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The Iliad

Summary Books 5–6
Summary Books 5–6

Perhaps Homer means to comment on the importance of living nobly and bravely: with such fickle gods controlling human fate, one cannot predict how or when death will come; one can only work to make life meaningful in its own right. Hector explains this notion to his wife, Andromache, in their famous encounter, illustrating his perception of what the central issue of the battle is—kleos, or “glory.” He knows that his fate is inescapable, but, like all Homeric heroes, he feels compelled to live his life in search of this individual glory.

This encounter also serves to humanize the great warrior Hector: the audience can relate to him as he races, fearing defeat, to his wife and breaks into a grin at the sight of his beloved infant son. Homer achieves such great pathos not only with the words of Hector and Andromache but also with setting and effective detailing. By placing their meeting above the Scaean Gates—the grand entrance to the city, where many confrontations have already occurred—Homer elevates Hector and Andromache’s love to the level of the rage that pervades the epic. Homer’s use of detail proves similarly crucial to the scene’s poignancy. As Andromache nurses baby Astyanax, the audience is reminded of the way in which war separates families and deprives the innocent. When Hector hastily removes his crested helmet upon seeing how it frightens Astyanax, we realize that this great warrior, who has just affirmed his glorious aspirations and his iron will to fight, also possesses a tender side. The scene at once relieves the tension heightened by the descriptions of battle and emphasizes these battles’ tragic gravity.