When Hector faces Achilles, he knows he is about to die. He gives a little speech and prays that he will not die ingloriously, with his great deeds living on after him. Achilles wins the fight, aided by supernatural forces. As the life is rushing out of him, Hector makes a request of Achilles:
Then Hector said, as the life ebbed out of him, “I pray you by your life and knees, and by your parents, let not dogs devour me at the ships of the Achaeans, but accept the rich treasure of gold and bronze which my father and mother will offer you, and send my body home, that the Trojans and their wives may give me my dues of fire when I am dead.”
Achilles glared at him and answered, “Dog, talk not to me neither of knees nor parents; would that I could be as sure of being able to cut your flesh into pieces and eat it raw, for the ill have done me, as I am that nothing shall save you from the dogs- it shall not be, though they bring ten or twenty-fold ransom and weigh it out for me on the spot, with promise of yet more hereafter. Though Priam son of Dardanus should bid them offer me your weight in gold, even so your mother shall never lay you out and make lament over the son she bore, but dogs and vultures shall eat you utterly up.”
Hector with his dying breath then said, “I know you what you are, and was sure that I should not move you, for your heart is hard as iron; look to it that I bring not heaven’s anger upon you on the day when Paris and Phoebus Apollo, valiant though you be, shall slay you at the Scaean gates.”
Achilles doesn’t honour Hector’s request. Instead, he drags Hector’s body around tied to his chariot and does doughnuts on the plains outside try. The whole event plays to the idea that Achilles is the mythical monster of this human drama. There are no Nemean lions, or minotaurs, or fearsome dragons… just Achilles who is both superior and inferior to the other humans on the battle field.
The question of how we treat the dead recurs throughout literature: what do we owe the dead? When a person’s contribution to the world has been overwhelmingly negative, should we celebrate the few times he did something that wasn’t negative? How should we mourn Bill Leak?