Although Achilles and Hector are both mighty warriors who share the same values, they have different backgrounds, personalities, and reasons for fighting. Homer presents Achilles, the son of Peleus, a mortal, and of Thetis, a sea nymph, as a hero with almost supernatural characteristics. Achilles’ statue is godlike, his strength is superior, and his powers with a spear unsurpassed. He wears immortal armor and has talking horses. While Achilles is superhuman, Hector is completely human surrounded by his wife and child. As the eldest son of Priam and Hekuba, king and queen of Troy, Hector is the commander of the Trojan army. Hector has strong feelings of responsibility for his community. Troy is a center of culture with elaborate palaces and surrounds Hector and his family with stability.
Achilles is a young, complex warrior capable of great cruelty and kindness. Homer always portrays him in extreme passion. He comes to Troy, knowing he will die because he wants honor and glory. He chooses glory and an early death, rather than a long, inglorious life. When Achilles argues with Agamemnon, Achilles’ reaction is deadly anger (1.190). Although he wants to fight, his stubborn pride compels him to sulk. He rejects pleas to return to the battle. In order to please Patroklos, Achilles finally compromises and allows Patroklos to return to battle wearing Achilles’ armor. Achilles allows Patroklos to go to his death. Only after Patroklos’ death does Achilles see that his sitting by his ships is “a useless weight on the good land” (18.104) which sacrificed many of his men’s lives. Achilles is angrier than ever. He “tears at his hair with his hands, and defiles it” (18.27). Achilles’ anger, grief, and sorrow is expressed in vengeance. He wants revenge for Patroklos’ death.
Grief stricken and raged, Achilles pursued Hector around walls of Troy 3 times, killed him and tied his lifeless body to his chariot and dragged it (22.401). Hector’s fear of death is overcome by his fear of disgrace (7.215-18).
Hector is more cautious, practical, and virtuous. Iris tells him to marshal the troops, and he does so (2.802). When Paris proposes a duel, Hector and Odysseus make practical arrangements while Priam and Agamemnon exchange the oath (3.264-317). Hector always appears as a hero of responsibilities. Hector’s virtues are the outcome of his responsiveness to society. He is aware that his own virtues are conditioned rather than natural or spontaneous. He has schooled himself to play the warrior’s role and to be good (6.441-46). He does not question the order of things or shirk his duties.
Although they both want glory, Achilles and Hector fight for different reasons. Achilles is an absolute hero who acts only for himself and for the glory of himself. He is an independent warrior in the army of Troy. He can return home when he pleases. His refusal to fight is an indication that he retains his independence. Achilles has no personal grievance against Troy (8.154). Achilles asked Zeus to help his enemies, the Trojans, kill his friends because his personal honor weighs more with him than the lives of his friends. He came to Troy, knowing he would die. He came because he cared so much for glory. He chooses glory and an early death rather than the pleasure of a long inglorious life (18.98).
Hector’s nobility and sense of loyalty demand that he fight. He is a hero of responsibilities; he never questions his responsibility to Troy. Hector places his life at the service of others. He fights for family and city, but he also fights so that he will not lose the respect of others. Hector is a warrior not because he loves war, but because he is provoked by his perception of his place in the social structure of Troy and of his obligation to the people.