The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry

  Use the following persistent identifier:

Chapter 8. The Death of Hektor

8§1. By comparing the death of Achilles with the death of Pyrrhos, we have come to see more clearly the factor of ritual antagonism between god and hero. If, of course, we had only the Iliad as evidence, this factor would be much more difficult to discern in the case of Achilles, whose own antagonism with the god Apollo is so poetically stylized and elaborated as to suit the artistic framework of Panhellenic Epos. Even within such a monumental structure, however, the basic outlines emerge clearly enough. Although the death of Achilles himself at the hands of Apollo is deferred beyond the Iliad, the death of his surrogate Patroklos is presented in a manner that makes the experience apply directly to the hero of the Iliad. [1]

8§2. Aside from this basic observation on the level of theme, we can also adduce detailed evidence on the level of diction. We have seen that the Iliad applies mênis ‘anger’ as a word appropriate specifically to Achilles among heroes, and that his mênis over his loss of tīmḗ ‘honor’ results from the earlier anger of Apollo, likewise specified as mênis, over his respective loss of tīmḗ. The first mênis, of Apollo, had caused what is called a loigós ‘devastation’ for the Achaeans in the form of a plague; the second mênis, of Achilles, then causes them devastation in the form of a dire military situation inflicted by Hektor at the Battle of the Ships. This second devastation is also specifically called a loigós. Moreover, both the first and the second loigós are described as bringing álgea ‘pains’ to the Achaeans. The first loigós is removed when the plague is lifted, whereupon the Achaeans sing a paiḗōn ‘paean’ to Apollo; the second is removed when Hektor is killed, and this time Achilles bids them to sing, again, {142|143} a paiḗōn. [2] We could go on multiplying examples of thematic and formal convergences between Apollo and Achilles. For instance, Walter Burkert is so struck by the physical resemblance in the traditional representations of the god and the hero—especially by the common feature of their both being unshorn in the manner of a koûros [3] —that he is moved to describe Achilles as a Doppelgänger of Apollo. [4] For now, however, let us simply adhere to this main point: that god and hero mirror each other, both formally and thematically, in the dimension of ritual.

8§5. With the perspective of ritual at our disposal, and with the evidence of the traditional epic diction that keeps formally matching the figures of Achilles and Apollo, we may now even ask whether the antipathy of the god toward the Achaeans in the Iliad has less to do—at least in origin—with his sympathy toward the Trojans and more with the theme of his antagonism toward the hero of the Iliad. In order to assure ourselves that the factor of ritual antagonism between god and hero can actually determine the antipathies of various gods in the epic tradition of the Trojan War, let us now turn to the figure of Hektor, the prime enemy of Achilles in the Iliad.

8§6. The question is, which Olympian god would qualify as Hektor’s ritual antagonist? Let us suppose that the heroic pattern of Hektor is inverse to that of his prime epic opponent. In that case, the Olympian who should bring about his death is Athena. And indeed, just as Paris and Apollo are named by the Iliad as the killers of Achilles (Iliad XIX 416–417, XXII 359–360), so also the death of Hektor is described as being actually caused by Athena, albeit with Achilles and his spear serving as her instrument (Iliad XXII 270–271, 445–446). Athena not only intervenes overtly in the final duel of Hektor and Achilles (see especially Iliad XXII 222–223, 275–277, 298–299); she even says that Achilles and she are to be the ones who vanquish Hektor (Iliad XXII 216–218).

8§9. Another of Hektor’s traditional attributes is his reputation for protecting the city and its people. At VI 402–403 and XXIV 729–730, this basic function of the hero is heralded in what can almost be described as programmatic fashion. In fact, Astúanax, his son’s {145|146} name, comes directly from the father’s function of protecting the ástu ‘city’: [13]

What is more, the name of Héktōr himself is an agent noun derived from the verb ékhō in the sense of ‘protect’, as is attested precisely in the context of Hektor’s protecting the city of Troy and its inhabitants:

In this respect, too, the function of the hero has a close affinity to Athena, who is worshiped by the Trojans as the official guardian of their city. She is the goddess whose idol is enshrined in their citadel, and it is to her that they as a community pray in their hour of need (see especially Iliad VI 286–311). In fact, when they specifically pray to Athena that she ward off the onslaught of Diomedes, the verb that designates the action is a derivative of ékhō (ἀπόσχῃ: Iliad VI 277). What is more, she is invoked in their prayers as (e)rusíptolis ‘protector of the city’ (ῥυσίπτολι: Iliad VI 305), which is a generic cult epithet of Athena that we find applied exclusively to her in both of the two attested Homeric Hymn(s) to Athena (11.1, 28.3). [

8§10. Both of these attributes showing an overlap between the figures of Hektor and Athena—as paragon of mêtis and as guardian of the city—are significantly involved in the actual death of the hero. The scene of Hektor’s demise (at Iliad XXII) is motivated by an earlier scene of deliberation in the Council of the Trojans (Iliad XVIII 243–314), where Hektor goes against the pattern of action that is marked out even by his name. He advocates an offensive strategy in response to the impending onslaught of Achilles, whereas his counterpart Poulydamas is advocating a defensive strategy. The immediate stance of Poulydamas as a counterpart of and alternative to Hektor is highlighted in the narrative by the manner in which this hero is described: he was born on the same night as Hektor (Iliad XVIII 251), and he had the reputation of excelling with words whereas Hektor excelled “with the spear” (Iliad XVIII 252). [19] Significantly, the scene of deliberation ends with the stratagem that wins approval, that of Hektor, being described as bad in contrast with that of Poulydamas (Iliad XVIII 310–313); moreover, the narrative specifies that Athena had here taken away Hektor’s senses (Iliad XVIII 311), and that the hero’s mêtis had gone bad (κακὰ μητιόωντι: Iliad XVIII 312). For good measure, when the time comes for Hektor’s final confrontation with Achilles, Athena again takes away Hektor’s senses—this time by actively deluding him (Iliad XXII 222–247, 296–299). {147|148}

8§11. We come now to the question of Hektor’s aspirations in the Iliad. The hero himself says that he wishes he were immortal and “honored”—specifically like Athena and Apollo:

What is more, he is accused by Poseidon (in the form of Kalkhas) of boasting that he is the child of Zeus:

In fact, Hektor himself wishes that he were the child of Zeus:

εἰ γὰρ ἐγὼν οὕτω γε Διὸς πάϊς αἰγιόχοιο
εἴην ἤματα πάντα, τέκοι δέ με πότνια Ἥρη,
τιοίμην δ᾽ ὡς τίετ᾽ Ἀθηναίη καὶ Ἀπόλλων,
ὡς νῦν ἡμέρη ἥδε κακὸν φέρει Ἀργείοισι
If only I were the child of aegis-bearing Zeus
for all days to come, and the Lady Hera were my mother,
and if only I got tīmḗ just as Athena and Apollo get tīmḗ
—as surely as this day brings misfortune to the Argives.

Iliad XIII 825–828

For the second time, we see an overt comparison of the hero with the gods Athena and Apollo. And the epithet Diòs páïs ‘child of Zeus’ is equally unmistakable: when they had met at the Tree of Zeus in the context of planning the duel that pits Hektor against whoever is the best of the Achaeans, both Apollo and Athena were {148|149} specifically designated as son/daughter of Zeus (Iliad VII 23/24). [
22] After Hektor is dead, his own father says of him:

The wording here conveys a striking variation on the conventional theme of a hero’s getting tīmḗ from the community:

On the level of epic, of course, the hero gets tīmḗ by virtue of his reputation as a warrior; on the level of ritual, on the other hand, the hero gets tīmḗ in the form of cult—which is what the word tīmḗ itself can actually designate. [
25] In the specific case of Hektor, the tīmḗ to which he aspires is that of Apollo and Athena themselves, and it is hard to imagine a more direct way for epic to convey the ritual aspect of a hero.


[ back ] 1. See again Ch.2§8 on the function of Patroklos as therápōn of Achilles and on the mourning over Patroklos as a substitute for the mourning over Achilles.

[ back ] 2. For citations and further discussion of how all these words function in the Iliad, see Ch.5§§8–16.

[ back ] 3. Compare Apollo’s epithet akersekómēs ‘unshorn’ (as at Iliad XX 39) with the hair-shearing scene of Achilles at Iliad XXIII 140–153. Burkert (1975:19) stresses the association of this theme with vestigial aspects of what anthropologists would call initiation. Cf. also Brelich 1958:361.

[ back ] 4. Burkert 1975:19. Cf. Chirassi Colombo 1977. In this connection, we may note that Achilles even swears by Apollo (Iliad I 86), and that the significance of this theme emerges from a careful study of the word apeiléō ‘predict, threaten’ and its deployment in the Iliad. I refer to a forthcoming work by Leonard Muellner, who also explores the thematic and formal links between apeiléō and Apéllōn/Apóllōn.

[ back ] 5. For more on the word daímōn: Ch.9§§5–6 (cf. Lowenstam 1975). Cf. also Muellner 1976:82–83 on Iliad XX 102.

[ back ] 6. More on this crucial scene at Ch.17§5.

[ back ] 7. Cf. also Iliad XXII 7–20.

[ back ] 8. The essence of the gods’ will is understood by Helenos, who imparts it to Hektor (Iliad VII 44–53). See Ch.2§3.

[ back ] 9. See again Ch.2§3.

[ back ] 10. On mêtis, see Ch.3§§5–8

[ back ] 11. The Achaeans’ loss, which is in proportion to Hektor’s gains in mêtis (Iliad X 43–52), is also equated with lack of boulḕ kerdaléē ‘crafty planning’ (βουλῆς … / κερδαλέης: Iliad X 43–44). Compare this use of boulḗ ‘plan, planning’ in the context of mêtis with the uncanny image of Hektor as he ‘plans his plans’, boulàs bouleúe i (Iliad X 415), at the sêma ‘tomb’ of Ilos, local hero of Troy. For the semantics of sêma, cognate of Indic dhyā́ma ‘thought’, see Sinos 1975:83–90.

[ back ] 12. See Detienne/Vernant 1974, esp. pp. 167–175, 176–200.

[ back ] 13. For a correlation of the word ástu itself with the theme of a protecting Hektor, see Iliad XXIV 499.

[ back ] 14. This passage is the clearest example of a traditional convention in the naming of heroes: the son is named after one of the father’s primary heroic characteristics. See Clader 1976:30–31 on Megapénthēs he who has great pénthos’, the son of Menelaos (Odyssey iv 11); the father’s ákhos/pénthos ‘grief’ is a traditional epic theme (e.g., Odyssey iv 108–110). Cf. also the son of Nestor, Peisí-stratos ‘he who persuades the army’. As for the son of Odysseus himself, Tēlé-makhos, his name may mean either ‘he who fights far away [at Troy]’ or perhaps ‘he who fights from far away [with arrows]’; both characterizations are appropriate to the father. Finally, see van der Valk 1958:147n164 on the names of two of Herakles’ three children by Megara: Thērímakhos ‘he who fights beasts’ and Dēïkóōn ‘vigilant in battle’ (vel sim.; cf. Chantraine II 551). These names correspond respectively to five of the hero’s labors involving beasts and to five involving treacherous enemies. (The themes of Hades/death and Hesperides/life round out the number of labors to twelve.)

[ back ] 15. The pronoun is referring to the pólis ‘city’ of Troy, at Iliad XXIV 728.

[ back ] 16. On the semantics of nḗpios ‘helpless’: Edmunds 1976.

[ back ] 17. Chantraine (II 330) considers the derivation of Héktōr from ékhō without discussing the semantics of the verb. The article by Meier 1976 helps fill the gap, although I think that his definition of the semantic sphere of ékhō is overrestrictive. The notion of ‘domination’ need not always imply ‘domination by conquest’. Consider the semantics of ktízō, etc.

[ back ] 18. For more on the generic cult function of Athena as protector of the city: Nilsson I 346–349. For another distinctive epithet that apparently emphasizes the protective and defensive aspects of Athena, consider alalkomenēḯs as at Iliad IV 8 and Iliad V 908. On the derivation from alalkeîn ‘ward off’, see Chantraine I 57. For a survey of traditional themes featuring Athena on the defensive and offensive, see Vian 1968:58.

[ back ] 19. On the spear as an emblem of bíē (as opposed to mêtis), see the use of bíē at Hesiod Works and Days 148, in the context of Works and Days 143–155 as discussed at Ch.9§9; see also §12 below. Compare the image of Achilles as a boy, armed with nothing but a spear (Ch.20§8).

[ back ] 20. On the function of this wording in the process of immortalization: Ch.10§30n84. More on Iliad VIII 538–541 and related passages in Nagy 1990b:294.132–133.

[ back ] 21. Having studied the inherited phraseology of eúkhetai/eúkheto ‘boast’, Muellner observes (1976:78): “This, the ultimate genealogy, is being put forward not as pretentious or boastful but true.” For amplification, see the important discussion by Muellner at pp. 50–52, 80n23.

[ back ] 22. The specific wording Diòs páïs ‘child of Zeus’, as applied to Hektor (Iliad XIII 54), is also appropriate for female divinities (e.g., Odyssey viii 488).

[ back ] 23. Note too Muellner 1976:50 on Iliad VII 298, where the women of Troy are described as eukhómenai praying’ to Hektor (dative): “This is the only place in all the Homeric corpus (including eukhómenai in secular contexts) where a dative noun after eukhómenai is not a god or a collection of gods.”

[ back ] 24. In the Iliad, this expression is applied respectively to Dolopion, priest of Skamandros; Agamemnon; Aeneas; Thoas; and Onetor, priest of Zeus Idaios. Its significance can best be appreciated by considering more closely what is represented by the dêmos, described here as the source of tīmḗ for the hero. See n. 25

[ back ] 25. On tīmḗ in the sense of ‘cult’: Ch.7§1n2. Moreover, we have observed en passant in that cult practices were a strictly localized phenomenon in archaic Greek religion. Accordingly, the Homeric association of tīmḗ with dêmos (n. 5) is of utmost significance, in view of the connotations this word inherits. Derived from the root *– ‘divide, allot, apportion’ (Chantraine I 274), dêmos had originally meant something like ‘district’, and this intrinsic local connotation is still overt in numerous Homeric contexts (e.g., Iliad V 710; XVI 437, 514; etc.); see especially Detienne 1968:131 on dêmos in Odyssey ii 32, 44 and Herodotus 1.62. It is even possible that the element dēmo– in compound names like Dēmophóōn (Hymn to Demeter 234: ‘shining for the dêmos’) and Dēmódokos (Odyssey viii 44, etc.: ‘approved by the dêmos’) emphasized the localized functions of such figures. For more on the name Dēmophóōn: Ch.10§10n24; also Nagy 1990b:132–133.

[ back ] 26. For a latent reference to the worship of Hektor: §11n23.

[ back ] 27. Thus I disagree with the notion (cf. Bethe 1927 III:19–20) that the scene in Iliad VI where the Trojans worship Athena necessarily represents a “new” tradition—let alone that the passage itself is an interpolation. As for the observation that Athena’s being guardian of Troy seems to be a more central theme in the Iliou Persis (Proclus 107–108 Allen), it does not necessarily follow that such a divergent thematic treatment is less archaic than that of the Iliad. Newer compositions like the Iliou Persis may in fact use older themes than what we find in the Iliad. The theme of Athena’s being guardian of Troy may well suit the political realities of the eighth or seventh centuries B.C. in the Troad, but the theme itself may be much more archaic.