In Book VI of Homer’s Iliad, Troy’s greatest hero, King Priam’s son Hector, makes his way to his own house as the Greek armies assault the city. Somehow knowing that he will not survive the war, Hector longs to see his wife, Andromache, and infant son before rejoining the battle. The war still has a long way to go, and Hector does not die until Book XXII (at the hand of Achilles). But this scene—captured here by the 19th-century artist Anton Losenko, in a painting from the Tetraykov Gallery in Moscow—foreshadows the hero’s demise.
When he saw no sign of his perfect wife within the house, Hektor stopped in his way on the threshhold and spoke among the handmaidens: “Come then, tell me truthfully as you may, handmaidens: where has Andromache of the white arms gone?” Then in turn the hard-working housekeeper gave him an answer: “Hektor, since you have urged me to tell the truth, she is not with any of the sisters of her lord or the wives of his brothers but she has gone to the great bastion of Ilion, because she heard that the Trojans were losing, and great grew the strength of the Achaians. Therefore she has gone in speed to the wall, like a woman gone mad, and a nurse attending carries the baby.” So the housekeeper spoke, and Hektor hastened from his home backward by the way he had come through the well-laid streets. So as he had come to the gates on his way through the great city, the Skaian gates, whereby he would issue into the plain, there at last his own generous wife came running to meet him the boy in the fold of her bosom, a little child, only a baby, Hektor’s son, the admired, beautiful as a star shining Andromache stood close beside him, letting her tears fall, and clung to his hand and called him by name “Dearest your own great strength will be your death, and you have no pity on your little son, nor on me, ill-starred, who soon must be your widow; for presently the Achaians, gathering together, will set upon you and kill you; and for me it would be far better to sink into the earth when I have lost you, for there is no other consolation for me after you have gone to your destiny Please take pity upon me then, stay here on the rampart, that you may not leave your child an orphan, your wife a widow ” Then tall Hektor of the shining helm answered her: “All these things are in my mind also, lady; yet I would feel deep shame before the Trojans, and the Trojan women with trailing garments, if like a coward I were to shrink aside from fighting There will come a day when sacred Ilion shall perish, and Priam, and the people of Priam of the strong ash spear. But it is not so much the pain to come of the Trojans that troubles me, not even of Priam the king nor Hekabe as troubles me the thought of you, when some bronze-armoured Achaian leads you off, taking away your day of liberty, in tears; and in Argos you must work at the loom of another But may I be dead and the piled earth hide me under before I hear you crying and know by this that they drag you captive” So glorious Hektor spoke and again took up the helmet with its crest of horse-hair, while his beloved wife went homeward, turning to look back on the way, letting the live tears fall.
From The Iliad, trans. Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1951), Book VI:374–496.