So Hector is often seen as the true hero of the Iliad. Achilles is impressive but also a childish glory-seeker. Odysseus is clever but yet to come into his own as he does in the Odyssey. In fact it was often the way of Ancient Greek lore to portray their heroes and champions with flaws intact. Not for them the perfect figment of the imagination. They knew even Heracles/Hercules wasn’t pure of heart. Everyone was merely human. Even the gods.
But Hector is a very noble character. He lives for family and homeland. He is a great warrior, second only to Achilles, and leads Troy’s defence. He is proud to do so. He gives everything he can to defend his people. There are other strong fighters on both sides. I always liked Diomedes, daring enough to stab Aphrodite in the wrist when she tries to interfere with his fight with Aeneas. The two Ajaxes are fearsome. Aeneas himself, later claimed to found Rome, is also a brave and powerful fighter. Hector, though, is a cut above. But perhaps the reason his courage and honesty wins out is that he is the one who has to face his nemesis. In this regard, the Iliad is a lot like High Noon.
Now in High Noon, we have Marshal Will Kane, who has just resigned, heading out of town when an old foe is said to be coming back. He picks up his badge again to defend the town, but no one will help him. Miller, the criminal he put away, has three men waiting for him. Everyone decides Will is a dead man walking. But Will refuses to run. He fights. He wins. Huzzah!
Hector has the same kind of problem. After he kills Achilles’s cousin, Patroclus, and provokes the greatest fighter in the war to rejoin it, he knows he will lose to him. Hector is called out, so to speak. Their clash is now inevitable. Hector could try to keep away from Achilles, but he knows Achilles will come for him every time, and he’ll kill a lot of Trojans to get to him. Hector values honour, courage and loyalty. He won’t be a coward, even when facing Achilles. He knows he is going to face a far superior opponent, although I’m sure some part of him is set to win. He was a warrior, after all. But he seems his doo coming in the person of the Greek warrior. Before he goes out to lead the Trojan counter attack, as he says farewell to his family, there is something final for him, even then.
But just as Will Kane had to face superior odds, so does Hector. For Will, it is four against one. For Hector, it is one versus one but that one is a worth a lot more than four average fighters. They both know and believe in doing their duty. They both set out to protect those they care about. Yet the outcomes are very different.
Hector is famous for falling to Achilles. This, I suspect, is why he was defined as a noble and inspiring figure to knights, being touted as one of the Nine Worthies, one of the heathen three to be exact, along with Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. This is the doomed hero who refuses to be cowed by his fate. This is the tragic but noble warrior who meets his killer with a straight gaze and a strong heart. He is set to die, anyone who knows their Greek history knows this as they read the Iliad, but he faces the consequences of his earlier actions, as he knows he must. Brave to the last, caring and loyal to his end, and fighting with the last of his will. Hector typifies to many what a true warrior should be. Not the lustful glory of Achilles. Not the folly of Priam, the rashness of Paris, the strong-arming of Agamemnon. Hector is the one.
The Iliad is an epic, containing many themes and sub-plots. But to break it down to its essence and by claiming Hector as the main character, you see the Ancient Greek version of High Noon. More complex, true, but the same driving force. Of course, the good guy loses this time, if such Hector could be called. He was still a killer, after all. Achilles isn’t all bad, either, and we know he is equally doomed. The war for Troy was tragic on all sides, much like the tale of the Levite’s concubine from the Bible. It is about loss on all sides. A doom for almost all involved. It is about love and lust and pride and greed, but honour and comradeship and loyalty remain. War is depicted as brutal and glorious. An honest account. Therefore Hector was set to die. A movie set in modern(ish) times could not end that way, although I’d love to see it. In the midst of so much tragedy, Hector’s death is not alone, nor the worst – just look at Greater Ajax’s miserable suicide. He can die, so he does, but the manner of his death is what seems to define him the most.
Facing your doom yet overcoming it is brave. Facing your doom and meeting it seems that bit more braver and noble. It is a fantastic story telling device and I hope both continue to be used and used well.