From his farewell to his wife Andromache in Book VI to the splendid description of his funeral with the which the epic concludes, Hector exhibits many of the hallmarks of the archetypal protagonist of a modern novel or comedy: he has a legitimate, productive relationship with Andromache, in contrast to that of Paris and Helen; his fatal engagement with Achilles despite knowing the foregone conclusion is one of many incidents that attest to his immense courage and bravery; even the rashness that characterises his slights of wise Polydamas' augury are redeemed by penitent reflections such as:

"Shall proud Polydamas before the gate
Proclaim, his counsels are obey’d too late,
Which timely follow’d but the former night,
What numbers had been saved by Hector’s flight?
That wise advice rejected with disdain,
I feel my folly in my people slain.

Alexander Pope (1715). The Iliad of Homer, Book XVIII.

On the other hand, the epic begins with "Achilles' rage", and indeed rage, sulk, and sorrow all but sum up the emotions that animate Achilles' acts throughout, at times to such an extent as to incur divine displeasure. At other times, it is largely his sheer proficiency in warfare and the entreaties of Thetis that recommend him to the gods.

Yet it appears to me that in designating a principal character considered in terms of importance to the story, let alone merit, Achilles is usually preferred to Hector. The Wikipedia article on the Iliad, for example, contains no mention of Hector in its introduction. The film Troy could perhaps serve as an example.

Rather than attempting to encompass every opinion ever expressed about the subject, the answer should reference a few arbitrarily chosen examples written by well-known authors, such as may be expressed in discussions of the characters in prefaces to translations, or in (parts of) poems that may be entitled An Ode to Hector, etc.


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The French essayist, journalist, critic and translator Émile Montégut, who translated all of Shakespeare's plays in the years 1867–1873, wrote something about this in the introduction to his translation of Troilus and Cressida (emphasis mine):

Achille est, on le sait, le héros de l'Iliade. (…) Mais considéré comme individu , comme héros , Achille est odieux au delà de toute expression , et nous sommes vraiment reconnaissant à Shakespeare d'avoir donné voix au sentiment qu'il nous a toujours fait éprouver. Il le représente comme un lâche meurtrier, qui tue Hector tombé dans un guet-apens et laissé sans défense. Hector, au contraire, est pour lui le vrai héros de l'Iliade, comme il le sera toujours pour toute âme bien née.


Achilles is, as we know, the hero of the Iliad. (…) But considered as an individual, as a hero, Achilles is odious beyond all expression, and we are truly grateful to Shakespeare for having given voice to the feeling that he always made us feel. He represents him as a cowardly murderer, who kills Hector who was ambushed and left defenseless. Hector, on the contrary, is for him the true hero of the Iliad, as he always will be for any well-born soul.

While Shakespeare didn't leave us with explicit statements about the Iliad, at least one critic has made the case that Shakespeare saw Hector as the epic's hero.

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