Discuss how Homer uses pathos to highlight the conflict between Hector's military duty and other obligations in book VI of The Iliad. Give examples from the text looking at symbolism, gestures and...

Discuss how Homer uses pathos to highlight the conflict between Hector's military duty and other obligations in book VI of The Iliad. Give examples from the text looking at symbolism, gestures and details.

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readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We should define pathos. Broadly speaking, pathos is a quality that evokes pity or sadness. Based on this definition, there are four qualities that Homer uses to provoke sadness.

First, as Hector comes back to the Scaean Gates, many women come to him to ask about their husbands and sons. Many have died. The women weep. Hector urges them to pray, and pray they do. This sets the stage for greater pathos, as war will destroy more families.

Meanwhile, Hector reached the Scaean Gates and oak tree. The Trojans’ wives and daughters ran up round him, asking after children, brothers, relatives, and husbands. Addressing each of them in turn, he ordered them to pray to all the gods.

Second, thus far we know Hector as the prince of Troy and as a great warrior. Now we get a glimpse into his inner thoughts and humanity. In particular, we see his fears. He fears death, but more importantly he fears what will happen to his wife. She will be dragged away and made into a slave. Here is an excerpt; it is filled with pathos. 

“Wife, all this concerns me, too. But I’d be disgraced, dreadfully shamed among Trojan men and Trojan women in their trailing gowns, if I should, like a coward, slink away from war...My heart and mind know well the day is coming when sacred Ilion will be destroyed, along with Priam of the fine ash spear and Priam’s people. But what pains me most about these future sorrows is not so much the Trojans, Hecuba, or king Priam, or even my many noble brothers, who’ll fall down in the dust, slaughtered by their enemies. My pain focuses on you, when one of those bronze-clad Achaeans leads you off in tears, ends your days of freedom. If then you come to Argos as a slave, working the loom for some other woman,fetching water from Hypereia or Messeis, against your will, forced by powerful Fate..."

Third, we see the fear of Hector's wife, Andromache. She weeps when she sees Hector. She does not want Hector to go into battle, for she knows that he will not come back. The fury of the Achaeans is too great. She knows in her heart that her beloved husband will die. Here is her plea:

“My dear husband, your warlike spirit will be your death. You’ve no compassion for your infant child, for me, your sad wife, 500 who before long will be your widow.

When her words do not prevail. She mourns his death. She knows that he is as good as dead. 

Having said these words, glorious Hector took his plumed helmet in his hands. His beloved wife went home, often looking back, as she went, crying bitterly. She quickly reached the spacious home of Hector, killer of men. Inside she met her many servants and bid them all lament. So they mourned for Hector in his own house, though he was still alive—they thought he’d not come back, he’d not escape the battle fury of Achaean hands.

Fourth, we see Hector's relationship with his son, Astyanax. When Hector approaches, Astyanax is afraid of his father's helmet. So, Hector takes it off and smiles. The love that he has for his son is evident. He picks up his son and he prays for him that the favor of the gods will be with him. The content of the prayer is important, because the theme is warfare. Therefore, there is a lingering feeling that Hector will die in battle. Astyanax will never know his father, but at least, he will know that his father died bravely.

The child’s loving father laughed, his noble mother, too. Glorious Hector pulled the glittering helmet off and set it on the ground. Then he kissed his dear son and held him in his arms. He prayed aloud to Zeus and the rest of the immortals. “Zeus, all you other gods, grant that this child, my son, may become, like me, pre-eminent among the Trojans, as strong and brave as me. Grant that he may rule Troy with strength. May people someday say, as he returns from war, ‘This man is far better than his father.’ May he carry back bloody spoils from his slaughtered enemy, making his mother’s heart rejoice.”

Based on these four points, Homer problematizes the two parts of Hector's life. On the one hand, he is solider who must fight for Troy. On the other hand, he is a husband and father. He cannot be both. He must choose. As an honorable citizen and prince of Troy, he will fight, but everyone knows (including the reader) that Hector will die. An honorable man will fall, and whenever this happens, pathos drips.