An unknown artist made this artwork, currently held by the Biblioteca de Catalunya and the Digital Memory of Catalonia. It depicts the mightiest warrior in the Trojan army, Hector, bidding farewell to his family before marching off to face the Greek coalition that was invading Troy under the leadership of formidable officers like the legendary Achilles and Odysseus. As the Trojan War was said to have been a decade-long affair, there would have been many farewells between Hector and his family, but the artwork likely draws most of its inspiration from a specific farewell scene featured in book 6 of Homer’s Iliad. As the story goes, that particular encounter began with both Hector and his wife, Andromache, frantically wandering their city, looking for each other. Andromache, tailed by her young son being held by a nurse, finally found Hector by the city gates. On their meeting, Homer wrote, “Hector raced out of the house and retraced his steps down the well-built streets. He had crossed the great town and reached the Scaean gate—his route out on to the plain—when Andromache herself, who married him with a rich dowery, came running up to meet him…and her waiting-woman carried the little boy in her arms, their baby son and Hector’s darling, lovely as a star…” (Homer, The Iliad, book 6, approximately lines 390-400).
It was an encounter featuring a wide array of emotions, with the family sometimes sharing in laughter and other times tears. Homer, especially while describing the interactions of the parents with their son, brought to life with his words the mixture of nervous laughter and foreboding sadness that the family was experiencing. Homer wrote:
“Hector reached out for his boy. But the child shrank back with a cry to the bosom of his girdled nurse, alarmed by his father’s appearance, terrified by his bronze helmet with its horsehair plume that he saw nodding frighteningly from the top. His father and lady mother burst out laughing. Glorious Hector quickly took his helmet off and put it, all shining on the ground. Then he kissed his dear son, dandled him in his arms and prayed to Zeus…With these words Hector handed the boy into the arms of his wife, who took him to her fragrant bosom, laughing through her tears” (Homer, The Iliad, book 6, approximately lines 465-485).
Like Homer’s scene, the artwork also shows Hector bidding farewell to his wife and son near the city gate. Hector can be seen grasping Andromache’s hand, and, behind them, their young son can is being lifted up between his parents’ heads. Although it is difficult to ascertain if the image depicts the beginning or the end of the farewell scene, perhaps it is the latter, due to Hector having one foot in a chariot and a spear in his hand. Whatever the case, after some final words by Hector about how no one can escape death and that he would rather die a hero than survive as a coward, the Trojan champion finally pulled himself away from his family and marched off to continue his doomed struggle against Achilles and the Greeks.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited/introduced by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.