Hector has been fighting for days and nights, but Achilles is completely rested. Achilles thrusts a spear through Hector and shortly thereafter Troy’s greatest hero dies. Achilles drags his body after his chariot and continues to mangle Hector’s body day after day. However, when Priam later buys out his son’s body, it is completely intact. Is it a miracle of the gods or has a fraudulent poet manipulated the story?
By Malena Lagerhorn.
This article is about a hidden mystery in Homer’s Iliad, namely that of Hector’s death and of his dead body.
In my writing I have used a theory put forward by the Italian nuclear physicist Felice Vinci. Vinci claims that Homer’s classic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, may actually depict historical events in the Bronze Age. But as the poems do not correspond so well with the Greek Bronze Age, Vinci argues that the events depicted in the poems, the battle of Troy in the Iliad and the hero Odysseus’s wanderings in the Odyssey, in fact took place in Scandinavia 3,600 years ago.
Zeus – the Master Planner
When reading the Iliad and the Odyssey with that idea in your mind, that it is in fact true events that you read about, you begin to see the poems in a new way. You start to ask yourself – what is the true story behind the poems?
The Iliad is a very realistic description of the battle of Troy. The only imaginary events in the poem are the portrayals of the gods who constantly meddle with the battle. Vinci suggests that the gods’ involvement may be a way to describe the rather extreme weather conditions that prevailed during the battle. We therefore read that warriors are spirited away by the goddess Aphrodite, when they actually disappear in the fog at dusk. Zeus sends thunderbolts right down among the warring men. The battlefield is raged by fire by the fire god Hephaestus. Earth-shaker Poseidon also interferes by shaking the ground. In reality an earthquake occurs one morning when the armies have just lined up on the battlefield a few days into the fighting.
The imaginary passages about the gods also have another function, besides describing the weather and natural forces. They also tell us how Allfather Zeus, the foremost god, has decided how the battle will develop and end. He has namely been asked by the goddess Thetis, the great hero Achilles’s mother, to give her beloved son eternal glory. Repeatedly we are therefore informed about Zeus’s plans and how he manipulates the war in order to give Achilles this honor that Thetis has asked for.
But what if it is real events that we read about? What is it then that really happens? Suddenly you discover that all the plans that Zeus makes in fact control your thoughts and your interpretation of the battle – and actually steers your thinking in a certain direction. As if he, perhaps not puts words in your mouth, but rather plants thoughts in your mind. As if he interprets the whole battle for you. But if you stop listening to Zeus where he speaks to you in the poem, a different story emerges. There are certainly many ways to interpret the Iliad but this is what I have discovered when reading between the lines, so to say, and what I believe was the true course of events.
Homer’s Iliad in Short
In short, the Iliad is mainly the story about the great hero Achilles and his wrath. In the beginning of the poem, Achilles has an argument with war leader Agamemnon. Agamemnon has namely taken Achilles’s woman Briseis, who is not really Achilles’s woman but a booty, a slave. Before the attack on Troy, Agamemnon’s army has ravaged and plundered Troy’s vicinity and has taken a lot of booty. Among other things, they have taken a number of women prisoners. When war leader Agamemnon is forced to hand back his own booty, the daughter of an Apollo priest, to prevent disease from spreading in the camp (Apollo’s disease), he takes Achilles’s woman Briseis instead. This angers Achilles so much that he refuses to participate in the battle. He complains to his mother Thetis and tells her about how badly he has been treated. He, who has been so good at raiding villages and attacking shepherds before the battle. Thetis promises him to speak with Zeus and to ensure that Achilles regains his glory and honor and gets back his woman slave.
Thus, while everyone else joins the battle, Achilles sits idly by his ship, playing his lyre. He is angry and sulky. However, as the battle draws near the Achaean ships, he becomes worried. Will the Trojans burn down the whole fleet and prevent them from sailing home? Achilles’s dear friend, Patroclus, has constantly tried to persuade Achilles to stop sulking and to engage in the battle and help the Achaeans. Now he begs Achilles to lend him his armor so that he can lead their men into the battle in Achilles’s place and prevent the ships from getting burned. As Achilles seems to be a bit worried now he thinks it sounds like a good idea. He gives Patroclus his armor and spurs on his men. Patroclus enters the battle and Achilles continues to do nothing. This is completely according to Zeus’s plan, we are told. Zeus’s plan is that Patroclus is to be killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Then, Achilles will enter the battle, beside himself with rage, to avenge Patroclus and to make a lot of heroic deeds.
Indeed, Patroclus dies on the battlefield after having fought for almost a day and a night in a row, from late afternoon the first day until the next day when the sun is high in the sky. Interpreters of the Iliad have claimed that Homer forgot to mention that it became night and that the fighting had to cease during the darkness of the night. As if Homer was capable of keeping track of several hundreds of people in the poem – but forgot a whole night. You can completely skip this stupid explanation when moving the battle to the Nordic countries. As everyone in the Nordic countries knows it is perfectly possible to continue fighting during the summer nights, as they are so bright, especially close to midsummer. However, it had been impossible in a pitch-black Greek night.
A nightly battle also gives us a better explanation for the circumstances surrounding Patroclus’s death. According to the Iliad, Patroclus is suddenly standing still on the battlefield, confused. He drops his weapons and his armor falls from his body. He becomes an easy target, first for Euphorbus, who thrusts a spear in his back. Then Hector thrusts a spear in Patroclus’s belly whereupon he dies. At his death, Patroclus has fought for almost a whole day and a night in a row. That he suddenly stops fighting, drops his weapons, and is confused, is a perfect description of a man who is totally exhausted.
When Achilles learns that Patroclus is dead, he is enraged and throws himself into the battle. He makes a lot of heroic deeds, which is perhaps not so surprising since he is fully rested while all the others have been fighting for several days. And nights. Among other things he avenges Patroclus by killing the hero Hector, at the wall of Troy. Achilles is still mad at Hector, even after killing him. He drags Hector’s body after his chariot, down to his ships. This bestial mangling of Hector’s dead body continues for many days. Achilles drives around with his chariot and drags Hector’s body behind it, round and round Patroclus’s burial mound. Luckily, the god Apollo makes sure that Hector’s body is constantly renewed and preserved intact.
After many days Priam, the old Trojan chieftain, visits the Achaean camp to buy out his son’s body. The gods help him to travel across the vast battlefield and into the Achaean camp without anyone seeing him. Only Achilles and his closest men discover Priam and talk to him, as the gods have ensured that all the other thousands of warriors are sleeping. Achilles and Priam talk and Priam then buys out Hector’s body, which Apollo has preserved completely intact. Priam travels back to Troy with his son’s body and Hector receives an honorable funeral.
The Iliad ends here and we are never told about Achilles’s own death. Other ancient writings, however, tell that Achilles died before the Achaeans defeated Troy. The Trojan chieftain son Paris kills Achilles by shooting an arrow in his heel, an arrow that likely caused a severe infection that led to Achilles’s death. The arrow in the heel has since given rise to the expression “Achilles’s heel”.
Achilles – a Hero or a Coward?
But what if the Iliad depicts real events – then, what actually happened? Chieftain Priam of Troy could hardly have bought out his son Hector’s body intact, not much could have remained of the body after having been dragged around and been left to rot for many days. Already in the beginning of the poem, Achilles is described as a great hero, but why? What had he done before the battle, really? All we find out is that he has looted shepherds in the vicinity of Troy, but that hardly makes anyone a hero. Achilles is huge; he is cousin to the giant warrior Great Ajax. Moreover, he seems to be a good runner. So he is certainly no one you would want to face on the battlefield. But he has not really distinguished himself before the battle of Troy. Rather, as you read, the picture of a fairly cowardly man emerges. It is of course no match to attack lonely shepherds, but to fight against fully armed men on a battlefield is a different matter. Achilles persists in not venturing into the battle, even when the battle approaches the ships and the entire Achaean fleet is threatened. No, instead he sends out his dear friend Patroclus to lead his men. He even spurs on his men and makes them extra war-thirsty. But he chooses himself to continue to hide in his camp. Even when he receives the news that Hector has killed Patroclus, he hesitates before entering the battle. This we learn from chieftain Menelaus, who is the one who sends word of Patroclus’s death. Menelaus says that they can hardly expect that Achilles will enter the battle now, even though Patroclus has been killed, as Achilles has no armor. But all of us readers and listeners know that the Achaean camp is completely full of booty from the battle: shields, swords, helmets, and so on. It cannot have been so difficult to collect some pieces of armor and dress for battle. The type of armor that was used was breastplate, greaves, helmet, and shield, all of which should fit most men by adjusting straps. But Achilles does not enter the battle until the next day, when he has received a beautiful armor from the gods. Only then, he goes out on the battlefield. By that time he is the most rested person of all Achaeans and Trojans, and it is not difficult to understand that he is quite superior, whomever he meets. This reinforces the impression that Achilles really is quite a coward, if one can call a warrior that. In all cases, more of a coward than anyone else as he waits until the last moment to join the battle. He only fights when he, like when he was attacking shepherds, can be completely sure that he is superior.
When Achilles finally kills Hector, the Achaeans have almost reached the wall of Troy. Now they have an excellent opportunity to take the city. Since many of the other Achaean chieftains are injured, it is more or less Achilles who leads the whole army against Troy. Now he could have ended the war and burned down the city. But again Achilles chooses the cowardly alternative. He takes Hector’s body down to the ships and continues to mourn his friend Patroclus, now by dragging Hector’s body round and round after his chariot.
It strikes me, when reading, that the very reason Achilles is viewed as a hero is because of the passages about the gods, where Zeus constantly tells us how he will give Achilles glory. Had we never read about Zeus’s praise to Achilles, who constantly sulks by his ships, we would probably have seen Achilles for who he really was. A warrior who fights only when he is superior. Who blames Agamemnon for unjust treatment, for taking his woman slave Briseis, and that because of this nothing can induce him to participate in the battle. Even when his brother in arms, Patroclus, is killed, he hesitates to join the battle.
There are many warriors who are far more heroic than Achilles. At first one comes to think of the hero Hector, who constantly and tirelessly leads the Trojans in attack after attack against the Achaeans. On the Achaean side we have the young Diomedes, who constantly encourages the other chieftains, urging them not to give up hope. When lightning strikes the battlefield and the Achaeans become scared and rush back toward the ships, Diomedes stands alone in his chariot, facing the Trojans. Diomedes is also willing, together with Odysseus, to sneak around in the Trojan camp during the night to spy. This man appears so infinitely braver than the coward Achilles. Another admirable warrior is Great Ajax, Achilles’s cousin. He meets Hector in single combat. He is the first to defend the ships when the Trojans try to burn them down. He constantly leads his men and urges them on.
Did Achilles Really Kill Hector, or did He Kill Someone Else?
There are a whole lot of warriors who make tremendous contributions in the battle. Nonetheless, the Iliad is mostly about Achilles and his so-called heroism. Why? Why does Homer tell us that it is Achilles who is the great hero when others are so much more suited for that role? Unless the poet got paid. I suspect that Homer, or whoever the poet was, the name Homer has likely emerged in later centuries, was probably well paid by Achilles’s father Peleus to make a heroic portrayal of his son Achilles. Really, really well paid. So well that the poet includes long passages about the gods, not only to explain the rather unusual weather conditions, with fog, thunderstorms, floods, and fires, but also to make us readers or listeners interpret all the events in a specific way. An interpretation carefully planned already at the outset. Because it is not only Achilles’s cowardice that stands out when you start to interpret the poem. Other things are also very strange. For example Hector’s body, which is constantly kept unharmed by Apollo, no matter how many rounds Achilles drags it around Patroclus’s mound. And how could Hector’s father, Priam, the Trojan chieftain, have been able to cross the battlefield and drive into the Achaean camp to buy out his son’s body, without anyone noticing him? When you begin to unravel these oddities, it is an entirely different sequence of events that emerges.
As mentioned above, Achilles waits until the last moment to engage in the battle. Instead, he sends out his brother in arms, Patroclus, to lead his men. Patroclus dies on the battlefield. Homer manages to twist it, so that we believe that Patroclus was killed by Hector. At the same time, the poet actually provides us with completely different facts. First we learn that Patroclus is exhausted and loses his weapons. Then it is not Hector, but Euphorbus, who thrusts a spear in Patroclus’s back – from a close range. I find it hard to believe that anyone can survive a spear in the back – this injury must have been what killed Patroclus. After that Hector thrusts his spear in Patroclus’s belly. It is thus not Hector but Euphorbus who kills Patroclus. But that is of course not a particularly grand death, to die at a lesser-known warrior’s hand. And of course it is not particularly impressive of Achilles to take revenge on an ordinary warrior. No, with a few tricks Homer makes us believe that it is Hector who has given the fatal blow. So that Achilles can revenge on, not Euphorbus, but Troy’s greatest hero – Hector.
Hector is really a hero par excellence. One cannot but admire him when reading the Iliad. He is the one who constantly fights and leads the Trojans ahead and protects the city. But he is also injured. First in a single combat against Great Ajax. Then, later in the battle, he is injured again by Ajax. This time by a thrown stone that hits him in the chest, close to the neck. Hector becomes unconscious and is brought to safety by his men. He wakes up and vomits blood. Then he faints again. He is, in other words, quite severely injured. If someone is so injured that the person vomits blood it seems somewhat unlikely that the same person can once again venture into the battle and continue as if nothing has happened. But Homer tells us that Zeus lets the god Apollo revive Hector so that he can fight again. What probably happens here is that Hector really is severely injured, as indeed described in the Iliad, and brought home inside the wall of Troy. He never recovers and dies several days later from his injuries.
But if so, who continues to lead the Trojans? And who is it that Achilles kills to revenge Patroclus? I believe it is Hector’s brother Deiphobus. Deiphobus has participated in the battle before and has distinguished himself as a skilled warrior. But he is injured in the arm and has retreated back to the city. When Achilles and Hector face each other on the battlefield, Homer tells us that Deiphobus is at Hector’s side. But then he suddenly disappears and Hector wonders where he went. What in fact must have happened is that Hector is still in the city, badly injured. In his place Deiphobus has led the Trojans, despite the injury in his arm. He is also the one who meets Achilles when he challenges the Trojan leader to single combat. Does Achilles know that it is not Hector who fights him? Possibly he does. Surely he also knows, like everyone else, that it was not Hector who killed Patroclus. But he is so angry and wants to revenge on someone. But this is not a great story about a hero – right? First we have a fairly unknown warrior killing Patroclus. Then we have Achilles killing Deiphobus, who does not have the same heroic reputation as Hector. No, instead, Homer changes everything and makes us believe that it is Hector who killed Patroclus. And that it is then Hector whom Achilles kills in revenge.
The body that Achilles drags behind his chariot is thus not Hector’s body but Deiphobus’s. The whole episode, where Priam with the help of the gods travels to the Achaean camp and buys out his son’s body, is thus pure invention. But with this little episode, Homer can explain how it is that Hector’s body can be inside the wall of Troy. So that Hector can have a proper funeral. And that his body at that time is completely intact. Most likely Hector died of internal bleeding after several days of suffering from the injury he got in the chest by Ajax’s thrown stone.
Has Homer Deceived Us for 3,600 Years?
Throughout the poem Homer lets us know, often by the god Zeus’s statements, that Achilles is the greatest hero. And that he takes revenge on Patroclus’s killer Hector. But in fact Achilles is by no means a brave warrior. He sits and hides next to his ships and does not enter the battle until the last moment. His brother in arms, Patroclus, was not killed by Hector but by Euphorbus. So Achilles does not at all take revenge on some great hero. And the person whose body he drags around is Deiphobus. Admittedly, Deiphobus was certainly a great leader and warrior, but he did not have the same reputation as the great hero Hector.
When you interpret the Iliad in this way, it is not really Achilles who is the great hero. But Homer managed to compose a fantastic poem, which has been preserved for over 3,600 years, where Achilles has become the archetype of the great hero, guided by emotional storms and by the friendship to his brother in arms. I do not know how many movies, plays, and adaptations of the Iliad that have been made over all these thousands of years. But I know it is a huge amount. And for what I know, Achilles has kept his hero status during all that time. Until now. Achilles’s father Peleus, who I guess paid Homer to compose this hoax, really succeeded in his intentions. The poet described his cowardly son as a hero. And he has remained so for 3,600 years. But Homer has however, probably deliberately, left enough clues for us to reveal the real course of events. The poet seems, despite all concocted nonsense, to have at least some kind of honor.
Copyright Malena Lagerhorn.