Homer’s Iliad: Book XXII
Questions for Book XXII:
- Is Hector heroic in this book? Or a chicken? Or soething else?
- At what stage is Achilles emotionally, now that he has killed his enemy?
Apollo chides Achilles for chasing him, an indication that Achilles is being reckless in his battle-wrath:
“Why are you chasing me? Why waste your speed? —
son of Peleus, you a mortal and I a deathless god”
Achilles rants that Apollo is getting in his way.
Priam laments the loss of so many sons to Achilles. He cannot currently see two others, Lycaon and Polydorus, and the pathos of the scene is that we know these guys are dead now too (22.54f). King Priam mentions the riches of Troy (22.59f), which got amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excited in the 19th century. Priam also laments his old age, expressing the philosophy that one should die young, in glory, and leave a good-looking corpse (22.83f).
“When an old man’s killed
and the dogs go at the gray head and the gray beard
and mutilate the genitals–that is the cruelest sight
in all our wretched lives!” (22.87-90).
Hecuba, Priam’s queen, yanks out a breast and makes a melodramatic speech. (Hector should be thinking, “Good Lord, Mother, put that back!”) “With unrelenting consistency, Homer applies his geography: city is goodness and connection, plain is horror and terror; city is Hector’s weakness, plain Achilles’ strength; city is the realm of the Trojan families, their women and children, while the plain belongs to Achilles alone — during the climax of grief the other Greeks have disappeared from view” (Nicholson 202).”Now my army’s ruined, thanks to my own reckless pride” (22.124). Unlike almost all previous characters, Hector, facing the showdown, ponders his options. He has a real case against the gods if he wanted to give himself over to complaining, but he doesn’t. He logically considers negotiating, surrendering, etc. But he knows the futility of these. Eventually, Hector runs — a surprising event, but a very human weak moment. He passes by “double wellsprings” of the river Scamander (22.178ff), another clue that proved key for Schliemann in the archaeological discovery of Troy. Hector circles Troy, chased by Achilles, and this mythological image of the circle recurs repeatedly now for a while. “He and Achilles run round and round the walls, Hector in flight, Achilles in pursuit. It is like a dream, Homer says, when your running brings you no closer to your prey, nor takes you farther from your terror-pursuer” (Nicholson 202).
The scales of Fate go against Hector (22.249f), and with Athena disguising herself as his brother Deiphobus, he is tricked into his last hopes. Hector takes a stand and proposes a pact of honor with Achilles regarding whichever of them ends as a corpse, no doubt him, but Achilles refuses. The spear volley is rigged by Athena, and “Deiphobus” disappears (22.348); but Hector, even when he realizes he’s been duped, accepts his fate rather than bitches about being cheated out of life. The two warriors attack each other, Hector in Achilles’ former armor. The vulnerable spot is the neck, where Achilles inflicts the wound. Hector again begs for some funereal dignity, but Achilles is excessive in brutality.
“Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now
to hack your flesh away and eat you raw”
Hector goes down to the House of Death. “The same lines are given to their moment of dying, and only to them [Hector and Patroclus” (Nicholson 114).
The Greeks gather like jackals over Hector and stab at his corpse. Good work, men. Achilles strings Hector’s ankles together with rawhide, ties him to his chariot, and drags his corpse around Troy, pointlessly, getting nowhere militarily nor psychologically.
The glimpses of the Trojans before news of Hector’s death reaches are pathetic. When news does come, Trojan grief is extreme.