Hector of Troy: Legendary Hero of the Trojan War

Painting of Achilles Defeating Hector.
Peter Paul Rubens / Getty Images

In Greek mythology, Hector, the oldest child of King Priam and Hecuba, was the presumed heir to the throne of Troy. This devoted husband of Andromache and father of Astyanax was the greatest Trojan hero of the Trojan War, the main defender of Troy, and a favorite of Apollo.

Hector in The Iliad

As depicted in Homer's The Iliad, Hector is one of the principal defenders of Troy, and he very nearly won the war for the Trojans. After Achilles temporarily deserted the Greeks, Hector stormed the Greek camp, wounded Odysseus and threatened to burn the Greek fleet—until Agamemnon rallied his troops and repelled the Trojans. Later, with Apollo's help, Hector killed Patroclus, the best friend of the great Greek warrior Achilles, and stole his armor, which actually belonged to Achilles.

Enraged by the death of his friend, Achilles reconciled with Agamemnon and joined the other Greeks in fighting against the Trojans in order to pursue Hector. As the Greeks stormed the Trojan castle, Hector came out to meet Achilles in single combat—wearing the fateful armor of Achilles taken off the body of Patroclus. Achilles aimed and shot his spear into a small gap in the neck area of that armor, killing Hector. 

Afterward, the Greeks desecrated Hector's corpse by dragging it around the grave of Patroclus three times. King Priam, Hector's father, then went to Achilles to beg for his son's body so he could give it a proper burial. Despite the abuse of the corpse at the hands of the Greeks, Hector's body had been kept intact due to the intervention of the gods. 

The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector, held during a 12-day truce granted by Achilles. The mourners include Andromache, Hecabe, and Helen, all of whom perform individual laments for his death. After Hector's death, his wife Andromache was enslaved by the son of Achilles, and his son Astyanax was killed.

Hector in Literature and Film

Modern historians consider Hector the moral hero of the Iliad, who is doomed by Zeus who has selected Hector to bring about Patroclus' death in order to force Achilles back into battle. 

In 1312 CE, Jacques de Longuyon, in the romance Les Voeux du paon, included Hector as one of three pagans among the Nine Worthies—chosen as models for medieval chivalry. 

In The Inferno, completed about 1314 CE, Dante placed Hector in Limbo rather than hell, since Hector was regarded by Dante as one of the truly virtuous pagans. 

In William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, written in 1609, Hector's death comes at the end of the play, and his noble nature serves to contrast against the arrogant pride shown by other characters. 

The 1956 film, Helen of Troy marked the first time Hector appears in movies, this time played by actor Harry Andrews.

In the 2004 film Troy, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, Hector was played by actor Eric Bana.

Sources and Further Reading

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Gill, N.S. "Hector of Troy: Legendary Hero of the Trojan War." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/prince-hector-of-troy-character-profile-111821. Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). Hector of Troy: Legendary Hero of the Trojan War. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/prince-hector-of-troy-character-profile-111821 Gill, N.S. "Hector of Troy: Legendary Hero of the Trojan War." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/prince-hector-of-troy-character-profile-111821 (accessed May 28, 2023).