Summary and Analysis
With the Trojans now secure in their city, Hektor — as their sole representative — stands outside the city gates and prepares to meet Achilles. His mother and father appeal to him to seek safety behind the city walls, but their pleas are in vain. While waiting, Hektor considers the various courses of action open to him and decides that the only real possibility is to fight Achilles.
Yet, when Achilles arrives, Hektor is overcome by fear and he flees. Achilles pursues him around the city walls three times, and, as they run, Hektor tries unsuccessfully to draw Achilles within range of the Trojan archers on the battlements.
Finally, Athena deludes Hektor into believing that he will have assistance against Achilles. He turns and stands his ground. But before the two heroes fight, Hektor attempts to make Achilles promise to treat his body with respect if he is killed, but Achilles is so full of fury that he refuses.
The two warriors engage in a decisive duel. Achilles casts his spear first and misses the mark, but it is returned to him by Athena. Next, Hektor throws his spear and hits the center of Achilles' shield, but the divine armor cannot be penetrated. The two men circle each other, slowly closing in. Hektor is armed with only a sword, while Achilles still has his spear. After several feints, Achilles lunges and stabs Hektor in the throat. As the Trojan dies, he begs that his body be returned to his family for a proper funeral, but Achilles again refuses Hektor's request. Hektor dies reminding Achilles that his own death is imminent.
All the Achaians run up to see the corpse of the almost-mythic, now-dead Trojan leader. Many of them jest and stab Hektor's corpse. Achilles strips off Hektor's armor and fastens his naked body to his chariot by the heels. Then he gallops off, dragging the corpse behind him in disgrace.
When Priam and Hekuba, Hektor's parents, witness the vicious treatment of their dead son, they begin to wail and bemoan their fate, and all of the citizens of Troy join in the piteous lamentations. The sound of this weeping is heard by Andromache, and when she learns of her husband's death, she collapses.
Structurally, this book has three early appeals to Hektor, begging him to come inside the walls of Troy, balanced late in the book by three laments for Hektor's death. In between occurs the fight between Hektor and Achilles.
The battle between Hektor and Achilles brings about a reconsideration of two ideas that have been implicit throughout the Iliad. The first idea is the conflict between the values symbolized by the two warriors. The second idea is the nature of the relationship between the gods and men.
The duel between Hektor and Achilles has been interpreted as a clash between two diametrically opposed world views: Hektor, the representative of hearth, home, and city-state, is the defender of the principles of individual self-control and of a constructive, positive way of life. Achilles is the personification of primitive brutality, anti-social destructiveness, and undisciplined instinct. Thus, it is a fight where human civilization itself is at stake, and although the destructive forces triumph, Achilles (their embodiment) is rehabilitated and rejuvenated in the final book of the epic. The institutions represented by Hektor are reborn in a new form during the confrontation between Achilles and Hektor's aged father, Priam.
Two scenes explore the god/human relationship in complementary fashion. Zeus considers saving Hektor's life by "plucking the man from death." Athena counters that Zeus can do as he pleases, "but none of the deathless gods will ever praise you."
The first suggestion in this scene is that Zeus can overcome fate, but only in a way that brings turmoil to heaven and earth. The second suggestion is that Zeus' intervention in human affairs in this instance is not justifiable because fate has decreed otherwise. Hektor is preordained to die at the hands of Achilles, so there is no justification for intervention.
This second idea about the nature of the relationships between gods and men is reinforced in the much discussed role of Athena in Hektor's death. Hektor runs when he first encounters Achilles, and the pall mall race around the walls of Troy is almost humorous. However, this race has to end and the inevitable conflict must take place. Athena intervenes in the form of Deiphobus and convinces Hektor to fight. Hektor does so and dies.
Commentary has focused on Athena's role, suggesting that Homer shows the gods as tricksters who cannot be trusted by humans. Actually, the opposite view is more accurate. Athena intervenes on the side of what must happen. Unlike Zeus' notion to save Hektor and avoid fate, Athena's goal is precisely to bring about what fate has decreed. She does not cause Hektor's death; instead she ends his unseemly flight and makes him turn to face what must be. Here again, the voice of the god is like the voice in the mind telling the hero what he must do. A heroic warrior cannot run from his foe, even if that foe is the invulnerable and deadly Achilles. The gods sometimes help humans face up to their human obligations and destinies.
For Achilles, the nature of his society and values, where competition and victory are everything, leaves him alone at the end of the battle, waiting for his own certain death.
Deiphobus son of Priam, brother of Hektor; wisely advises Hektor to return within the walls of Troy.
Orion's Dog the Dog Star, Sirius, named for the dog of the mythological hunter, Orion.