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BOOK XXII: The Death of Hector

Summary

Achilles finally gives up his vain pursuit of the immortal Apollo and heads for Troy, where Priam is lamenting the loss of so many of his sons. He and his wife, Hecube, try to dissuade Hector from facing Achilles, but the Trojan hero is overwhelmed by shame for being the cause of so many Trojan deaths. He feels he must personally defeat Achilles in order to regain his stature among the Trojans.

When Achilles arrives at the wall of Troy, he begins chasing Hector. Zeus, seeing the Trojan's plight, wonders if he should save him, for Hector is devoted to the gods and has offered some fine sacrifices. He knows, however, that Athena will not allow Destiny to be thwarted, so he decides to allow Athena to help Achilles in the battle. She takes the form of Priam's son, Deiphobus, and beguiles Hector, encouraging him to take a stand against his mighty Greek adversary.

The two warriors begin their duel with the usual introductory remarks, but they swear no oaths or make any agreements related to the victor. The battle begins when Achilles throws his spear and misses Hector. As Athena retrieves his weapon, Hector casts his spear in vain against the impenetrable shield of Achilles. When the Trojan calls to Deiphobus to bring him another spear, he realizes that he has been tricked by the gods, who are obviously helping Achilles. He knows he cannot be victorious against them; therefore, he promises himself to die valorously.

Aiming for Hector's neck, Achilles throws his spear and scores a direct hit. Hector falls to the ground and begs Achilles to return his body to Troy, a request that will not be honored by the hardened Achilles. As he takes his last breath, Hector foretells the destiny of Achilles. Shortly afterwards, Achilles ties the feet of the dead Trojan to his chariot and hauls him to the Greek camp with his head bouncing in the dust. Stunned by the disastrous outcome of the duel, Priam and Hecube loudly lament their loss. Andromache also bemoans the fate of her husband and worries that their son will be despised and rejected by all.


Notes

Book XXII is the most important book of The Iliad, for Achilles returns to the battle and meets Hector face to face. For dramatic intensity, Homer devotes much of the book to the doomed Trojan. Since Priam and Hecube have lost many sons already, they plead with Hector to avoid Achilles, knowing in their hearts that the outcome of such a meeting will separate them forever from their dearest son. Hector, however, ignores their pleas, for he feels totally ashamed of himself. He has been forced to acknowledge the fact that his rash decisions and actions have caused the deaths of many men. He now feels he must try to regain some heroism by facing Achilles.

To make matters worse for Hector, it is obvious that the gods have joined forces with the Greeks against him. Although Zeus realizes the spiritual qualities of Hector, he will not act to save him, for he feels that he cannot tamper with Destiny. As a result, Zeus permits Athena to go and aid Achilles. Pretending to be Hector's brother, the goddess tricks Hector and forces him to stand up to Achilles, who is certain to defeat the Trojan.

When Hector realizes that he cannot conquer Achilles, who is being aided by the gods, he decides his only choice is to meet death honorably. Unlike the other Trojans who have fallen to Achilles, Hector does not beg for his life. He asks only that his body be returned to Troy for cremation. The angry Achilles, however, will not even grant this request. He ties Hector's dead body to his chariot and pulls it through the dirt, again showing his inhumanity.

When news of Hector's death reaches Troy, the reaction is not surprising. Priam tears his hair, and Hecube laments the loss of her son loudly. Andromache, upon hearing of her husband's death, faints. After recovering, she speaks some of the most intense lines in all literature as she bewails the plight of her fatherless son, who is sure to be derided.

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