Achilles chases the man he believes to be Agenor, but soon Apollo reveals himself to Achilles, taunting him for chasing a god. Achilles is angered that Apollo has prevented him from gaining more glory, and begins running toward the walls of Troy. Hector is the only Trojan standing outside the city’s walls, waiting to fight Achilles to the death.
By running from Achilles, Apollo prolongs his distraction, saving more Trojan lives. Both Hector and Achilles are looking for glory, but in distinctly different ways. Achilles’ honor is measured by the size of his slaughter, Hectors’ by his final ability to protect his city.
Priam sees Achilles coming and implores Hector to come inside the city walls. He asks Hector to pity him, with all the losses he has suffered, and suggests that a hero’s death is much greater than dying as an old man.
Although Priam desperately wishes to save his son, he also extols the lives of heroes. To die an old man means that one was not daring enough in combat.
Hector waits for Achilles as he runs across the plain. He is ashamed of his decision to allow the Trojans to camp outside the city walls. He wonders if he can negotiate with Achilles, but soon realizes that Achilles’ anger is unshakable. He resolves to fight, but as Achilles approaches, he loses his nerve and runs away. Achilles begins to chase Hector, and they run around the walls of Troy three times. Zeus, filled with pity for Hector, wonders if she should rescue him, but Athena tells him that Hector is fated to die. Zeus relents.
Hector is the more human and relatable character, feeling motivated to try to make amends (despite near certainty he will fail) to make up for the harm he has done to his people. Yet such complicated motivation cannot stand up to the pure, heroic anger of Achilles. It is interesting that Zeus considers deviating from his plan, which was conceived in the first book of the poem. It is not clear if Zeus has the power to change the plan but Athena dissuades him from doing so, or if Athena is reminding Zeus that Hector's fate is actually outside Zeus's control. Either way, Zeus's concern for Hector does highlight Hector's own heroism, even as that heroism fails in the face of Achilles' fury. Hector can't face near-certain death, and runs. Achilles accepts his certain death.
On their fourth circuit of Troy, Achilles cannot gain on Hector, but Hector cannot escape from Achilles’ speed. Zeus takes up his scales and tips the balance against Hector, sentencing Hector to death. Athena appears behind Achilles, telling him she will persuade Hector to fight. The goddess appears beside Hector in the form of Deiphobus, telling him that the two of them together can face Achilles. Hector, moved that his brother would leave the city to join him, agrees to the plan. Hector turns to face Achilles.
With the tipping of the scales, Hector’s fate is no longer in the slightest doubt. Achilles will receive the glory of killing the greatest of the Trojan fighters. The trick Athena plays on Hector is one of the final examples of a godly intervention in battle, but the trick is not portrayed as underhanded. It is simply the effective action of a goddess.
Hector speaks to Achilles, asking that they both swear to honor each other’s bodies, no matter the outcome of their fight. Achilles rejects the offer. Achilles hurls his spear at Hector and misses, but Athena passes the weapon back to Achilles. Hector’s spear hits Achilles’ shield but cannot pierce it. Hector turns to Deiphobus but cannot find him. He soon realizes that the apparition was a trick of the gods, and that his fate is sealed.
Hector tries to appeal to Achilles sense of decency, but Achilles is bent on shaming Hector as a revenge for the death of Patroclus. The gods, attempting to ensure their plan, are completely on Achilles’ side, giving him every possible advantage.
Hector and Achilles charge one another, and Achilles drives his spear into the weak spot at Hector’s neck. With his dying words, Hector asks for his body to be returned to Troy, but Achilles refuses, boasting over Hector’s body. He tells Hector that the dogs will feed on him. The other Achaeans gather over Hector’s body and gleefully stab his corpse.
Hector is wearing Achilles old armor, and the fact that Achilles is able to pierce his old gear is a testament to Achilles’ elevated prowess since the death of Patroclus. After Hector dies, the Achaeans insist on shaming his body, in effect shaming not just Hector but his entire family to whom his body is sacred.
Achilles briefly considers further battle, but soon realizes he must return to the Achaean camp to bury the body of Patroclus. Triumphant, Achilles ties Hector’s body to the back of his chariot and drags him through the dust, defiling his body.
Having revenged himself on Hector, Achilles now realizes that the most important thing to do is to pay due respect to the remains of his beloved comrade. This stands in stark contrast to both Patroclus and Hector, both of whom made prideful decisions. Achilles, despite his desire for glory, sets aside such desire to fulfill the promise he made to give honor to Patroclus, showing that his love for Patroclus is greater even than his love of glory.
Priam and Hecuba grieve for Hector, and Priam calls his death the most heartbreaking loss of the war. Hector’s wife Andromache does not yet know of Hector’s death, as no messenger is brave enough to bring her the news. Hearing the wailing outside her chambers, Andromache fears the worst and rushes out to the gates. She is in time to see her husband being dragged through the dirt by Achilles. She collapses in sorrow, and laments that Astyanax will grow up as an orphan.
Hector’s death is a presentiment of the fall of Troy, as is the prediction of Astyanax’s orphaning. Andromache’s delayed response is a device that emphasizes the shock of Hector’s death, giving the reader the sense of surprise for something that he or she had known was coming for a long time.