The Shield of Achilles in the Iliad
The shield of Achilles plays a major part in the Iliad. It portrays the
story of the Achaeans and their fight against the Trojans in a microcosm of the
larger story. Forged by the god, Hephaestus, who was a crippled smith, it
depicts the two cities and the happenings within, as well as Agamemnon's kingly
estate. To gain insight into the details and intricacies of the shield, one must
look at the shield itself, the cities depicted within the shield, and the King's
Estate and other scenes which are also depicted. These items will give even an
amateur reader a fair understanding of the importance of Achilles' shield and
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 his
kiln. He then proceeds to hammer the metals upon his anvil to create a massive
shield for Achilles to wield. The shield itself is made of five layers of metal
with a triple ply shield strap edging on the rim. On the shield are scenes
showing the heavens and earth and sea, two noble cities, a king's estate, fallow
fields, a thriving vineyard, a herd of longhorn cattle, and a dancing circle.
Once Hephaestus completes the shield he makes a breastplate and helmet for
Achilles. The armor he forges is indestructible and worthy of a god. Through
Homer's description of the shield and how it is forged, the reader can begin to
understand the importance and value of this device in a literary context.
The two cities depicted on the shield represent a city in Greece and
Troy. One of the cities is filled with men dancing and singing and brides
marching through the streets, while the other is circled by an army. This army
has two plans which split their ranks: to share the riches which they have
captured or plunder the city and capture more. Turmoil surrounds each city. In
one a quarrel breaks out and is brought to judgement. Surrounding the other, two
armies fight along the river banks killing men and dragging off the dead. Both
cities are tainted with death, and both house love. In the former two men
quarrel over the blood price for a murdered kinsman and take their case to a
judge to decide the outcome. In the latter, children and housewives stand guard
as the men march out to war. This scene is analogous to the Trojans leaving to
fight the Achaeans between their shores and the city. As seen in line 625, " .
..now hauling a deadman through the slaughter by the heels...", Homer
foreshadows Achilles victory over Hector and how Achilles humiliates him.
The king's estate is also portrayed on Achilles' shield. Bountiful
harvests of ripe grain are reaped and bound, and the king stands in silence
rejoicing among the endless bundle of barley. An ox is being prepared for the
harvest feast while the women fix the midday meal. The shield depicts happiness
and prosperity for the king (whom represented Agamemnon, the King of the
Achaeans) again foreshadowing the Achean's victory in their war with Troy.
The shield also shows a thriving vineyard with a winding footpath on
which the pickers run. Among the pickers is a young boy who plays his lyre and
sings a lovely dirge. A herd of longhorn cattle is also shown. The bulls are
engraved in the gold and tin along with the rest of the pasture's swaying reeds
and rippling stream. A pair of lions seize a bull from the front and proceed to
devour it. A pack of dogs and herdsmen run to aid, but it is too late. The smith
also forges a meadow for the flocks to graze and a dancing circle for young boy
and 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 and
intricate piece of craftsmanship suitable for a god. The details within the
cities themselves and within the King's estate are evidence of this. Not only do
they hold beauty in the intricacies, they also serve to represent the larger
story of the Iliad and the war between the Achaeans and the Trojans. It serves
to 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 reader
to step back and absorb the meaning of the events prior, and foreshadows the
fall of Troy.
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