Hektor is the undisputed commander of the Trojan army. No other Trojan warrior approaches Hektor's courage and valor. He is also viewed as the future king of Troy, and as such, he already shows his responsibility to the community. His concern for the Trojan women and for the Trojan community in general define him as a "norm" for Homeric society.
Unwittingly, however, Hektor (the Trojans' best warrior) acts as an agent to bring back Achilles (the Achaians' best warrior) into battle, because after Hektor kills Patroklos, Achilles believes that he has no choice except to revenge Patroklos by killing Hektor. As a result, Hektor will shortly become the victim of Achilles. But it should be stressed that Hektor is trapped by the illusion of a Trojan victory, a victory that was seemingly guaranteed by Zeus himself. That is, Hektor continues a fight that everyone, including himself, knows is doomed by fate because he grasps at the illusion of Trojan victory.
Throughout the epic, Hektor functions largely as a comparison and contrast (or a foil) to Achilles. As a mature man with a family and with strong feelings about his responsibilities, Hektor is a contrast to Achilles' frustrations and passionate outbursts of emotion. Hektor has dedicated his life to the service of others; he is an example of a "model" Homeric man. In contrast, Achilles seems superhuman because of his extremes and excesses. However, both are great warriors and the leading soldiers on their respective sides.
In addition to Hektor's social responsibilities and his heroic qualities, he is also a thoughtful commander. He focuses his energy; and although he fears Telamonian Aias (Ajax), he bravely battles with him until nightfall. Virtuous and faithful to the gods in all respects, he refuses the wine that his mother, Hekuba, offers him because he is tired and unclean and he fears that wine may cause him to forget his duty to his troops.
An example of Hektor's concern for virtue is evident when he rebukes Paris for kidnapping Helen, the act that perpetrated the war. He refers to Paris' act as shameful. Paris' behavior places Hektor in a dilemma: It is socially necessary to protect Paris, but it is also morally and socially correct to rebuke him. Thus, the heroic code binds Hektor into an uncomfortable, untenable position.
Helen also places Hektor in an untenable position, and her being a woman complicates the problem. Helen is a guest at the Trojan court, and she is also the wife of Paris. Paris also pirated some of Menelaos' material treasures, but the fact remains that Helen is still a wife without a dowry, a matter that runs counter to Troy's social codes. Hektor does not blame Helen; but being improperly married, she is a symbol of disorder and a threat to the social systems of both the Trojans and the Achaians.
Unlike Helen, Hektor's wife Andromache is associated with social order and the continuation of the family. Hektor's obvious love for Andromache symbolizes his belief in proper domesticity, and his image of her being taken captive and working the loom for another man represents his deep fear of disorder. Hektor also expresses concern that Andromache might be taken captive by the Greeks, suggesting that he sees, through Helen, the wrong that Paris committed.
Hektor's relationship and attitude toward women and children is deeply embedded in Homeric culture. In the code of that era, the son fights like his father, but the son is also raised by his mother, and she teaches him that he must be a hero, fighting for her and for other women who will also raise heroes. In this culture, there was a great concern for women, because they were dependent and, like young children, they were vulnerable to enslavement. As a hero, then, Hektor is not only an extension of his father, he is also an extension of his mother, and when she begs him to come into the city of Troy, she assumes the position of a suppliant, appealing for mercy on the battlefield. Hektor's choice to remain on the battlefield and fight Achilles in a duel ignores her plea; therefore, in accordance with the idea that the hero is an extension of the mother, Hektor will be guilty of her death if anything happens to her. Priam's plea to his son is similar to Hekuba's, but his plea is for family continuity and for Troy.
An important idea in the Iliad is how "the plan, or will of Zeus" affects Hektor. The god's promise to Thetis (to give victory to the Trojans) traps Hektor into a key role. Zeus has promised him divine help with victory that will last until the Trojans have reached the beaches and the Achaian ships. Hektor assumes that final victory is his. Of course, though, it isn't. Therefore, Hektor can be seen as an instrument of Zeus. But although he is an instrument of Zeus, he is not a victim of Zeus. Hektor has sufficient flaws and errors to cause him to deserve his death. With this in mind, one must ask, "What is Hektor's error?"
An "error" is a misdeed consciously committed, and as such, a character must live with the shame of having committed the deed. Error sometimes occurs when the hero seeks only honor. If a warrior is reliable, he is admired, and if others admire the warrior, then he admires himself. According to the heroic code, the warrior should gain his honor by combat; consequently, he often over-reaches himself in his attempt to win honor. In the case of Hektor, it is sometimes difficult to determine what Hektor does in full knowledge, which constitutes an error, and what he does when he is acting as an instrument of the gods.
Hektor's first error is his promise to his fellow Trojans of a Trojan victory after the Achaians have been driven back to their ships. In his speech, he announces his plan for the Trojan troops to remain on the plain, ready for an early attack. The Trojan victory, however, is a result of his misunderstanding Zeus' plan which is simply to give the Trojans success until they reach the Greek ships so that the Achaians, specifically Agamemnon, will be punished for the mistreatment of Achilles. Hektor's success in battle, then, leads to a presumptuous wish for immortality and, consequently, to the beginning of Hektor's deterioration.
Hektor's second error is his refusal to withdraw his troops back to the city, as Poulydamas advises. Hektor is fired with victory and with Zeus' promise of aid. As soon as his troops reach the ships, Hektor's re-enforcement from Zeus is at an end. Hektor's gravest error, of course, occurs when he refuses to take refuge within the Trojan walls.
Homer shows us a portrait of Hektor as a leader concerned for Troy and its people and as a man who believes strongly in the cultural code of his community. Within Troy itself, Hektor reacts to social conditions in accordance with a heroic sense of order. Leaving the city, he becomes blinded by his military successes, by his own strength, and by the delusion that Zeus totally supports the Trojan cause. On the battlefield, Hektor is less responsive to individuals than he was within the walls of Troy; he does not seem to be the same Hektor portrayed earlier in the epic. The process of isolation has begun, and it ends with Hektor's complete isolation, outside of the walls of Troy, battling with Achilles until one of them is dead.
When Hektor kills Patroklos, his self-delusion is in full stride. Unknown to Hektor, Apollo, as Asios, goads Hektor into fighting Patroklos, saying, "You might be able to kill him. Apollo might give you such glory." Thus, Hektor becomes the instrument of both Zeus and Apollo, for as Patroklos tells Hektor, Zeus and Apollo conquered him, not Hektor. Hektor is only Patroklos' third slayer.
Hektor's deterioration becomes even more evident when he violates the heroic code of honor. He threatens to drag Patroklos' body back to Troy and throw it to the "dogs of the city" instead of allowing the Achaians to give it an honorable burial. Hektor's treatment of Patroklos' body, in turn, prompts Achilles to mutilate Hektor's body.
When Hektor puts on Achilles' armor, he becomes as erratic as Achilles in his quarrel with Agamemnon. Achilles' armor covers Hektor's true identity to a degree that it brings about Hektor's death.
The reader pities Hektor as he meets Achilles in the final duel, yet his deterioration, his lack of self-knowledge, and his self-delusion have brought him to this final reckoning with Achilles. Hektor fails to maintain a heroic balance when he overestimates his powers and refuses to retreat when necessary. As he meets Achilles, he stands deluded by a dream of invisibility. Physically and symbolically isolated outside his community, he is cut down by Achilles.
Hektor is a more complicated figure than most of the other characters in the Iliad. His responsibility to Troy, to his troops, to his family, and to the moral and heroic code, and his role as the instrument of Zeus set up tensions that no other character seems to experience. Hektor may appear to be a warrior with greater military prowess than most warriors, but he also seems to be an uncomplicated Homeric man. It is, therefore, Hektor's various interrelationships and his multiple responsibilities that bring out the various and often contradictory facets of his character.