Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1114
Deiphobos: brother of Hektor, whose form Athene takes in fooling Hektor
As the other Trojans recover from the battle behind the city walls, Hektor remains alone outside the city to face Achilleus. Apollo then reveals himself. Achilleus is furious with the trick and moves quickly back to the city. Priam sees him coming and begs his son to reconsider and come inside the walls. His mother then adds her entreaties, but neither can convince him to give up his post. Hektor goes over his options. He can give up and go back into the city, where he will surely be blamed for the destruction of his people. He can put down his armor and meet Achilleus unarmed, offering to return Helen and give great treasure along with her. However, Achilleus would probably kill him regardless. He decides his best option is fighting.
As Achilleus nears Hektor, the Trojan’s courage fails, and he begins to retreat in terror. Achilleus relentlessly chases Hektor around the city walls as the Trojan tries unsuccessfully to dash for the gates and get inside. As they complete three full laps around the city, Zeus holds up his golden scales and puts a fate of death in each pan. When Hektor’s doom sinks down, Apollo leaves him to his fate.
Athene then appears to Hektor in the guise of Deiphobos, one of his brothers. Believing that he will have help in fighting Achilleus, Hektor turns to face him. He swears that if Achilleus is slain, his body will be returned to the Achaians, and requests a similar oath from Achilleus. Achilleus, however, refuses to make any promises.
The two begin their duel, and Hektor soon discovers that Deiphobos is not there and that the gods have brought him to his certain death. After several unsuccessful attempts by both men, Achilleus finds a vulnerable point at Hektor’s collarbone and drives a spear through his neck. As Hektor takes his last breaths, he beseeches Achilleus again to give his body to his father in exchange for great ransom. Again, Achilleus refuses, and Hektor dies predicting Achilleus’ death at the hands of Paris and Apollo.
The other Achaians rush to see the body of the mighty Hektor, and many stab the corpse. Achilleus strips the body and attaches it by the feet to his chariot. As he speeds back to the ships, the body is dragged behind in the dust, defiled.
Hektor’s parents are overcome with grief for their son’s death; they weep and moan loudly. The other Trojans join them in their cries, and eventually the sound carries to Andromache. She rushes out to find the reason for the wailing. As she hears of Hektor’s death, she faints. The book ends with the Trojan women mourning their fallen leader.
Discussion and Analysis
The character of Hektor is vividly revealed in his final choice of action. A lesser man would have hidden behind the wall with the rest of the Trojans. Instead, Hektor takes on the responsibility of defending his city in a fateful encounter with Achilleus. Hektor has consistently acted without thought of personal danger, secure in the knowledge that fate will be served, and this instance is no exception. In deciding to fight, Hektor turns his back on two options that might have saved his life. He could have escaped behind the wall. He could also have approached Achilleus unarmed, offering the return of Helen and much treasure. Hektor, however, is bound by the heroic code to defend his city.
Hektor does briefly lose his composure when faced with the sight of Achilleus bent on revenge. The vision of Achilleus in his immortal armor must have been terrifying to send such a brave man running. Hektor’s flight around the city gives the Trojans an opportunity to help him by attacking Achilleus from the wall. In this culture, a warrior will normally fight only if he has a reasonable chance to win. If he feels that he is no match for the opponent, he will simply run away. There is no disgrace in Hektor’s running. However, there is no escaping fate, and Hektor cannot escape the duel with Achilleus. Again, the gods step in, not to create a supernatural event, but to encourage what was fated to happen anyway. Athene fools Hektor into thinking he will have help in fighting Achilleus. Her choice of disguises is wise, only his brother would risk death for him. Once Hektor realizes fate has turned against him, he faces Achilleus and fights bravely.
The words exchanged during the duel reveal the contrast between Achilleus and Hektor. While Hektor offers to treat Achilleus’ body with respect if he is the one killed, Achilleus will make no comparable promise. While much of the gesture can be explained by the fact that Hektor believes he will be the one destroyed, the act still shows his nature. Achilleus is blinded by rage, mad with grief, starving, and sleepless. The Achaian is bound by his code of honor to avenge Patroklos, yet he knows that means he is giving up his own life as well. He seems almost inhuman as he meets his enemy. Hektor, however, remains very human, showing a range of emotions from despair to hope to ultimate resignation. Hektor is the only character that appears in every single book of the Iliad,and Homer has developed this character more than any other. The full depth of that development is revealed in his final living moments.
As Hektor dies, he is again denied his request of a proper family burial. Achilleus once more pushes himself to the extreme. Just as he refused to reconcile with Agamemnon before he was completely humiliated, so he will not be swerved from his path of revenge, even after killing Hektor. In full view of the Trojans watching from the wall, Achilleus defiles Hektor’s dead body by dragging it from the back of his chariot. There is no pity and no remorse.
Achilleus’ treatment of the body is the culmination of the mutilation theme that has run throughout the epic. While mutilation has been threatened over and over, there are no other examples of such ill treatment in the poem. Mutilation of corpses was actually a common practice in the time period, and the Iliad is unique in that it does not describe more such abominations. While there are battles fought over bodies and we can assume that they were not treated kindly if won by the other side, we are never privy to the details. The effect is a powerful focus on the horror of the act as described in this book.
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