Greek mythology is filled with tales of gods and monsters, which is part of the attraction of myths and why they have continued to be told by people from all walks of life around the world generation after generation. While many of the Greek gods are well known, such as Zeus, Hera, Apollo and Athena, the mortal heroes who turned to them for help or fought against them are often not so easily remembered by most people.
Of the many popular Greek stories, the Trojan War is one of the most remembered today. Men and women alike considered Helen of Sparta the most beautiful woman in the entire known world at the time. She was taken by the Trojan prince Paris from the Spartan ruler King Menelaus. The war began because Menelaus refused to allow his wife to remain in Troy no matter the reason that Paris took her. Some stories claimed that he abducted her against her will and other ones claimed that the two fell in love and eloped together.
Hector isn’t always as well remembered as his brother. Yet, his life and death were significant:
The Origins of Hector
In the famous Heroic Age city of Troy in what is now Turkey, the second wife of King Priam, Hecuba, gave birth to Hector. He was their first-born son and Priam’s heir. His name in Greek transcribed to English means “to have, to hold, to possess or holding fast.” Some ancient stories claimed that the god Apollo was Hector’s real father, especially given that Apollo fathered another child by Hecuba.
Hecuba was a prophetess whose visions proclaimed that the gods had fated Troy to fall to the Greeks. She had 18 children with Priam in addition to Hector, including Cassandra, the later well-known seer and priestess of Apollo whose prophecies were always true and never trusted or believed, and Paris.
Hector had no god-like powers. Instead, as a mortal, he trained, learned from life and eventually became the greatest of Troy’s warriors. He was supposedly admired not only by the Trojans but also by the Greeks.
Hector didn’t want to go to war with the Greeks, but he took up the mantle as the Trojan Army’s leader when the Greeks sailed to Troy.
A prophecy stated that when the Greeks landed, the first to touch Trojan soil would definitely die. Although Odysseus technically stepped down from a boat first, he had thrown his shield on the soil and stepped upon it instead of stepping onto actual land. Protesilaus followed Odysseus, but actually stepped on soil. As Hector represented a symbol of Troy to the gods, Protesilaus died, as foreseen, by Hector’s hand during a duel.
Among the many stories about Hector, one tells of how Queen Hecuba urged him to make an offering to Zeus to help in their time of need. When this didn’t work, Hector believed that his mother should ask for help from the goddess Athena. He told her to seek a gown from the treasure of Alexander, a handmade piece made by Sidonian women, that looked like it was covered in stars because of embroidery embellishments. Queen Hecuba’s offering failed to attract the interest of the goddess.
Hector also attempted to bring peace by proposing a truce and a duel between warriors after his brother, Helenus, made the recommendation based on divine inspiration. A Greek warrior and a Trojan warrior would fight. The winner would take all. Nine Greek heroes agreed to fight. Neither the first, Ajax, or Hector could win their duel even after fighting an entire day. They admired each other so much that they exchanged gifts after the duel was ruled a stalemate.
The hero Achilles was the last to challenge Hector. As with many ancient myths, the details vary, which means that either Queen Hecuba or Hector’s wife begged him to not fight Achilles, but he refused to listen. He believed that he would win even though the gods, including Zeus, had marked the city for destruction. That evening, for reasons unknown, Hector found himself overcome by a bout of intense fear the moment he saw Achilles and ran from the fight. Although Achilles chased Hector, he didn’t catch up until Hector decided to overcome his fear and turn to face the Greek warrior. Once Hector did so, his brother Deiphobus, the goddess Athena in disguise, appeared before him and provoked him to stand his ground.
At first, Hector was able to evade Achilles attacks, including the throw of a spear. When he threw a spear given to him by “Deiphobus,” nothing happened even though it should have hit Achilles. When he reached for another and found himself alone, he realized Athena had tricked him, and that he was fated to die. Dissatisfied with the interference by the gods, he drew his sword instead and fought fiercely. Yet, after a long duel, he was killed by Achilles.
Hector’s body was then horrifically desecrated by Achilles. In a previous battle, Hector had killed the close friend of Achilles, Patroclus, who wore Achilles’ armor and pretended to be him on the battlefield. This trick was influenced by the gods based on a prophecy by Zeus. They used Patroclus’ death to tempt Achilles, who no longer wanted to fight, to return to the battlefield. During the fight with Patroclus, Hector had supposedly threatened to defile his body. As a result of this slight, Achilles defiled Hector’s body by dragging it outside of the gates of Troy for 12 days behind a chariot.
King Priam eventually convinced Achilles to return Hector’s body after pleading with him at length. Supposedly, Achilles initially refused, and then Priam begged and wept openly. When Achilles finally gave Hector’s body to Priam, he agreed to a temporary truce for a funerary celebration. Over the course of nine days, the Trojans buried their hero and held funeral games in his honor.
Marriage and Children
Hector married Andromache, the daughter of Eetion who ruled Cilician Thebe, after Achilles killed her entire family and sacked their city. They had one child together, an infant son named Astyanax, who faced a terrible fate at the hands of the Greeks.
After Achilles killed Hector and the Greeks took Troy, a Greek herald promised Andromache that they would kill Astyanax by throwing him from the walls of Troy because they believed he would seek revenge someday and possibly attempt to rebuild the fallen city. Some stories claim that Neoptolemus carried out the act. Odysseus and Greek soldiers have also been credited with doing it.
No matter who killed Astyanax, it’s known that Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son, forced Andromache to become his lover and concubine and enslaved Hector’s brother Helenus. She would only some time later, after bearing Neoptolemus three children and eventually outliving him, escape and marry Helenus.
Hector is best remembered throughout history for his courage, heroism and desire for peace. During Europe’s Middle Ages, the author Jacques de Longuyon listed Hector as one of the nine great heroes or “Nine Worthies” who best represented the ideas of “chivalry.” Other famous Worthies include David from The Bible, King Arthur, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Charlemagne.
In Hector’s case, he was perceived as having no dark or secret reasons for his actions during life or the Trojan War and instead merely acted as a loyal son, prince, husband and father. He fought to preserve Trojan society.
Hector appears in several great literary works. William Shakespeare mentioned Hector’s death at the end of “Troilus and Cressida.” He is portrayed as noble in contrast to Achilles deceitful and prideful nature. He and his entire family are also mentioned in the “Inferno” section of Dante Alighieri’s “Divina Commedia” (“Divine Comedy”). They’re considered virtuous pagans stuck in Limbo or the outermost circle of Hell, also known as Circle 1, because they had no knowledge of Christianity or Christ.
Hector was a crown prince of Troy from the marriage of King Priam and Queen Hecuba.
Hector’s brother, Paris, stole Helen from Sparta, which triggered the events of the Trojan War.
Hector tried to stop the war by appealing to the gods and to the Greeks.
Hector killed Achilles’ closest and dearest friend Patroclus. After Hector died, Achilles desecrated his body for 12 days for this offence.
Hector’s son was killed to prevent future wars. His wife and brother were both essentially enslaved by Achilles’ son until they found freedom through his death.
Hector is remembered as a true hero and fallible-yet-honest mortal who ultimately wanted peace and fought selflessly for his way of life and people rather than for glory or out of anger.
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