Greek Excellence And The Hero Essay, Research Paper
The hero of an epic poem repeatedly endures many trials that can prove his ability to be worthy of the title hero. In the passage 6.440-481 in The Iliad of Homer, Hektor’s heroism is tested, especially when he faces the choice of returning to battle or staying with his family. When analyzing what drives Hektor to return to the battlefield and what makes him a hero, it is obvious that the “Greek educational ideal” known as aret? greatly influences him (Western Civilization: A Brief History, Perry, 43). While Homer reveals the mindset of Hektor in this passage, he also criticizes the role of the hero, and possibly the notion of Greek excellence, in Hektor’s motivation to fight.
Though Hektor is a courageous and steadfast soldier because of his duty, he is occasionally exposed to a human side, which turns away from the brutal aspects of war to focus on the lives affected by warfare. When he spends time with his wife Andromache, who begs him not to go to war, both for his sake and for his family’s, Hektor relates to this side, but does not give in to it. He replies to his wife:
“All these things are in my mind also, lady; yet I would feel deep shame before the Trojans, and the Trojan women with trailing garments, if like a coward I were to shrink aside from fighting; and the spirit will not let me, since I have learned to be valiant and to fight always among the foremost ranks of the Trojans, winning for my own self great glory, and for my father” (The Iliad of Homer 6.440-449 trans. Lattimore).
Hektor does not wish to die and have his wife become a widow, leaving her “work[ing] at the loom of another,” but he cannot take the road of a coward either (6: 456). Though Hektor knows his wife will experience immense grief and that his son may be without a father, there remains a superior need to have glory for himself and to have it so “poets would immortalize [the glory] in their songs” (Western Civilization: A Brief History, Perry, 43). As seen by the interaction of characters in the Iliad, Greeks are intensively competitive, and there is no room left for the emotional distress of Hektor’s family during battle. This aggression, or the deeply rooted “passionate desire to assert himself,” is needed to obtain aret?, and is seen when Hektor tells that his spirit will not let him quit and in how Hektor fights to honor his father (Perry, 43).
The aret? that defines a hero is evident in how Hektor places an importance on the honor his family will experience because of his brave actions in the war. Hektor wants his wife to be proud of his warrior life when he says that Andromache will be known as “the wife of Hektor, who was ever the bravest fighter of the Trojans” (The Iliad of Homer 6.460 trans. Lattimore). When Hektor bids farewell to his young son, Astyanax, clothed in his shining war gear with gleaming helmet, Astyanax cries with fright at the sight of his father. A moment later, a rare depiction of Hektor as a “beloved father” is shown as he plays with his son (6.470). Hektor then prays to the gods for his son in line 476, and does not address the emotional well being of Astyanax, but instead, prays for his son’s future to hold a greater glory than his own and for him to “rule strongly over Ilion” (6.478). Hektor wants him to have the aret? that he has acquired, and shows how significant this attribute will be for his son’s survival as a warrior and ruler when he talks of Astyanax “bring[ing] home the blooded spoils, and delight[ing] the heart of his mother” (6.481). This scene emphasizes how Hektor’s affection for his son is carried out through his aret? as he prays for an optimistic future for his child.
The Greek humanism, or the “concern with man and his achievements,” mentioned in Western Civilization: a Brief History shows how Hektor’s decision to return to the war mimics the Greek outlook of an “individual striving for excellence” (Perry 44). This is the aret? that embodies how the Homeric warrior goes beyond “bravery and skill in battle” (43) to display his worth by “unit[ing] nobility of action with nobility of mind” (qtd. in Perry 43). Hektor possesses the aforementioned nobility of action when he fights despite the realization that the day will arrive “when sacred Ilion will perish,” and unites this with the nobility in his mind in the fact that he fights not just his state but for the honor and freedom of his family (The Iliad of Homer 6.448 trans. Lattimore).
However, Homer seems to criticize the aret? that drives Hektor into battle and to his death. Hektor wants to do what his society considers the right thing by fighting in the war, and he does so only because of the honor required in the Greek excellence. In the course of the story, Hektor does not believe in Paris’ quarrel and does not like to fight even though his aret? drives him into battle. Hektor does not want to be called a coward, but this is inevitably the weakness within him. Paris comments on this long before Hektor’s encounter with his wife, and says, “surely now the flowing-haired Achaians laugh at us, thinking you are our bravest champion, only because your looks are handsome, but there is no strength in your heart, no courage” (3.43-45). Homer seems to convey to the audience that Greek masculinity and a warrior’s aggression leads to nothing but a tragic end. Hektor could have liquidated the war, but his weakness prevents this. Homer shows that the nobility of mind and action that he has only leads Hektor and the family his fights for the reality of being killed.
Homer’s work demonstrates the honors and sufferings that Hektor endures which shape him into the Greek hero. The passage in book six of The Iliad of Homer also reveals the emotional effects of war on individuals; Hektor’s family is extremely affected by Hektor’s warrior duties. Hektor, as a hero, is aware of what his family is experiencing, and wishes to alleviate any grief. However, there is no conflict of returning to the war between the inner self and the outer hero because the aret? embedded in Hektor prevails over any other force in his life. Homer emphasizes that the concept of Greek excellence can be the weakness of a hero in battle, as it was for Hektor.
Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Trans. Richard Lattimore. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961.
Perry, Marvin. Western Civilization: A Brief History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.