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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Eight: War and Peace in Middle-earth


"Your Heart Is Hard as Iron"

Excerpt from the Iliad of Homer,

(Achilles slays Hector to avenge the death of his own best friend, Patroclus)

Hector drew out the keen blade that hung so strong and weighty by his side, and bracing himself he sprang forward like a soaring eagle that swoops from the clouds onto a lamb or timid hare — thus did he brandish his sword and charge Achilles. Mad with rage, Achilles darted fiercely toward him. He kept his wondrous shield before his breast, and his gleaming helmet, made with four layers of metal, bobbed up and down, and the golden plumes with which Hephaistos had adorned the helmet danced and swayed around the crest: bright as the evening star that through the stillness of night outshines all others — such was the gleam of the spear poised in the right hand of Achilles, portending the death of noble Hector.

He eyed Hector's fine flesh up and down to see where best to wound him, but all was protected by the splendid armor that Hector had plundered from Patroclus upon slaying him, save only the throat, where the collarbones divide the neck from the shoulders: a most deadly place — here then did Achilles strike Hector as he came toward him, and the point of his spear went right through the fleshy part of the neck, but it did not sever his windpipe, so he could still speak.

Hector fell headlong, and Achilles stood boastfully over him, saying, "Hector, as you were stripping Patroclus's armor you thought you would be safe, and you reckoned not on me, who was not with him. What a fool you were: for I, his friend, mightier far than he, was waiting in reserve at the ships, and now I have laid you low. The Achaeans shall give Patroclus all due funeral rites, while dogs and vultures shall have their way with your body."

Then Hector said, as the life ebbed out of him, "I beg you, beg you by your life, and by your parents, let not dogs devour me at the ships of the Achaeans, but accept the rich treasure of gold and bronze that my father and mother will offer you, and send my body home, that the Trojans and their wives may give me the ceremony of fire when I am dead."

Achilles glared at him and answered, "Dog, do not beg to me by my parents. Would that I might find appetite enough to cut your flesh into pieces and eat it raw, for the ill you have done me. But of this I am sure, that nothing shall save you from the dogs — no, it shall not be, even if the Trojans bring ten- or twenty-fold ransom and weigh it out for me on the spot, with promise of yet more. Though Priam son of Dardanus should bid them offer me your weight in gold, even so your mother shall never lay you out and mourn over the son she bore, but dogs and vultures shall gobble your flesh."

Hector with his dying breath then said, "I know you well, and was certain that I could not move you, for your heart is hard as iron; beware now, or my curse shall bring the gods' anger upon you, so there will come a day when Paris and Phoebus Apollo, valiant though you be, shall slay you at the Scaean gates."

When he had spoken thus, the shrouds of death enfolded him, and his soul went out and flew downward to the house of Hades, lamenting its sad fate that it should have youth and strength no longer. But Achilles said, speaking to the dead body, "Die! For my part I shall accept my fate whenever Zeus and the other gods see fit to send it."

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Hephaistos = Greek god of the forge, who made Achilles's armor

Priam = Hector's father, king of Troy

Scaean gates = gates of the walled city of Troy

Phoebus Apollo = name referring to Apollo's role as a sun god; Apollo favored the Trojan side

Paris = brother of Hector, the Trojan prince who ran off with Helen, wife of Greek king Menelaus, and brought her to Troy, thus sparking retaliation by the Achaeans (Greeks): Menelaus and his allies, including Agamemnon, Achilles, and Odysseus

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(adapted from the translation by Samuel Butler; original text in the public domain)

Unit Eight Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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