Hector Scope: It is part of the genius of Homer to make Hector (1250 B.C.), the chief opponent of the Greeks, into the noblest hero of the Iliad. Hector is like Robert E. Lee, fighting with honor, courage, and skill for a cause he knows is doomed to defeat. Patriot, soldier, devoted husband and father, Hector embodies the virtues most admired by the Greeks and their tragic vision of life. Hector and the tale of Troy also serve to introduce us to a modern who well deserves to be ranked among the “Famous Greeks”: Heinrich Schliemann (1822 – 1890) was a German businessman whose faith in the historicity of Homer, coupled with his ambition, energy, and intellect, led him to discover the lost world of Hector’s Troy and Agamemnon’s Mycenae and lay the foundations of modern archaeology.
The Iliad is the epic saga of the Greek heroic age.
It was composed around 750 B.C., five hundred years after the Trojan War, for a Greek audience that now occupied Ionia, part of the traditional lands of the Trojans and their allies.
The Iliad contains the components of a great book:
It deals with a great theme: the meaning of life.
It is written in noble language.
It speaks across the ages.
It summarizes the values of an age at its height – the Heroic Age.
Homer understood the importance of presenting the Greeks of his story with a noble antagonist to vanquish. The Trojans fight the war with courage, honor, and devotion to their cause. Of all the Trojans, the bravest is Hector.
Hector is a superb warrior, a leader who calls forth his men’s devotion and makes them capable of supreme feats of courage.
Hector is a devoted and loving father and husband.
He is a patriot; he fights for the best causes, for his country and family.
Without a sense of honor, however, bravery can be mere savagery. Honor is Hector’s moral compass.
The Greece of the Iliad is the heroic age in which warfare was a basic element of human life and great heroes fought, above all, for honor and glory.
As Achilles and Agamemnon are foils for each other, so Hector and his brother Paris are foils for each other: hector is forced to fight a war brought about by his brother’s ignoble deed (stealing Helen from the Greeks).
Hector fights for the honor of Troy and for his own honor. It is honor that leads him to continue the war rather than simply end it by a negotiated peace and the return of Helen. It is honor that leads him to fight the Greeks in the open field rather than choosing the strategically sounder course of remaining inside the mighty walls of Troy.
Honor is so central to the meaning of Hector’s life that he cannot understand his brother Paris and Paris’s lack of concern over what men think of him.
Hector is charitable.
Helen pays the highest tribute to Hector. Of all the Trojans, he has never reproached her or made her feel guilty for all the misery she has brought to his country.
Hector is even charitable toward his brother Paris, who has no sense of honor.
Fame, to be remembered by posterity as the greatest warrior, is the goal of Hector’s life. That is also the goal he seeks for his son.
But Hector is also a flesh-and-blood man.
The scene of Achilles’s victory over Hector frequently puzzles readers of Homer. At the climactic moment, Hector turns and runs in terror.
However, this only serves to make Hector seem more human and to complete Homer’s portrait of him as a flesh-and-blood man, subject, as all of us are, to moments of doubt.
Hector is, for Homer, that tragic hero who gives meaning to the victorious side.
He knows Troy must fall, but he fights on to the very end for a cause he knows to be just.
Great victories only gain in stature from being won over a worthy foe. The supreme military genius of Hannibal added luster to Rome’s triumph over Carthage in the Second Punic War. However, Hannibal lacked the human qualities of Hector. A much closer parallel is Robert E. Lee in the American Civil War.
The reality of Homer’s portrait of Hector raises the question of the historicity of the Trojan War.
The Greeks and Romans believed that the Trojan War was real history.
However, scholars in Europe in the late eighteenth century and nineteenth century subjected the Iliad to the same tools of higher criticism that they used on the Bible. The result was general skepticism about the historicity of the Iliad. The best scholars of the mid-nineteenth century regarded the Iliad as a fable.