Literary heroes have been important to stories and poems throughout history. Each author develops his hero through a unique writing style, combining conscious use of detail, diction, tone and other narrative techniques to outline a hero’s personality. Homer, in his epic poem The Iliad, develops two classic heroes who are distinctly different at first glance, but upon closer inspection are very similar in terms of their basic characteristics.
Hector and Achilles both are courageous soldiers, relatively honorable men, and respected leaders, but they also both have human failings that eventually lead to tragedy. In Homer’s lyrical verses and in his use of detail, diction, meter and imagery, he paints his own portrait of a classic hero through the brave deeds as well as the human flaws of Hector and Achilles that eventually lead to the downfall of proud and powerful Hector. The first characteristic that is assigned to a classic hero by Homer is the fact that they are strong and brave, and may even have god-like qualities.
To emphasize this, Homer deliberately and repeatedly adds adjectives that praise the two heroes before their names almost every time he refers to them. While Achilles is usually depicted as swift and godlike, Homer portrays Hector as bright, dazzling and dignified. Homer uses phrases like, “… noble bright-helmeted Hector… “(398;Book 22), “… man-killing Hector… ” (149;Book 6), and “Resplendent Hector… “(146;Book 6) to describe the Trojan soldier, while he praises Hector’s Greek opponent with such expressions as “Achilles, peer of the plume-waving war god… (145;Book 22) and “… Achilles, swift of foot… “(182;Book 1). Homer’s diction consistently portrays the two heroes as godlike and noble throughout the poem. A second characteristic that defines a hero in The Iliad is that they are generally honorable men and very respected by the people that surround them. Hector and Achilles are both strong and fearless soldiers, and because of this they are looked up to and depended upon by the Trojans and the Achaeans.
When either hero speaks, the people around him listen and obey. Often, Homer sets off the words “He spoke… “(149;Book1) from the rest of a stanza, conveying a sense of power and authority that the two heroes exert when they speak. Another example of Homer’s use of meter to show that the heroes were well respected comes from when Achilles asks his friend Patroclus to go into battle in place of Achilles to help the failing Greek army. Homer writes, “He spoke, and Patroclus/ Obeyed his dear friend… “(325-326;Book 1).
The word “obeyed” is set off from the line before it, emphasizing the fact that Achilles has a certain power over his friends and fellow soldiers, and that he is loved and respected by them. Hector is also held in high esteem by his fellow Trojans, as well as the Greeks, as shown when he proposes the duel between Paris and Menelaus during the battle in Book 3. Hector bravely steps out between the two armies and holds the Trojan line back while the Achaeans try to strike him with arrows and stones until Agamemnon says, “…
No more shooting, you men of Achaea! For it seems/ That bright-helmeted Hector has something to say”(88-89, Book 3). Because of Hector’s speech, the two armies call a truce and sit quietly out on the field where they had previously been trying to “tear each other to pieces”(140;Book 3). Hector and Achilles are both able to easily influence the people around them because of their honorable status as warrior heroes. The last characteristic that, in The Iliad, defines a classic hero is that they may be almost god-like, but they also have very human flaws.
While Achilles may be well respected, brave and powerful, he is also revengeful, merciless and disrespectful to Hector’s corpse. And Hector may be strong and noble, but he can sometimes be cowardly and disastrously proud. Hector’s flaws, in the end, lead to his death. He will not lead the Trojans back into Troy when Polydamas urges him to, and when he realizes his mistake he is too proud to retreat with them and stays outside the wall of the city to face Achilles. Homer uses meter to outline Hector’s flaw when Andromache says, “…
I am terribly fearful that great Achilles/ Has cut brave Hector off from the city… and most likely ended by now/ The fatal pride that has for so long possessed him”(514-517;Book 22). The words “The fatal pride” are set off from the words before it, emphasizing Hector’s devastating flaw. Homer’s diction later in the epic poem also shows Achilles’ major flaw: his hunger for revenge. His hate for Hector and his need to avenge Patroclus’s death are evident when he says to Hector, “You dog! I only wish I were savagely wrathful/ Enough to hack up your corpse and eat it raw… ut no man alive/ Shall keep the dogs from your head, even if here/ They should bring and weigh out a ransom ten or twenty times/ What you are worth and promise still more… “(388-393;Book 22). Achilles is so bent on revenge that he defiles Hector’s corpse and drags it around in circles behind his chariot every day until the gods intervene. Although Achilles may be an otherwise honorable man, this great disrespect for Hector’s body is a major flaw in the hero, and Homer clearly emphasizes this through the details he includes about Achilles’ treatment of the corpse.
In The Iliad, two of the main characters, Hector and Achilles, share qualities that make them heroes based on the ideas of the author, Homer, and Homer illustrates these qualities through his use of diction, detail, meter and imagery. They both are strong, brave, respected and honorable, but they both also have major human flaws that eventually lead to tragedy; Achilles is godlike but revengeful, and Hector noble but proud. They may be flawed, but these characteristics make them both classic literary heroes of the epic poem The Iliad.