Arming description is an important part of the Iliad. It could be stated that these scenes have their significance and symbolism. One of the most famous arming scenes in the Iliad is the description of Achilles’ arming, in particular, shield. Another well-known scene is Agamemnon’s shield description in Book XI. A shield is an important part of arming because it is the main protection of the hero. Therefore, it is interesting to compare two descriptions of the shields and to find similarities, differences, and symbolism of arming.
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In Book XI, Agamemnon’s shield was described. This shield has ten circles of bronze all around it. Its body has twenty white tin bosses and the dark one boss in the middle. This dark boss demonstrated the head of Medusa Gorgon. On both sides of it, there were Rout and Panic. The shield’s silver band was decorated with the image of writhing three-headed snake (Homer 255). It could be supposed that the symbolism of these images is quite simple. This shield should scare Agamemnon’s enemies and encourage him on fearless fighting.
Achilles got his shield from Hephaestus. It was made by this God Himself. The description of Achilles’ shield was different. First, it is much more detailed and has more images on it. There were a lot of scenes and elements on the shield: peaceful scenes inside and outside the city, battle scenes, God’s life, and the ocean with swans and dolphins (Homer 488-494). It could be stated that it is not the kind of shield that a brave warrior would be expected to carry. In comparison to Agamemnon’s shield, there were no elements which might scare the Achilles’ enemies. This shield has more philosophical and symbolic elements.
It could be stated that in shield description, Homer intentionally included scenes that reflect scenes from the poem. First, images of battles reflect plenty of battles scenes’ description in Books II-VII, (Homer 27-157), XII-XVI (Homer 290-438), and others. In the Iliad, description of battles has an important meaning. It could be supposed that Homer tried to highlight the horror of the war and focused the reader’s attention on it by providing a description of such scenes on the shield. Second, to contrast the war, the Iliad contains only a few descriptions of peaceful life. For example, a scene of making a sacrifice provided on the shield corresponds to the similar scene in Book I (Homer 9). This comparison is essential for understanding the meaning of the shield’s description.
It is important to understand that Achilles’ shield is like a piece of art which should be analyzed not only in details but as the whole. Shield’s decoration describes different aspects of life and death cycle. In general, it provides the comparison between peace and war; it highlights the terrible consequences of battles. By this description, it was underlined that it was important to make a sacrifice to prevent these terrible consequences.
It could be supposed that Achilles’ shield is a symbol of his decision to sacrifice his own life for the victory. Achilles knew that killing Hector would mean his own death. However, it seems to be not that important for him comparing to the importance of victory, peaceful life, and the revenge of his friend’ and other warriors’ death. Therefore, carrying this shield means the Achilles’ readiness to conduct everything that he was supposed to.
Therefore, it could be concluded that the description of the two heroes’ shields was different. While Agamemnon’s shield was an arming for the battle which should encourage the warrior and scare his enemies, the Achilles’ shield symbolized the crush of peaceful life and war. It could be supposed that the fact that Achilles carried this shield means that it was his role to fight for the victory and quite life.
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1998.