What It Means to Be a Hero Based on The Iliad

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2153 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 2153|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Characteristics of What It Means to Be a Hero
  3. Achilleus: The Demigod Warrior
  4. Hektor: The Heroic Defender
  5. Hero's Relationships in The Iliad
  6. Conclusion
  7. Work Cited


The Iliad is considered to be one of the greatest literary works from ancient Greece, still highly regarded today. One of the most famous Greek warriors to exist, Achilleus, is the central character within the book. Homer goes to great lengths to describe Achilleus’ character, actions, and relationships within the pages. However, Achilleus’ rival, Hektor, is often sidelined when mentioning noble heroes of ancient times. Hektor, the Trojan hero, may not have the same godly or divine qualities that exist within Achilleus, but he deserves his own pedestal among the great. Throughout The Iliad, Homer gives light to who Hektor is, and it becomes evident that this Trojan soldier is a hero in his own right, embodying what it means to be a hero.

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Characteristics of What It Means to Be a Hero

Both Hektor and Achilleus display characteristics of what it means to be a hero. A hero needs to have certain set qualities such as courage, nobility, selflessness, willingness to conquer trials, and loyalty. Heroes usually face insurmountable obstacles before they reach their goals. These heroes need to altruistically put aside personal conflicts and focus on the bigger picture. However, Hektor is a hero just as much as Achilleus is, or perhaps even more.

Firstly, it is understandable that Achilleus is more widely known than Hektor. Achilleus is born to a mortal man named Peleus and the sea nymph goddess, Thetis. Not only is Achilleus a demigod, naturally born with supernatural skill in battle and power, but also no mortal man can even hurt him except for his heel. Achilleus is a Greek hero of great power and ability in close combat. He is a master of weapons, especially with spears and swords. Achilleus’ warrior prowess is evident throughout many parts of The Iliad, particularly when he meets the river, Skamandros. Skamandros speaks to Achilleus, “O Achilleus, your strength is greater, your acts more violent than all men’s; since always the very gods are guarding you” (XXI. 214-15). The river cries out to Achilleus, “the loveliness of my water is crammed with corpses, I cannot find a channel to cast my water into the bright sea since I am congested with the dead men you kill so brutally. Let me alone, then; lord of the people, I am confounded” (XXI 218-21). Achilleus kills so many men and disposes of their bodies in the water, that the river begs of him to stop because the waters are overfilled with the corpses of dead men. This scene reveals the strength and warrior prowess within Achilleus. Achilleus is quite famous for his capability in combat and is known as a true force of nature.

Homer reveals to the readers the motivation of Hektor and Achilleus in endangering their lives. Achilleus is primarily motivated only by what can be gained for himself. His reputation and glory mean much more to him than anything else. This is made clear when Achilleus feels that his ego is bruised when Agamemnon decided to demand Achilleus’ war prize, Briseis. Achilleus prays to Thetis for revenge on Agamemnon and his Achaean army. Achilleus even resolves to sit out from the battle. He refuses to put aside his own feelings for the sake of his people and army. Achilleus refuses to fight because he is cheated by Agamemnon for taking away what belonged to him. The only reason Achilleus reenters the battle is to avenge the death of Patroklus. He does not display any particular loyalty to his people or his soldiers. In fact, it is only towards the end when Patroklus dies in battle, does Achilleus decide to fight for someone else other than himself. His reasons for reentering battle are first and foremost quite selfish since he is looking out for his own best interests. There is little to no indication of Achilleus’ willingness to engage in battle for anyone else but himself.

The relationships throughout The Iliad shed light on onto the personality of Achilleus. Achilleus’ relationship with Patroklus is an incredibly significant friendship within The Iliad. It is the death of Patroklus that prompted Achilleus to reenter the battle. Achilleus is devastated at the news of his closest companion’s death. He mourns the loss of his friend: “[M]y dear companion has perished, Patroklus, whom I loved beyond all other companions, as well as my own life” (XVIII. 79-82). Achilleus does a disservice to his people and his country by staying out of the war so long. Many other Achaians die because he refuses to reenter the battle, nut Achilleus is unmoved by their plight. Still, when he chooses to reenter the battle for the sake of bringing justice to Patroklus, this is the only instance that moves Achilleus. Achilleus battles for mainly himself and thought primarily about how the choices he makes would affect his destiny. This is one instance where Achilleus thinks of someone else other than himself.

Achilleus: The Demigod Warrior

Agamemnon and Achilleus’ relationship throughout The Iliad speak volumes for many of the actions Achilleus decides to take. The wrath of Achilleus, which fuels most of his character is sparked when Agamemnon steals his war prize, Briseis. This act infuriates Achilleus and he choose to remain out of the war. He says: “

“And now my prize you threaten in person to strip from me, for whom I labored much…[n]ow I am returning to Phthia, since it is much better to go home again with my curved ships, and I am minded no longer to stay here dishonoured and pile up your wealth and your luxury” (I.161-164, 169-171).

He even wishes for the death of the Achaean army, people who, at least in this case, are completely innocent. Achilleus refuses to put aside his personal conflicts for the sake of his people and the war. Yes, what Agamemnon does is dishonorable. It does warrant anger and indignation. But, Achilleus should have had the mindset of a true hero, a leader who selflessly should think of others before himself. He, again, reveals how selfish and how his motives are mostly for self-preservation and personal vengeance.

Achilleus’ relationship with his father brought him to tears, serving as a catalyst for changing his mind and allowing Priam a choice to take his son’s body home. Achilleus’ character changes dramatically at that moment. At the beginning and throughout most of the book, it is Achilleus’ rage that fuels many of his thoughts and thereby his actions. He changes his mind and chooses to give Priam that for which he has asks. These two people, Patroklus and Achilleus’ father, are the only two who Achilleus seems to care for other than himself. A hero’s relationships are essential in revealing what kind of person he or she is. It is worth noting that even though Patroklus is a major factor for Achilleus to return to battle, another major reason is because the gods have given him a choice, he could either die in the Trojan War and always be remembered, or not go to war and die an old man in obscurity. Achilleus resolves he would rather go out in a blaze of glory and be honored forever. However his motivation, at its core, is egocentric.

Hektor: The Heroic Defender

In The Iliad, Hektor demonstrates that he is a better hero than Achilleus through his values and how he interacts with those he cares about. Hektor who is the greater hero, is born of mortal parents, King Priam and Queen Hecuba. He boasts of no divine skill or superhuman capabilities. However, by no means, can one say that Hektor is not an impressive soldier. The violent way that Hektor kills Patroklus portrays the ferocity with which Hektor fights. In fact, he often leads the Trojans into battle and the way that he murders Patroklus in battle is quite brutal. When Hektor saw that Patroklus is about to get away he “stabbed him in the depth of the belly and drove the bronze clean through…” (XVI. 818-819). Afterwards, Hektor’s intentions for Patroklus’ body are even crueler than those he had for it in life. Hektor thinks that he should, “cut his head from his shoulders with the sharp bronze, to haul off the body and give it to the dogs of Troy” (XVI. 818-821). While Hektor has no god given strength or prowess, he does not lack in warrior spirit, courage, and battle readiness. Moreover, the reasons that Hektor fights are more noble and honorable than those of Achilleus.

Homer clearly illustrates for whom and what Hektor is fighting. For the sake of his family, his people, and his country, Hektor decides to partake in the battle. After all, Hektor has no personal reason to take part in this battle. This war in many ways is never Hektor’s battle. The war initially begins because of the abduction of Helen by Paris, Hektor’s brother. This battle belongs to Paris, since he is the one who initiates it. Yet, Hektor partook in the Trojan War out of loyalty and responsibility. Hektor, out of allegiance to his country and to his people, decides to lead his people, the Trojans, against the Greeks. He is a true leader and hero, willing to defend his country with utmost courage and devotion. Hektor’s cause in engaging in battle is much more selfless and dignified than Achilleus. For all that Achilleus could brag in skill and power, Hektor is the true hero. Although he does not have any godly powers as Achilleus does, Hektor exhibits other qualities that defines what it means to be a hero. Hektor is not driven solely by war lust, but rather, he is driven by the loyalty to defend his people. Hektor also shows himself to be a model husband, son, father, and citizen. Unlike Achilleus, he never steps out of the battle and does not allow his personal feelings get in the way of his duty.

Hero's Relationships in The Iliad

Additionally, Hektor’s relationships with his wife and son portray the sort of individual he is. One of the most prominent illustrations is the conversation between Hektor and Andromache. Hektor is torn between choosing to either stay with his family or return to the battlefield. His heartbreaking affection is evident when he speaks to his wife and son. Ultimately, Hektor realizes that he will not be able to stay with them. Andromache is in tears and begs him to stay behind, as she is terrified that this will be the last time she will see him alive. Hektor is tempted to stay, but realizing and understanding his sense of duty, he chooses to head back out to the battlefield. He says to Andromache:

“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 the fighting; and the spirit will not let me, once 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. For I know this thing well in my heart, and my mind knows it… [It] troubles me the thought of you, when some bronze-armored Achaian leads you off, taking away your days of liberty” (XI.440-455).

Hektor is fully aware that he might not be able to return to his family alive if he chooses to reenter the battlefield. However, with a true hero’s spirit and a soldier’s accountability, Hektor ultimately knows that he must return to fight alongside his men. He realizes that he could not stand aside while his men fought the battle without him. As a leader, he has to direct his army. Hektor even worries about the state of his wife Andromache and whether or not she will be safe. He shows deep concern to whether Andromache will be able to keep her freedom. He kisses his son, Astynax, and demonstrates what kind of father that he is: devoted.


However, throughout The Iliad, whether he is on the battlefield on within the walls of his city, Hektor proves that he is a hero is the truest sense of the word. He knows his responsibility and does not shirk away from doing what is right. Hektor has earned his right to have his own place among the greatest of warriors and heroes. His character and the decisions he faces under pressure deem him a worthy hero just as much as, if not more than, Achilleus. Although the Trojans lost to the Greeks in the war, Hektor should be remembered as one of the best heroes, a devoted father, a faithful husband, and a loyal citizen. Hektor’s importance should not be diminished when reading about Achilleus. The Trojan people would not have been the same without the kind of leadership and forethought Hektor showed throughout his service. Hektor proves himself to be a better man and a better hero.

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Work Cited

Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Translated by Richmond Lattimore, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

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What It Means to Be a Hero Based on The Iliad. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
“What It Means to Be a Hero Based on The Iliad.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
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