Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Although Hector is the leader of the Trojan forces, he is perhaps one of the weakest of all the characters in The Iliad. Feeling bound by the duty he owes his city and a devotion for his wife and child, Hector performs in a mild-mannered fashion except when he scolds his dilatory brother, Paris. On the battlefield, he displays no true heroics and is easily overcome by Achilles.
Kind-hearted by nature, Hector is extremely sensitive to the females that surround him. Helen states that he is the only one of all the Trojans who would not allow her to be mistreated. He willingly listens to the pleas and advice of both his mother, Hecube, and his wife, Andromache, and is genuinely concerned for their feelings. His main purpose in the poem seems to be as the object of Achilles' wrath.
Sarpedon, one of the most prominent of the Trojan allies, is the leader of the troops from Lycia and the son of Zeus and Laodameia. During the Greek success in the first day's fighting, he bitterly rebukes Hector for his reticence and urges the Trojans to counter-attack. In the fighting that follows, he meets the Greek hero Tlepolemus, son of Heracles, who opens the encounter with an aggressive, insulting speech and boasts that he will soon kill Sarpedon. Sarpedon's response is restrained. He admits Heracles' great achievements, but he feels confident that he will kill Tlepolemus. In the battle, Tlepolemus is killed, and Sarpedon is wounded. Refusing to let his wound stand in the way, Sarpedon returns to the fighting and on the third day breaks down the rampart the Greeks have built around their camp. Later in the day, Patroclos kills Sarpedon, and the Greeks and the Trojans fight over his body.
Paris or Alexandros
Paris, the brother of Hector, is favored by Aphrodite and given to romance. When he charms Helen and takes her away, he causes the Trojan War. During the fighting, he is much more interested in being in the bedroom with Helen than appearing on the battlefield. Hector castigates him for his behavior and cowardice. When he does enter the battle in an effort to retain Helen, he uses a bow and arrow to avoid close fighting. When he is asked to return Helen to the Greeks, he refuses, and Priam and the majority of Trojans support him in his retention of Helen.
Priam is the King of Troy and the father of fifty sons, including Hector and Paris. Although Homer gives little information about Priam, it appears that the old king kept his distance from the actual scene of battle. In Book III, he reveals that he does not know any of the Greek warriors and asks Helen to identify them for him as he watches the fighting from a distance.
Priam is a supporter of his sons. He sides with Paris, believing that Helen should be retained, and does not criticize him for not being more active in the battle, as Hector does. In fact, he mourns the loss of many of his sons in the war. When Hector is killed, Priam is especially crushed and cannot bear to see his body being dishonored by Achilles. He acknowledges that he has lost his best son and then even ridicules those who remain alive.
Priam's main purpose in the poem is to bring about the needed change in Achilles. Wanting to have the body of Hector returned to him for a proper burial, the old king humbles himself before the Greek hero. He falls at Achilles' feet, kisses his hand, and begs for the body. Achilles is so touched by the humility of Priam than he open weeps, marking the all-important change in his character. After the meeting with the old king, Achilles sees the error of his ways and curbs the excesses in his personality. He also allows Priam to have Hector's body and calls an eleven day cease-fire so there can be a proper burial.
Zeus is known as the king of the immortals, the most important of all the gods. Portrayed as the majestic ruler of the universe, he holds tremendous power over both mortals and immortals. Zeus is usually found at his realm on Mt. Olympus, from where he directs the actions of the lesser immortals; but he also leaves the home of the gods to seat himself on Mt. Ida, from where he can view the battle scene.
Zeus seems to enjoy his role as supreme leader. Even though the immortal brood he dominates is often unruly, he manages to keep them in check through his fatherly treatment and sense of humor. He often threatens his charges, especially his wife Hera, with ghastly punishments; but he never resorts to physical violence in making them follow his orders. In fact, Zeus is totally opposed to violence. Throughout the poem, he is very upset about the needless bloodshed that he watches on the battlefield below. His main concern is to return harmony to the universe.
In many respects, Zeus seems to be almost as human as any mortal. He is a gregarious type who likes the company of others. He also enjoys travelling, often escaping the cares of his office for some escapade, especially a romantic one. Like a human, he also shows partiality, favoring one god over another and one mortal over another man. Initially, he takes the side of the Trojans, for he feels that the in-fighting between Agamemnon and Achilles is wrong; however, since Zeus is particularly fond of Thetis, the mother of Achilles, he finally listens to her pleas to allow the gods to help the Greeks in the battle.