Homer and W.H. Auden were poets who cast a keen eye on the societies in which they lived. In a well-organized essay, compare their visions of contemporary culture as depicted in Book XVIII of The Iliad and "The Shield of Achilles." You may, in this essay, want to consider the poets' various images of the natural world, societal customs, religious beliefs, war, or the human spirit and you must include direct quotations from the literature to back up your argument.
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In both Homer and Auden, there is a clear statement regarding societal views towards war and the human predicament. In each work, there is a clear statement about the contemporary culture that inspires the work. The characters are ones who embody the world around the poet. The result is a clear distillation regarding the values of specific social orders. In Homer, there is a lucid explanation regarding how Classically Greek society views war. The forging of Achillles' shield is one such example. The worlds that Hephaestus depicts on the shield speak to the glory of the battle, the worlds that the Classical soldier is to defend. It affirms how the Classical soldier understood the particular function involved in his fighting:
The girls wore white linen with pretty garlands on their heads; the young men fine-woven tunics with a soft sheen, daggers of gold hanging from their silver belts. Here, they danced lightly with skilful steps, like the motion a potter gives his wheel when testing it out to see how it will run. There, they ran in lines to meet each other. And enjoying the lovely scene, a host of people stood round about, while a pair of acrobats whirled among them, keeping time to the dance.
When Thetis emerges, Homer's description is vital:"... She swooped like falcon, from snow- topped Olympus, bearing Hephaestus' gleaming gift." The perception of the mother of Achilles is not one who mourns or regrets the fate her son must face. Rather, she is proud of her son. Thetis understands that her own purpose is to defend and assist her son. Thetis weeps for her son earlier, but also recognizes what she must do for him. When she cries, Hephaestus speaks the words of the tragic collision that confronts all soldiers in the Classical tradition: "Take heart, and be easy in your mind. I wish that I could save him from sad death, when the fateful time arrives, as easily as I can grant him splendid armour, splendid enough to make many a man marvel who gazes on it some fine day." Such words serve as testament to how Greek society viewed warfighting and the soldier who commits their life to it. There is a clear understanding of what is at stake, and a soldier's stoicism in accepting the condition of what lies in front of the warrior. The social values in Greek society are mirrored in the text. Homer is able to evoke a sense of strength and austerity within the Greek soldier, consistent with the Classical warfighting mentality. At the same time, Homer is able to evoke a sense of tragedy in the soldier. It is Homer's genius that he is able to embody the values of his social setting, but also offer a critique of these very social values. Homer suggests that the life of the soldier is rooted in tragedy, reflective of a condition where society embraces the sacrifices the soldier must make, but never acknowledges the tragic condition intrinsic to such a being. It is Homer's genius to offer both a mirror and a looking glass into the social life of Classical society.
Auden is more direct in his critique of a society that embraces war as a means of solving problems. In "The Shield of Achilles," the horror of war is evident in the descriptions that Auden offers. There is no "White flower-garlanded heifers" or "Libation and sacrifice." Rather, in this world, "That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third." There is destruction and fragmentation, evident in a mother who weeps at what is in front of her and a God who "hobbled away." There is no sense of glory and little sense of honor in the battlefield in front of Thetis, Achilles, or the reader. Auden's poem speaks to the horrors of war. This is critical of a society that embraces war and fails to acknowledge its terrors upon the lives of the soldiers and civilians who endure war. The culture that Auden offers is one where war is wrong and representative of barbarism. As opposed to Homer who is nuanced in his critique of his social setting, Auden's criticism of his culture is direct. It represents how the shield of Achilles is an artifact that both embodies and shows the very worst of war.
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