heroes normally overlooked

peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 02, 2015:

wonderful greek history that i had never learn when i was in school, my teachers are geeks

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