This painting, created in 1892 by the Austrian artist, Franz von Matsch (c. 1861-1942), depicts an ignoble scene of Achilles from the legendary Trojan War. The artist captured the moment that occurred after Achilles, the Greek champion, defeated Troy’s greatest warrior and military leader, Hector, in a duel to the death. Upon winning the fight, Achilles decided to make a spectacle of his fallen foe’s remains. The ancient Greek poet, Homer, wrote about the scene that Franz von Matsch would later paint:
“He [Achilles] spoke and foully maltreated godlike Hector. He sliced into the tendons at the back of both his feet between the heel and ankle, inserted leather straps and tied them to his chariot, leaving the head to drag. Then he lifted his famous armor into the chariot, got in himself, and lashed the horses with the whip to get them moving. The willing pair flew off. Dust rose from the body they dragged behind them; Hector’s sable hair streamed out on either side and his whole head, so graceful once, lay in the dirt” (The Iliad, Book 22, approximately line 400).
According to the poem, Hector’s father, King Priam, went in person to the Greek camp to negotiate the return of the body to Troy. He succeeded in gaining Achilles’ sympathy and the remains were handed over. The Iliad comes to a close with the cremation and funeral of Hector’s body in the city. The Trojan War, however, was not over—it would come to a conclusion in Homer’s sequel, The Odyssey.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.