Hector as the Ideal Homeric Man of Homer's Iliad
Homer's Iliad enthralls readers with its’ valiant heroes who fight for the glory of Greece. The Iliad, however, is not just a story of war; it is also a story of individuals. Through the characters' words and actions, Homer paints portraits of petulant Achilles and vain Agamemnon, doomed Paris and Helen, loyal Patroclus, tragic Priam, versatile Odysseus, and the whole cast of Gods. Ironically, the most complete character in the epic is Hector, enemy hero, and Prince of Troy. Hector is in many ways the ideal Homeric man: he is a man of compassion and piety, a man of integrity and bravery, a man who loves his family, and above all, a man who understands and fulfills his social obligations under the stringent rules of the heroic code.
Hector, returning to the city from a series of ferocious setbacks at the hands of the Acheans, is introduced as a man of compassion and piety. His behavior as a hero and as a son is markedly different from the behavior exhibited by Agamemnon and Achilles. When he enters the Scaean Gates, he is immediately surrounded by "the wives and daughters of Troy...asking about their sons, brothers, friends and husbands" (VI, 150-151). The very fact that the women approach Hector, intimidating as he must be in his bloodstained armor, is revealing. Up to this point, the women in the story have been silent victims of the raging tempers of the men around them. In contrast, the women of Troy display confidence in Hector's character by approaching him without fear. Though he himself is exhausted and discouraged, Hector patiently responds to the anguished women, demonstrating the compassion he feels for his fighting men and their families. So many have died that day, and so many are yet to die. One by one, he tells them simply, "Pray to the Gods" (VI, 152). Had Agamemnon demonstrated the same sort of compassion towards the supplicant Chryses, the Greeks would have been spared the wrath of Apollo. Hector's compassion and his respect for the gods, engenders the trust and respect of his people, and makes him an ideal leader.
Hector continues on to the palace, where he is embraced by his mother Hecuba, who offers him wine with which to refresh himself and to honor the Gods. Hector politely answers, "Mother, not now-I'd lose my nerve for war. And I'd be ashamed to pour a glistening cup to Zeus with unwashed hands. I'm splattered with blood and filth-how could I pray to the lord of storm and lightning?" (VI, 179-183). He then recommends that his mother "go with offerings to Athena's shrine" to make sacrifices for the success of the Trojans. Hector's respectful address to his mother, his humility before the Gods and his understanding of the appropriate forms of supplication, stand in sharp contrast to Achilles' earlier whining and self-serving demands made to Thetis. Once again, in the matter of piety as well as compassion, Hector is the superior man.