In Greek mythology, Hector was the son of King Priam of Troy and his wife, Hecuba. A Trojan hero and warrior, he fought bravely against the Greeks in the Trojan War*. In the Iliad, Homer's epic about the war, Hector is portrayed as a noble and honorable leader. He was a good son, a loving husband to Andromache and father to Astyanax, and a trusted friend. Honest and forthright, he greatly disapproved of the conduct of his brother Paris, who carried off Helen, the wife of the Greek ruler Menelaus. These actions set the stage for the Trojan War.
The Noble Warrior. Despite his feelings about Paris, Hector stood ready to defend Troy when the Greeks arrived to avenge the seduction of Helen. When the first Greek warrior set foot on Trojan land, it was Hector who killed him. In the long war that followed, Hector fought valiantly and with great vigor against the Greeks. He was the Trojans' greatest champion.
During the first nine years of the war, neither the Greeks nor the Trojans gained a clear advantage. The tide of war favored first one side and then the other. Then in the tenth year of the war, a dispute arose between Achilles*, the greatest of the Greek warriors, and Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces. As a result, Achilles left the field of battle and refused to fight. His absence provided Hector and the Trojans with an opportunity to march out from Troy and attack the Greeks.
With Achilles gone, Hector's most formidable opponents were the Greek champions Diomedes and Ajax. When Diomedes faced Hector in battle he saw that Ares, the god of war, accompanied the Trojans. The sight of Ares caused the Greeks to retreat. But then the goddesses Hera* and Athena*, who favored the Greeks, helped Diomedes wound Ares. When the wounded god left the field of battle, the Greeks attacked and forced the Trojans to turn back.
Faced with this crisis, Hector went back to Troy to consult with his father and to ask the Trojan women to pray to the gods for help. No longer confident of victory and certain that he would soon die, Hector bid a sad farewell to his wife and son.
The Death of Hector. Returning to battle, Hector met and fought the Greek champion Ajax in one-to-one combat. The duel continued until nightfall, with neither hero gaining victory They finally stopped and exchanged gifts as a sign of respect for each other.
epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
When fighting between the Greeks and Trojans resumed, Hector and his forces seemed invincible. Hector killed many Greeks and succeeded in pushing them back to defenses they had built around their ships. Hector was about to burn the Greek ships when the god Poseidon* appeared, urging the Greeks to pull themselves together and fight back. At the same time, the Greek warrior Patroclus, the beloved friend of Achilles, entered the battle wearing Achilles' armor.
Believing that Achilles had returned, the Greeks rallied and caused the Trojans to retreat. But then Hector, under the protection of the god Apollo*, killed Patroclus and took the armor he was wearing. Hearing of his friend's death, Achilles reentered the battle and aimed his fury at Hector.
Achilles pursued Hector around the walls of Troy three times before catching him. Aware that Hector was fated to die at Achilles' hand, Apollo abandoned him and allowed Achilles to strike a mortal blow. As he lay dying, Hector pleaded with Achilles to return his body to his father, Priam. Achilles refused. Hector predicted that Achilles, too, would die very shortly.
After Hector died, Achilles tied the warrior's body to a chariot and dragged the body around Troy before the grief-stricken eyes of the Trojans. Then he dragged the body around the tomb of his friend Patroclus. When Achilles' fury and vengeance were finally satisfied, he left Hector's body on the ground to be devoured by dogs and birds of prey
The abuse of the dead Hector angered Zeus*, who sent a messenger to order Achilles to release the corpse to Priam. He also sent word to Priam to offer a ransom for the body to Achilles. Priam did so and begged the Greek warrior for his son's body. Moved by Priam's grief, Achilles agreed.
invincible too powerful to be conquered
Priam brought Hector's body back to Troy, and an 11-day truce allowed the Trojans to arrange an elaborate funeral to mourn their great warrior. Hector's funeral marks the conclusion of the Iliad, as well as the beginning of the end for the Trojans. They later suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Greeks. After the fall of Troy, the Greeks killed Hector's son Astyanax, fearing that he might try to avenge his father's death. Thereafter, the surviving Trojans honored Hector as one of their greatest heroes.