In The Iliad, why does Homer call Andromache Hector's "precious wife."

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Homer uses epithets to tell us something about his characters, be it personal qualities—such as "fleet-footed Achilles"—or their functions within society—e.g. "Hector, breaker of horses." He also uses these epithets to pad out the line, to make the rhythm of the verse flow more smoothly when spoken out loud. The Iliad, like Homer's other masterpiece, The Odyssey, was originally intended to be sung, and the poet's copious use of epithets greatly enhances their musical qualities.

In the case of Andromache, the epithet "precious" is an example of foreshadowing. Hector knows what will happen if the Trojans should lose their bitter war against the Achaeans. All the men will be killed, and their wives and children sold into slavery. That being the case, one could argue that Andromache is precious in much the same way as an antique vase is precious: vulnerable to being broken. That would certainly seem to be the best interpretation of Hector's understanding of the word, as can be seen in the terrifying vision he recounts in Book VI of The Iliad:

"Thy griefs I dread: I see thee trembling, weeping, captive led!"

Hector's seen the future and it chills him to the bone. He sees his beloved, nay precious, Andromache, being led away in chains, a sex slave of the victorious Achaeans.

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Homer does right in calling Andromache a "precious wife."  She is precious to Hektor.  One of the most powerful elements in Homer's Iliad is that Hektor is an amazingly talented and gifted soldier, one in whom Troy places a rightful amount of faith and respect.  Yet, as abundant in arete as Hektor is, he is torn in his desire to remain with Andromache and their son, Astyanax.  In Book VI, Homer shows Hektor to be literally torn between desire and duty in what he wants to do and what he has to do.  In such a predicament, Andromache is indeed, precious to him.  Additionally, Andromache's character makes her precious.  In a setting where women are either shown to be deceptive, such as Helen, or completely wrathful, like Hera, Andromache is noble and honorable, completely devoted to her husband and supportive even though she never ranks above Troy in his eyes.  It is for this reason that she acquires even more of a precious status, in that Hektor reveres his wife, though he fully understands that he will never be able to be choose her over the needs of Troy.  It is in these lights that Homer's characterization of her as a "precious wife" is quite honorable and well meaning, indeed.

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