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In ancient times, the armor was a vital tool of defense in war, especially because it was the soldiers’ only source of protection from arrows, hammers, and other weapons of the time.
However, it is worth noting that the armor is used in most epics to signify a number of other aspects of life and war. Arguably, the armor is a symbol that signifies several aspects of life such as war (vigor, the spirit of fighting and victory), personal identity and existence of a conflict and its solution.
The Armor as a Symbol in battles
A good example of using the armor as a symbol in battles and wars exists in Homer’s “The Iliad.” In his poem, Homer has extensively used the armor as a protective gear worn by soldiers in the war front. In epics, the armor as war equipment shows that it predicts an occurrence of war and victory at one point in life. For example, in ‘The Iliad,’ Homer attempts to show that the armor was considered a permanent proof of victory in a war.
For instance, Achilles receives an armor that was made specially by Hephaistos, the Greek god of fire. According to Homer, the armor had special powers, making its protection different from those provided by fabricated armors (Armstrong 337). For instance, at first, the poet says that the armor glared and scared such that “…no one dared to look straight at it…” which made every soldier “…shrink away” (Edwards 43).
However, Achilles was not affected, and he was the only person with the powers to handle and use the armor. Homer says that Achilles’ look at the armor increased his anger, vigor, and spirit of fighting.
This is an indication that the armor provides enough proof that Achilles remains a soldier throughout his life and is destined to win many wars. Also, it is a symbol of victory for the city-state, which means that Achilles will lead his city to victory as long as he is wearing it.
Secondly, the armor is a symbol of anointment (Leaf 66). The fact that it is a special object obtained from the gods implies that it is not jotted a protective gear, but also an indication that Achilles has a special personality in his community. It signifies the presence of the gods in any war that Achilles participates. This implies that Achilles is anointed by the gods and filled with special spirits that drive his vigor in a war.
In addition to its symbolic use, the armor in The Iliad is also a motif. It is used as a motif when the rightful person wears it. For instance, when Patroclus wears Achilles’ armor as a strategy of scaring the Trojan troops, Hector and Apollo realize the trick within a short period, which makes it useless as long as the right person does not wear it. It is also evident that the armor does not die when a soldier dies.
It separates from the body once a soldier is killed in battle. For instance, when Patroclus is killed, his body and armor separate- they fall in different directions after the soldiers fight over his body. When Hector uses the armor, it betrays rather than protect him because it was not meant for him right from its creation.
The armor is also a sign of life and death in the battle. For instance, when Achilles is given the special armor, he obtains a lot of knowledge about war and the vulnerabilities of the armor. This makes it easy for him to kill Hector with his sword.
Hephaestus’s armor seems to have a life of its own because the poem keeps reminding the reader that Achilles will die in battle, but the armor will certainly live forever. Homer presents Achilles armor as impervious to assault and death.
The Armor as a symbol of identity
In the ancient Mesopotamia, the armor is a symbol of identity in “Gilgamesh.” For instance, Gilgamesh’s status as a noble person is signified by a heavy armor he wears, which distinguishes him from other persons.
Similarly, the armor signifies the identities of soldiers in ancient Greece. A person’s identity is either revealed or concealed when he is wearing the armor. For instance, Achilles has two identities- a loving man and a person who is ready to kill any person who comes in his way in a battle. By wearing the special armor from the god of fire, Achilles changes his identity from that of a loving man to a real soldier.
According to Homer, the armor’s aura changes Achilles’ identity, increasing his anger, vigor, and “…turning his eyes as red as fire.” Since the armor was specially crafted by the god of fire, it signifies an identity that reflects passion and cruelty (Wilson 385). The identity of Achilles changes from his natural self to a violent and dangerous person when he is in his armor.
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Also, the armor can conceal the actual identity of an individual. For instance, Hector’s armor conceals his identity, which makes people fail to know him. For example, before his death, Hector wears the armor and visits his lovely wife and son, but his son cannot recognize him. According to the poet, the boy recoils and clings against the breasts of his nurse. He screams out at the sight of Hector, despite being fond of him.
He is frightened of the flashing bronze used to make the armor. However, the child recognizes his father immediately Hector removes his armor. This is an indication that the armor changes the identity of Hector from that of a loving family man to a scaring soldier whose intention is to kill any enemy (Scott 683).
Homer’s poem also indicates that the armor is a sign of glory, which means that the soldier’s identity as a hero is associated with the armor he wears in battle. Once a person dies, his glory cannot fade because it is meant for society.
Perhaps this is the rationale behind the separation of the body and the armor once a soldier is killed in battle. The armor has a special identity of its own and is different from the identity of a person. While the identity of a person is likely to fade once he is dead, the identity of the armor as an object of glory does not die. The armor lives past the lifespan of its wearer because it is indestructible.
It is also evident that the identity of the armor and its effect on personal identity is specific to a person. Once a soldier wears the armor meant for him, his identity changes and assumes the identity of a brave and courageous individual. However, if the wrong person wears the armor, the two identities conflict and the soldier is likely to face negative consequences. The wrong person cannot get the right identity of a soldier; neither can it be his glory.
This is seen when Patroclus takes the armor of Achilles, thinking that it will confer the same identity and protection it gave to the rightful owner. However, he is cheated because the armor fails to glare or scare the enemy from their ships, which leads to his death.
Similarly, the identity of the wrong armor leads to the death of Hector. Hector’s real identity in the war is that of a strong and wise soldier because he can recognize the weak points of his enemy. However, on wearing Achilles’ armor, he thinks that it will provide the same protection it provided the right owner.
He charges with fury and pride, but the wrong armor gives him the wrong idea of Achilles’ weak points. On the other hand, Achilles can recognize the actual areas of weakness in Hector. This allows Achilles to kill Hector within a short time.
Noteworthy, the identity provided by the armor is also a sign of the connection between humans and gods. The protection the armor gives the rightful user is a sign of the impact of the gods on humans. If the gods fail to bless the armor, it is likely to have negative consequences on the soldier even if it is the right wearer. This is seen in the case of Achilles. Achilles believes that his armor was the real source of strength and protection.
He thinks that he cannot betray him regardless of his position in the battle. As such, he gets the wrong impression of his abilities. He thinks that his armor is greater than the gods who created it. This makes him proud of his abilities such that he challenges the God of the River. This is the cause of his death because the god of the river seeks to punish him for his pride and arrogance.
The god gives Achilles a wrong sense of security and capabilities, which makes kiss a woman in the battle, yet he knew that his position would expose him to death (Devereux 6). When he realizes that the armor cannot protect him in his situation, he calls the name of the god of the river “Father Zeus… Not one god can come to rescue me from this river…”
He blames his mother for his fate because she had told him that he would die beneath the walls of the armored Trojans…” A weaker Apollo eventually kills Achilles with arrows that the fighter could have easily escaped if the god of the river was on his side.
The armor as a sign of friendship and solution
In some cases, the soldiers use armors to show that they have found a solution to a conflict. Also, armors are sometimes used as a sign of friendship between soldiers. This is seen in the event when soldiers trade their armors in a battle. For example, Diomedes proposes that the soldiers exchange their armors for showing that they are sworn friends “…from the days of their ancestors…”.
Once the armors are exchanged, the soldiers show kindness and humility, which indicates that the intention to kill is reversed. It indicates an exchange of identity in honor of their accentors, despite the rivalry between two city-states.
It is clear that the armor was one of the most important war equipment in ancient societies. In fact, without it, the soldiers were at risk of destruction. Nevertheless, the armor has additional meaning in the epic. Homer’s use of the armor as a symbol reveals that it has significant roles that portray the lives and beliefs of the ancient Greeks.
The armor is a symbol that signifies several aspects of life such as war (vigor, the spirit of fighting and victory), personal identity and existence of a conflict and a solution.
Armstrong, James I. “The Arming Motif in the Iliad.” American Journal of Philology 4.316 (2005): 337–354. Print
Devereux, George. “Achilles’ Suicide in the Iliad.” Helios 6.2 (1999): 3–15. Print.
Edwards, Mark W. Homer, Poet of the Iliad. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009. Print
Leaf, Walter. The Iliad. London: OUP, 2002. Print.
Scott, John. “Achilles and the Armor of Patroclus.” The Classical Journal 13.9 (1918): 682–686. Print.
Wilson, John R. “The Wedding Gifts of Peleus.” Phoenix 28. 4 (2007): 385–389. Print.