The Shield of Achilles in Homer's Iliad Essay

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Throughout the Iliad the warriors' dream of peace is projected over and over again in elaborate similes developed against a background of violence and death. Homer is able to balance the celebration of war's tragic, heroic values with scenes of battle and those creative values of civilized life that war destroys. The shield of Achilles symbolically represents the two poles of human condition, war and peace, with their corresponding aspects of human nature, the destructive and creative, which are implicit in every situation and statement of the poem and are put before us in something approaching abstract form; its emblem is an image of human life as a whole.


Forged by Hephaestus, this shield includes all manner of imagery to dazzle and overawe Achilles' opponents. Made out of bronze, tin, and priceless gold and silver, this glittering, triple-ply "world of gorgeous immortal work" is blazoned with "well-wrought emblems across its surface." Starting out describing the earth, the sea, and the sky, Homer goes into detail and uses imagery to talk about such specifics as the "blazing sun," the "moon rounding full," and "the constellations, all that crown the heavens." .


He then starts going into detail about the two mortal cities. The first city opens with a description of a wedding and a wedding feast. Sharing details such as the glowing torches, the choirs singing, the young men dancing with flutes and harps, and the women who rushed to the doors, were moved with wonder. Then it goes into a mass of people streaming into the marketplace where a quarrel had broken out and two men struggled over the blood-price for a kinsman just murdered. Their quarreling is settled when they call for a ...

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...r to Menelaus now. Thee tapestry is too intricately woven, so as the central blame is Helen, most of the individuals involved are in the war for widely different motives.


This war involves a human side, including the admission of fear and scenes of domestic life, not in a sentimentalized version. This more complete and responsible depiction shows that there's not one single center to the war, just as there's not one single god for the Greeks.


Running along the outermost rim of the shield is the Ocean River, the river that is at once the barrier between the quick and the dead, and also the frontier of the known and imagined worlds. One of the last descriptions on the shield, this river could perhaps be a symbol for total inclusiveness and eternity, and for the stability of the larger perspective.




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