The shield of Achilles plays a major part in the Iliad. It portrays thestory of the Achaeans and their fight against the Trojans in a microcosm of thelarger story. Forged by the god, Hephaestus, who was a crippled smith, itdepicts the two cities and the happenings within, as well as Agamemnon’s kinglyestate. To gain insight into the details and intricacies of the shield, one mustlook at the shield itself, the cities depicted within the shield, and the King’sEstate and other scenes which are also depicted.
These items will give even anamateur reader a fair understanding of the importance of Achilles’ shield andthe Iliad.Hephaestus, the god of fire, is the smith whom forged Achilles’ shield.He begins with twenty hot bellows and fires bronze, tin, gold, and silver in hiskiln. He then proceeds to hammer the metals upon his anvil to create a massiveshield for Achilles to wield.
The shield itself is made of five layers of metalwith a triple ply shield strap edging on the rim. On the shield are scenesshowing the heavens and earth and sea, two noble cities, a king’s estate, fallowfields, a thriving vineyard, a herd of longhorn cattle, and a dancing circle.Once Hephaestus completes the shield he makes a breastplate and helmet forAchilles. The armor he forges is indestructible and worthy of a god. ThroughHomer’s description of the shield and how it is forged, the reader can begin tounderstand the importance and value of this device in a literary context.
The two cities depicted on the shield represent a city in Greece andTroy. One of the cities is filled with men dancing and singing and bridesmarching through the streets, while the other is circled by an army. This armyhas two plans which split their ranks: to share the riches which they havecaptured or plunder the city and capture more. Turmoil surrounds each city. Inone a quarrel breaks out and is brought to judgement. Surrounding the other, twoarmies fight along the river banks killing men and dragging off the dead. Bothcities are tainted with death, and both house love.
In the former two menquarrel over the blood price for a murdered kinsman and take their case to ajudge to decide the outcome. In the latter, children and housewives stand guardas the men march out to war. This scene is analogous to the Trojans leaving tofight the Achaeans between their shores and the city. As seen in line 625, …
now hauling a deadman through the slaughter by the heels…
, Homerforeshadows Achilles victory over Hector and how Achilles humiliates him.The king’s estate is also portrayed on Achilles’ shield. Bountifulharvests of ripe grain are reaped and bound, and the king stands in silencerejoicing among the endless bundle of barley. An ox is being prepared for theharvest feast while the women fix the midday meal. The shield depicts happinessand prosperity for the king (whom represented Agamemnon, the King of theAchaeans) again foreshadowing the Achean’s victory in their war with Troy.
The shield also shows a thriving vineyard with a winding footpath onwhich the pickers run. Among the pickers is a young boy who plays his lyre andsings a lovely dirge. A herd of longhorn cattle is also shown. The bulls areengraved in the gold and tin along with the rest of the pasture’s swaying reedsand rippling stream. A pair of lions seize a bull from the front and proceed todevour it. A pack of dogs and herdsmen run to aid, but it is too late. The smithalso forges a meadow for the flocks to graze and a dancing circle for young boyand girls to court and dance.
The scene brings forth a festive and joyous mood.As you can see, the shield of Achilles is a finely detailed andintricate piece of craftsmanship suitable for a god. The details within thecities themselves and within the King’s estate are evidence of this.
Not only dothey hold beauty in the intricacies, they also serve to represent the largerstory of the Iliad and the war between the Achaeans and the Trojans. It servesto remind the reader of what has taken place,as shown in the battle scenes,while setting the scene for what is to come. It acts as a pause for the readerto step back and absorb the meaning of the events prior, and foreshadows thefall of Troy. Category: English