The first time Hector meets Achilles on the battlefield, in Book IX of the Iliad, he is prudent enough to avoid dueling the Myrmidon superhero. However, in Book XXII Hector decides to face Achilles in single combat, a decision that costs him his life.

Why does Hector accept Achilles' challenge?

1 Answer 1


Pride and shame

It is put best in book 12, 90-130:

BkXXII:1-89 Priam and Hecabe fail to dissuade Hector | poetryintranslation.com

Which shows his own thinking on the issue: [bolding mine]

But his [Hector's] proud thoughts were troubled: ‘Alas, if I retreat through the gate, to the safety of the wall, Polydamas will not be slow to reproach me, since he advised me to withdraw our forces to the city, on that fatal night when Achilles re-appeared. I refused, though it may have been better! Now, in my folly, having brought us to the brink of ruin, I’d be ashamed to hear some insignificant Trojan, or his long-robed wife, say: ‘Hector has brought ruin on the army, trusting too much in his own right arm.’ If that’s what they’ll say, then I’d be better by far to meet Achilles face to face and kill him before returning to the city, or die gloriously beneath its walls. Of course, I could ditch the bossed shield and heavy helmet, lean my spear on the wall, and go and promise peerless Achilles to return Helen and her treasure to the Atreidae, all that Paris brought in the hollow ships to Troy, to begin this strife. I could say too that we’ll then divide all the remaining treasure in the city, and then induce the Elders to state on oath that they’ll conceal no part of that treasure, but grant half of all the lovely city holds. But what’s the point of such thoughts? I’ll not approach him like a suppliant only to have him show neither mercy nor respect, but kill me out of hand, stripped of my armour and defenceless as a woman. This is no lover’s tryst of lad and lass, by oak or rock! Lad and lass, indeed! Better to meet in bloody combat, now, and see to whom Zeus grants the glory!

  • How did hector bring the Trojans to the brink of ruin? Why would declining the challenge be tantamount to surrender? isn't retreating behind your walls the reason you built the walls?
    – Hao S
    Apr 16, 2019 at 0:00
  • @HaoSun i think the first question is worth a new question, though i disagree with the premise -I don't think it was hector that brought the trojans to the brink of ruin. as for the latter two questions: it's hard to cite an ancient mindset, but i would suggest that your strongest warrior losing to the enemies strongest warrior would be such a blow to your troops morale that you might as well surrender. its like admitting the enemies superweapons beat yours, and you have no counter
    – David
    Apr 28, 2019 at 0:04
  • I guess the modern equivalent would be a country's prime politician admitting that their ICBMs were insufficient against an enemy nuclear missile. plus there is a religious element to it: the victor is selected by Zeus, as indicated in the quote. By definition then, if you didn't win a challenge, Zeus was against you, and who can argue with the will of the chief god?
    – David
    Apr 28, 2019 at 0:05
  • thats exactly my point why would anyone accuse Hector of bringing the city to the brink of ruin??? There is no modern equivalent because modern warfare is fought by a massive military machine a lot of which revolves around civilian industry as was shown in WWII ICBMs are sorta mutually assured destruction but also a result of non combatant industry and not on an individual. effort the Illiad is kind of weird in that way everything including abduction of Helen revolve around the individual
    – Hao S
    Apr 29, 2019 at 1:12
  • @HaoSun I was trying to aid the understanding of the effect of morale on a battle rather than provide a direct military comparison: ancient battles were won or lost on the will to fight, and the disgrace/death of a champion or general could break an army
    – David
    May 2, 2019 at 7:51

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