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Achilles and Hector

Homer’s characters Achilles and Hector have many similarities in circumstance, but
fewer similarities in their personalities. They face similar challenges, at times against each
other, but they often react differently. It is their reactions to the events and characters in the
story that really illustrate their differences.
Both Achilles and Hector suffer from constant divine interference in their lives. Hector
acknowledges this when, dying, speaks of Athena’s role in his impending death (XXII. 351-
252). Years earlier, if the gods had not interfered in the war, an agreement would have been
reached, but Athena meddled in the negotiations (IV. 120/ 142-146). Without this divine
interference Achilles and Hector would not have played such important roles in each other’s
lives or had nearly as much in common.
Another way Achilles and Hector are alike is that they are both committed to fighting a
war that neither were involved in starting. They both fight staunchly but the cause of the war
does not really matter to them as it matters to Paris and Menelaus.
Their pride affects their lives too much. Hector’s pride refuses to let him retreat into the
walls of Troy for fear of mockery from Polydamas (XXII .118). Even when Hector’s parents
beg him to return to the safety of the walls, Hector faces death at the hands of a vengeful
Achilles rather than endure taunts. Achilles’ pride shows when he is insulted by Agamemnon
and returns home to sulk until the Trojans come crying back from war with an apology (I. 486-
471).
A final example of a similarity between Achilles and Hector is that both have prescient
knowledge of their deaths. When Hector slays Patroclus his victim’s last words are a prophecy
of Hector’s death, as an act of vengeance by Achilles (XVI 997-1000). Achilles has always
been told that his life would be short. Achilles mother Thetis tells him many times (for example
XVIII. 111), his horses also tell him that his death is approaching (XIX 484-485) and as Hector
dies he predicts Achilles death as well (XXI.I 422-424).
Achilles and Hector also have many differences. One of their dissimilarities is the way
they face their death. When Patroclus predicts Hector’s death, Hector laughs (XVI. 1005-1009)
and tells Patroclus’ body that he does not believe Patroclus’ predictions. Later when all the
Trojan men are inside the gates except Hector, standing alone against Achilles, Hector does
become afraid and run (XXII. 162-164). Eventually Hector regains his pride and faces Achilles
(XXII. 296). He is still afraid of Achilles and of what will happen to his corpse but he stops
running to face Achilles. Achilles faces his death differently. Perhaps it is because Achilles has
always known he would die young and was reminded many more times than were necessary. I
think that Achilles felt that if he was going to die young, as he was assured, then he was going
to die with glory. He does not flee duels, or attempt to make last minute negotiations in fear of
his death but rather, has accepted his fate and confidently fights until then. Thetis told him that
after he killed Hector he would soon die but Achilles still went on fighting and did not run
away.
Of the two, Hector is the more sympathetic character. Achilles lets his anger get out of hand
a little too much with results like desecrating Hector’s corpse until even the gods cannot stand
it (XXIV. 17-25). Even the goddess Athena tells Achilles to rein in his anger (I. 242-243).
Though those events taken alone could portray Achilles was a cold-hearted, evil person, he
does show pity towards Priam when reminded of his own father (XXIV. 588-593). Hector also
had moments that were nearly as awful, such as after he had killed Patroclus and taunted
Patroclus’ dead body (XXIV. 1005-1012). Both characters had flaws, with Achilles his
uncontrolled anger, and with Hector his pride. Though these flaws might not seem to weaken
them, they contributed to the downfall of both characters.