THE DEATH OF HECTOR
BY V. C. TURNBULL
Of all the Trojan warriors none could be compared
with their leader, Hector, the son of Priam. Terrible
was he in battle, as the Greeks had known to
their cost; but within the walls of Troy none was more
loved than he; for towards all he was gracious and kindly.
To Priam and Hecuba a dutiful son; aye, even to Paris
and Helen, the guilty cause of unnumbered woes, he
showed a brother's spirit. But none knew the depth of
his love and gentleness as did his wife, Andromache, and
their little son, Astyanax. These, in the pauses of the
strife around the walls of Troy, he would seek out,
comforting his wife with tender words and dandling the
young child in his strong hands. Such was Hector,
greatest of the Trojans.
Of the Greeks, the greatest in strength and terrible
might of battle was Achilles, son of Peleus and the
divine Thetis. A mightier warrior was he even than
Hector himself, and no man unaided of the gods might
fight against him and live.
And when Troy had been besieged for nine long years,
and countless brave warriors had fallen on either side,
these two champions of the Greek and Trojan hosts met
face to face. And this is how they came to fight and
how they fared.
Achilles, in high dudgeon with King Agamemnon over
what he deemed an unfair division of spoil, had suddenly
withdrawn to his tent and left the rest to fight on
without his aid. But his young comrade in arms and
dearest friend, Patroclus, the son of Menœtius, he at
length permitted to return to the fight, arming him with
his own armor. But him Hector slew, stripping off from
his body the armor of Achilles and donning it himself.
Now, when Achilles heard that Patroclus was dead, his
grief was so terrible that he could scarce be held from
laying hands on himself. But his wrath was stronger
than his grief, and he swore to slay the slayer of his
friend. Therefore, forgetting his old quarrel, he hastened
to make peace with Agamemnon. And since his own
armor had been taken by Hector, his mother, Thetis, prevailed
upon Vulcan, the god-smith, to fashion him a
corslet, a helmet, and a mighty shield wrought all round
with strange devices. Armed in this panoply of the god
and towering over the heads of all the Greeks, he strode
shouting into the fray.
And indeed the Greeks needed all the help that he
could bring; for Hector had driven them down to their
very ships, and scarcely had they been able to rescue the
body of Patroclus. And now Hector, seeing Achilles,
would have rushed to meet him, had not Apollo forbade.
But the youngest and dearest of Priam's fifty sons, dying
to flesh his maiden sword (for the fond father had
forbidden him to fight), sprang forward in his brother's
place, and fell transfixed at the first encounter; no match,
rash boy, for the divine Achilles. At this sight, not
Apollo himself could restrain the wrath of Hector, who
bounded over the plain and, bestriding his brother's
corpse, hurled his spear. But though his aim was true,
Minerva turned the spear aside, and when Achilles
charged, Hector too was snatched away by his guardian
But upon the other Trojans Achilles fell with terrible
fury. Many he drove into the river Scamander that
flowed by the walls of Troy, slaying them, as a great
dolphin of the sea might devour the small fishes; and
twelve Trojans he took alive that he might sacrifice them
at the funeral of his friend Patroclus. None indeed
could stand before him, and those who escaped his fury
fled back to the city, where Priam had ordered the gate
to be opened to receive the fugitives.
At last all were within the walls save only Hector,
who stood by the Scæan gate alone. Achilles, afar on the
plain, was hotly pursuing one whom he believed to be the
Trojan Agenor, whose shape, however, Apollo had taken
to draw Achilles from the walls. Now, however, the
son of Peleus discovered his mistake, and, turning, he
came raging across the plain in his glittering armor towards
the Scæan gate. And Hector stood and waited for
While he waited, King Priam, his old father, many of
whose sons Achilles had already slain, came out and entreated
him to enter the city. And his mother Hecuba
implored him, in pity for her gray hairs not to give battle
to Achilles, but to enter while there was yet time.
But Hector was deaf to all prayers. It was foolhardiness
in not ordering an earlier retreat that had brought
dire misery upon the Trojans, and should he enter the
city to meet the reproaches of all? No; better stay there
single-handed, either to slay Achilles or by him be honorably
While he thus pondered Achilles was upon him, brandishing
a great spear, his armor flashing like fire. And
so terrible was the aspect of this warrior, larger than
mortal and clad in the mail of Vulcan, that, for the first
time, the heart of even Hector failed, and he turned and
fled. Fast he fled, and, as a hawk chases a dove, Achilles
pursued. Past the watch-tower they ran, along the
wagon-road about the walls, and on to the twofold spring
of Scamander. Thrice they ran round the city, and in
Olympus the high gods looked down, and the heart of
Jupiter himself was moved to pity, and he cried to the
other gods: "Shall we save Hector, or let him fall by
the hand of Achilles?"
Then Minerva answered: "Wilt thou, great sire, rescue
a man whom Fate has appointed to die? This thing is
not well pleasing in our eyes."
Jupiter answered: "Fain would I have it otherwise,
but it shall be as thou wilt."
Then Minerva came down swiftly from Olympus to
aid Achilles. Nevertheless, Apollo was already with the
two putting strength and swiftness into the limbs of
Hector, who sought always the shelter of the towers,
hoping that those who stood upon them might defend
him with their spears; but always Achilles would force
him outward, driving him towards the plain.
Now, for the fourth time, Achilles the pursuer and
Hector the pursued had reached the springs of Scamander,
and Jupiter held out the scales of doom, weighing
the fates of the two men. And the scale of Hector sank,
and Apollo left him.
Then Minerva, cruelly deceiving, bethought her by evil
guile to end the fray, and took on the shape of Hector's
brother Deiphobus, saying, "Come, my brother, let us
make a stand against Achilles and flee from him no more."
And Hector, suspecting no guile, answered gratefully:
"O, ever dearest of all my brothers, dearer still art thou
now to me, for thou alone hast ventured to stand by my
side in this perilous hour."
Then, as Achilles came upon them, Hector cried with
a strong voice: "Great Achilles, I fear thee now no more.
Only let this be agreed between us: that whichever of
us shall fall, his body shall not be dishonored, but shall
be given back for burial rites."
But Achilles scowled and answered: "No covenant be
there between thee and me. Fight! for the time is come
to pay the penalty for all my comrades whom thou hast
Thus speaking, he hurled his spear, but Hector bowed
his head and the weapon passed, and touched him not.
And Hector wot not that Minerva had caught it as it
flew and restored it to Achilles' hand. Confident of victory,
he hurled his spear, striking the very middle of
Achilles' shield. But the handiwork of Vulcan was proof
even against the spear of Hector. And Hector, perceiving
this, turned to Deiphobus for another spear. But
no Deiphobus was there. Then, indeed, Hector knew that
Minerva had deceived him, and that he stood there godforsaken,
a doomed man. He knew he must perish; but
he resolved to perish gloriously.
Drawing, therefore, his great sword, he rushed upon
Achilles. But ere he could strike a blow the spear of
Achilles pierced him where the neck joins the shoulder,
and Hector fell.
And Achilles, triumphing over him, cried aloud:
"Slayer of Patroclus, despoiler of his arms, the dogs
and vultures shall devour thy carcase!"
But the dying Hector answered: "Nay, great Achilles,
let not this shame be. Take rather the ransom that my
parents shall bring thee, and suffer me to be buried in
For he knew that while his body remained unburied
his spirit would know no rest in the lower world.
But Achilles, savage as a wild beast, cried to him:
"No ransom shall buy back thy body; no, nor shall thy
weight in gold save thy flesh from the dogs."
Hector answered with his last breath: "Oh, heart of
iron! But on thee, too, shall fall vengeance, in that
day when Paris and Apollo shall slay thee by the Scæan
With this dying curse the spirit of Hector fled.
Then Achilles, stripping off the armor of Patroclus,
pierced the ankle bones of the dead man, binding them
with thongs to the chariot, and letting the head that was
once so fair drag in the dust. Thus dragged he Hector
to the ships. And Andromache, beholding this from the
city wall, swooned as one dead.
And on each following day Achilles dragged the body
of Hector round the bier of Patroclus. Yet was it not
in any way defiled, for Venus and Apollo preserved it in
all its beauty as when Hector was alive.
At last Priam rose up, and, taking with him a great
ransom, drove unscathed to the Grecian camp (for Mercury
was his guide), and, falling on his knees and kissing
the murderous hands of Achilles, besought him to restore
the body of Hector. And Achilles, touched with ruth
by the old man's tears and prayers, consented, and himself
lifted the body into the litter.
So Priam bore back his dead son to Troy. And they
who so often had gone forth to hail Hector returning
victorious from the field, now flocked round to greet
him with tears. The first to wail over him was Andromache,
his wife. Then came Hecuba, his mother.
Last of all came Helen, who cried: "Never did I hear
thee utter one bitter word. And if any spake harshly
to me, thou would'st check them with thy kind and
gentle words. Therefore I weep for thee, I, friendless
now in all Troy."
On the tenth day after this the Trojans burned the
body of Hector on a great pile, quenching the embers
with wine. And the ashes they laid in a golden chest
and wrapped it in purple robes and laid it in mother
earth, and over it they raised a mighty cairn.
Thus did men bury Hector, captain of the hosts of