In Book XXII of Homer’s Iliad, the Trojans successfully retreat within the city walls thanks to Agenor’s battle with Achilles. Only the Trojan prince Hector remains outside of the city gates. King Priam and Queen Hecuba, who are watching from the ramparts, beg their son Hector to retreat into the city. “The old man tore his grey hair as he spoke. His mother hard by wept and moaned aloud. But they moved not the heart of Hector, and he stood his ground awaiting huge Achilles as he drew nearer towards him.”
While Hector awaits Achilles, he considers his options. If he retreats within the city walls, then the Trojans will call him a coward and criticize him for rejecting Polydamas’ advice to retreat the night before Achilles returned to the war. If he lays down his arms and offers to return Helen to the Greeks and give them half of Troy’s treasure, Achilles will dismiss his terms of peace and kill him. Thus, Hector concludes that he must fight. “Surely it would be better for me to return to Troy after having fought Achilles and slain him, or to die gloriously here before the city.”
However, when Achilles draws near to him, Hector is overcome with fear and runs away. Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, assumes the form of Hector’s brother Deiphobus and assures Hector that she will help him fight Achilles. But when Hector turns to face Achilles, Minerva disappears. At first, Hector is dismayed that the goddess tricked him, but he accepts his fate and courageously confronts Achilles. Unfortunately for Hector, he is overmatched by Achilles and is quickly slain.
The battle scene between Hector and Achilles is symbolic of man’s struggle with death. Death (in the form of Achilles) chases men and always overtakes them. Wisdom (in the form of Minerva) shows men the only way to conquer death, which is not to flee from it, but to nobly confront it like Hector does when he confronts Achilles. “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.”
After Achilles kills Hector, he drives a nail through Hector’s feet and ties him to the back of his chariot. Then he drags Hector’s corpse to the Greek camp. King Priam and Queen Hecuba cry out in the deepest agony that accompanies the death of a child. Their cries alert Hector’s wife Andromache, who ascends the ramparts, beholds Achilles dragging her dead husband, and swoons from grief.