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Hector brought back to Troy. From a Roman sarcophagus of ca. 180–200 AD.

In Greek mythology, Hectōr (Ἕκτωρ, "holding fast"[1]), or Hektōr, is a Trojan prince and the greatest fighter of Troy in the Trojan War. As the son of Priam and Hecuba, a descendant of Dardanus, who lived under Mount Ida, and of Tros, the founder of Troy,[2] he is a prince of the royal house. He acts as leader of the Trojans and their allies in the defence of Troy. In the European Middle Ages, Hector figures as one of the Nine Worthies noted by Jacques de Longuyon, known not only for his courage but also for his noble and courtly nature. Indeed Homer places Hector as the very noblest of all the heroes in the Iliad: he is both peace-loving and brave, thoughtful as well as bold, a good son, husband and father, and totally without darker motives. When the Trojans are disputing whether the omens are favourable, he retorts:

One omen is best:
defending the fatherland.


Trojan War


Greatest Warrior of Troy

Apulian red-figure vase ca. 370–360 BC depicting Hector, Andromache, Astyanax and Hector's helmet.

According to the author of the Iliad, Hector does not approve of war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Observing Paris avoiding combat with Menelaus, he upbraids him with having brought trouble on his whole country and now refusing to fight. Paris therefore proposes single combat between himself and Menelaus, with Helen to go to the victor, ending the war.[3] The duel, however, leads to inconclusive results due to divine intervention. Aphrodite leads Paris off the field. Menelaus claims a victory, but Pandarus wounds him from cover with an arrow, causing the war to begin again.

The Greeks attack and drive the Trojans back. Hector must now go out to lead a counter-attack. His wife, Andromache, carrying in her arms their son Astyanax, intercepts him at the gate, pleading with him not to go out for her sake as well as his son's. Hector knows that Troy and the house of Priam are doomed to fall and that the gloomy fate of his wife and infant son will be to die or go into slavery in a foreign land. With understanding, compassion, and tenderness he explains that he cannot personally refuse to fight, and comforts her with the idea that no one can take him until it is his time to go.[4] The gleaming bronze helmet frightens Astyanax and makes him cry.[5] Hector takes it off, embraces his wife and son, and for her sake prays aloud to Zeus that his son might be chief after him and become more glorious in battle than he.

Ajax and Hector exchange gifts, woodcut in Andreas Alciatus, Emblematum libellus, 1591.

Hector and Paris pass through the gate and rally the Trojans, raising havoc among the Greeks. At the advice of his brother, Helenus (who also is divinely inspired), Hector, being told by Helenus that he is not fated to die yet, manages to get both armies seated and challenges any one of the Greek warriors to single combat.[6] The Argives are initially reluctant to accept the challenge. However, after Nestor's chiding, nine Greek heroes step up to the challenge and draw by lot to see who is to face Hector. Ajax wins, and fights Hector to a standstill for the entire day, with neither able to obtain victory. At the end of the duel they express admiration for each other's courage and skill. Hector gives Ajax his sword (which Ajax will later use to commit suicide), while Ajax gives Hector his girdle (which is later used to attach Hector's corpse to the chariot on which Achilles drags him around the walls of Troy).

The Greek and the Trojans make a truce to bury the dead. In the early dawn the next day the Greeks take advantage of it to build a wall and ditch around the ships.[7]

Trojan counterattack

Battle at the ships, on a Greek sarcophagus, 225-250 AD.

Zeus weighs the fates of the two armies in the balance, and that of the Greeks sinks down. The Trojans press the Greeks into their camp over the ditch and wall and would have laid hands on the ships, but Agamemnon rallies the Greeks in person. The Trojans are driven off, night falls, and Hector resolves to take the camp and burn the ships next day. The Trojans bivouac in the field.

"A thousand camp-fires gleamed upon the plain, ...".[8]

The next day Agamemnon rallies the Greeks and drives the Trojans

"like a herd of cows maddened with fright when a lion has attacked them ..."[9]

Hector refrains from battle until Agamemnon leaves the field, wounded in the arm by a spear. Then Hector rallies the Trojans:

" some fierce tempest that swoops down upon the sea...."

Diomedes and Odysseus hinder Hector and win the Greeks some time to retreat, but the Trojans sweep down upon the wall and rain blows upon it. The Greeks in the camp contest the gates to secure entrance for their fleeing warriors. The Trojans try to pull down the ramparts while the Greeks rain missiles upon them. Hector smashes open a gate with a large stone, clears the gate and calls on the Trojans to scale the wall, which they do, and

"... all was uproar and confusion."[10]

The battle rages inside the camp. Hector goes down, hit by a stone thrown by Ajax, but Apollo arrives from Olympus and infuses strength into "the shepherd of the people", who orders a chariot attack, with Apollo clearing the way. Many combats, deaths, boasts, threats, epithets, figures of speech, stories, lines of poetry and books of the Iliad later, Hector lays hold of Protesilaus' ship and calls for fire. The Trojans cannot bring it to him, as Ajax kills everyone who tries.[11]

These events are all according to the will of the gods, who have decreed the fall of Troy, and therefore intend to tempt Achilles back into the war. Patroclus, Achilles' closest companion, disguised in the armor of Achilles, enters the combat leading the Myrmidons and the rest of the Achaeans to force a Trojan withdrawal. After Patroclus has routed the Trojan army, Hector, with the aid of Apollo and Euphorbus, kills Patroclus, vaunting over him:

"I am foremost of all the Trojan warriors to stave the day of bondage from off them; as for you, vultures shall devour you here."

The dying Patroclus replies:

".. death and the day of your doom are close upon you...".[12]

Hector's last fight

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector's lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy. (From a panoramic fresco on the upper level of the main hall of the Achilleion)
"Alas! the gods have lured me on to my destruction. ... death is now indeed exceedingly near at hand and there is no way out of it- for so Zeus and his son Apollo the far-darter have willed it, though heretofore they have been ever ready to protect me. My doom has come upon me; let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.

—Spoken by Hector facing Achilles, after a missed spear-throw, The Iliad Book XXII Lines 299-305.

Hector strips the armor of Achilles off the fallen Patroclus and gives it to his men to take back to the city. Glaucus accuses Hector of cowardice for not challenging Ajax. Stung, Hector calls for the armor, puts it on and uses it to rally the Trojans. Zeus regards the donning of a hero's armor as an act of insolence by a fool about to die, but makes him strong for now.[13]

The next day Achilles, renouncing the wrath that kept him out of action, routs the Trojans back to the city. Hector chooses to remain outside the gates of Troy and face Achilles, partially because had he listened to Polydamas and retreated with his troops the previous night, Achilles would not have killed so many Trojans. However, when he sees Achilles he is seized by fear, and turns to flee, as Achilles gives chase to him three times around the city. Hector then masters his fear and turns to face Achilles. But Athena, in the disguise of Hector's brother Deiphobus, deluded Hector. He requests from Achilles that the victor would return the other's body after the duel, but Achilles refuses. Achilles hurls his spear at Hector, who dodges it, but Athena brought it back to Achilles' hands without Hector noticing. Hector then throws his spear at Achilles; it hits the shield but to no avail. When Hector turns to face his supposed brother to retrieve another spear he sees no one there. At that moment he realizes that he is doomed and that the gods are now all in Achilles' favor. But a warrior to the end, Hector decides that he will go down fighting and that men will talk about his bravery in years to come.

Hector pulls out his sword, his only weapon now, and charges. Achilles, knowing the weak spot of his old armor, which Hector now wears, is at the neck, stabs his spear through the armor into Hector's throat but misses the vocal chords. Hector, in his final moments, begs Achilles for an honorable burial. However, Achilles replies that he will let dog and vultures devour Hector's flesh. Hector dies, prophesying that Achilles' death will follow soon.

After his death, Achilles slits Hector's heels and passes the girdle that Ajax had given Hector through the slits of the heels. He then fastens the girdle to his chariot and drives his fallen enemy through the dust to the Danaan camp. For the next twelve days, Achilles mistreats the body, but it remains preserved from all injury by Apollo and Aphrodite. After these twelve days, the gods can no longer stand watching it and send down two messengers: Iris, another messenger god, and Thetis, mother to Achilles. Achilles' mother has told Achilles to allow King Priam to come and take the body for ransom. Once King Priam has been notified that Achilles will allow him to claim the body, he goes to his safe to withdraw the ransom for Hector's body. The ransom King Priam offers included twelve fine robes, twelve white mantles, several richly embroidered tunics, ten bars of yellow gold, a special gold cup, and several cauldrons. King Priam himself soon comes to claim the body, and Hermes grants him safe passage by casting a charm that will make anyone who looks at him fall asleep.

Think of thy father, and this helpless face behold!
See him in me, as helpless and as old!
Though not so wretched: there he yields to me,
The first of men in sovereign misery!
Thus forced to kneel, thus groveling to embrace
The scourge and ruin of my realm and race;
Suppliant my children’s murderer to implore,
And kiss those hands yet reeking with their gore!

—Spoken by Priam to Achilles, The Iliad Book XXIV.

Achilles, moved by Priam's actions and following his mother's orders sent by Zeus, returns Hector's body, and promises Priam a truce of twelve days to allow the Trojans to perform funeral rites for Hector. Priam returns to Troy with the body of his son, and it is given full funeral honors. Even Helen mourns Hector, for he had always been kind to her and protected her from spite. The last lines of the Iliad are dedicated to Hector's funeral. Homer concludes by referring to the Trojan prince as the "tamer of forces."

Apollodorus, Bibliotheke III, xii, 5-6; Apollodorus, Epitome IV, 2.

Historical references and etymology

There is as of yet no direct evidence of the historical existence of Homeric heroes; i.e., no inscriptions, signatures, eye-witness accounts, etc. Theories about them have to rely on a preponderance of other evidence, which alone are not solid enough to warrant much conclusiveness.

One such piece of quasi-evidence is the names of Trojan heroes in the Linear B tablets. Twenty out of fifty-eight men's names also known from Homer, including e-ko-to (Hector), are Trojan warriors and some, including Hector, are in a servile capacity.[14] No such conclusion that they are the offspring of Trojan captive women is warranted. Generally the public has to be content with the knowledge that these names existed in Greek in Mycenaean times, although Page[15] hypothesizes that Hector "may very well be ... a familiar Greek form impressed on a similar-sounding foreign name."

When Pausanias visited Thebes in Boeotia, in the second century CE, he was shown Hector's tomb and was told that the bones had been transported to Thebes according to a Delphic oracle. Moses I. Finley observes[16] "this typical bit of fiction must mean that there was an old Theban hero Hector, a Greek, whose myths antedated the Homeric poems. Even after Homer had located Hector in Troy for all time, the Thebans held on to their hero, and the Delphic oracle provided the necessary sanction."

Later treatments

  • In Dante's Inferno, Hector and his family are placed in Limbo, the outer circle wherein the virtuous non-Christians dwell.
  • Roland's sword in early 12th century French poem Song of Roland, was named Durendal. According to Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso it once belonged to Hector of Troy, and was given to Roland by Malagigi (Maugris).
  • Hector is given his heraldry of a seated lion holding a sword in the Enfances Hector of the early 14th century.
  • Hector is commemorated as the face of the Jack of diamonds in French playing cards.

See also


  1. ^ This etymology is given under Hector in the Online Etymological Dictionary, which, if true, would make it an Indo-European name, of root *seĝh-. The Dardanians would not have been Greek, but the language of the city of Troy is still an open question.
  2. ^ Iliad XX.215ff.
  3. ^ Iliad III.
  4. ^ Iliad VI.
  5. ^ This Trojan helmet was made famous by Denys Page in History and the Homeric Iliad, Chapter VI, "Some Mycenaean relics in the Iliad", as the Greeks do not wear bronze helmets in the poem's epic formulae, but they did in the Homeric Age; therefore, Page concludes (on other evidence as well) that the bronze helmet of Hector descends in oral poetry from Mycenaean times.
  6. ^ Iliad, VII.
  7. ^ Iliad VII.433ff)
  8. ^ Iliad VIII.542ff.
  9. ^ Iliad, XI.163ff.
  10. ^ Iliad XII.
  11. ^ Iliad, XV end.
  12. ^ Iliad XVI end.
  13. ^ Iliad XVII.
  14. ^ John Chadwick, in Ventris and Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek, 2nd edition, Cambridge, 1973, p. 104.
  15. ^ Page History and the Homeric Iliad, Chapter V.
  16. ^ Finley, The World of Odysseus, 1954, rev. ed. 1978) p. 44

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Proper noun

Hektor (stem Hektor-*)

  1. (Greek mythology) Hector.


Proper noun


  1. (Greek mythology) Hector.


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