In the Iliad, what does the Shield of Achilles represent? How does the shield place the events of the Iliad into perspective?
The shield in many ways seems to represent a microcosm of the civilised world. It shows a number of scenes, such as ploughing, marriage ceremonies, two cities and nature. However, it also shows the existence of war alongside such normal everyday scenes. Note for example how in one city there is clearly evidence of attack and besiegement:
But around the other city were lying two forces of armed men
shining in their war gear. For one side counsel was divided
whether to storm and sack, or share between both sides the property
and all the possessions the lovely citadel held hard within it.
Given the timing of when the shield is crafted and how it is used by Achilles in his battle with Hector, which is actually one of the bloodiest and most violent sections of the entire poem, it could be argued that the shield is used as a symbol to foreshadow the fate of Troy once Hector is killed, and the killing and pillaging that will take place. The shield then could be seen as a symbol of the coexistence of war and peace, and how there always seems to be some element of strife alongside peace. The shield can also be viewed as a representation of the heroic ideal, which of course acts in extreme contrast to Achilles and how he behaves when he slays Hector. Either way, the shield is used to comment on the action that occurs in this text, either through predicting what will happen once Hector is killed, or acting as a stark contrast to how Achilles acts compared to the ideal of how heroes were supposed to behave.