In the Iliad, what does the Shield of Achilles represent? How does the shield place the events of the Iliad into perspective?

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Achilles's shield depicts all the modes of life. Love, death, war, peace, farming and festivals, sieges and battles—everything is represented on the shield, which Achilles both uses to protect himself and continually carries. Equally, we could argue that the shield therefore represents the protection offered to Achilles by the world, or that Achilles must defend the world and all its possibilities.

Perhaps the saddest thing about Achilles is that he embodies the possibilities of peace and war, life and death, until he takes the battle field. Then he makes the fatal choice and loses all the possibilities of human life by choosing the route of war.

The shield displays society at war and at peace, so it is a bird's eye view of Troy both before and after the outbreak of war—what it was, what it is now, and what it will be. It also represents the before and after of the individuals involved in the story. Happiness, marriage, harvest, joy, etc., have given way to siege, fire, starvation, and death. Both sides think longingly of the Before and want to return to it.

The shield stands between Achilles and his death, the world, and the war; it is held between Achilles and his fate, but, in the end, that fate will come for him anyway.

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I agree that the shield represents a microcosm of the known world. It shows scenes of both war and peace, but within an epic that celebrates the warrior ideal, it offers a counter narrative. It illustrates the perspective that war isn't all there is in life, a perspective too easily lost in the heat of battle.

The shield was forged for Achilles by the god Hephaestus after Patroclus, using Achilles's armor and shield, was killed and lost Achilles's armor to Hector. On the shield, only two scenes depict violence while the other seven are peaceful. One shows a field being plowed, another grapes being harvested, and another a sheep farm. We see the earth set within the cosmos and a scene of men and women dancing.

There's a poignance to the scenes on the shield. Achilles is caught up deeply in warfare, but the shield acts a reminder of what he is fighting to protect, which is the right of ordinary people to live amid joy and plenty.

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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.

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The shield of Achilles, described at length in Book 18, represents the cosmos and more particularly human civilization in the ancient world. The sun, moon and stars all appear on the shield, as well as a sequence of different aspects of civilized life. There are two cities, 'fair to see and busy with the hum of men', which show contrasting sides of the human condition. In one city there is daily life of an ordinary kind, showing weddings and also court proceedings, which serve as a reminder that conflict is ever-present even in everyday affairs. The other city is besieged, mired in grim war, just like the Greeks and Trojans themselves. Hephaestus also fashions depictions of rural life, with fields being ploughed and harvested, and a fair vineyard. Here, too, though, is a reminder of death that always lurks in nature, with a bull being attacked by two lions. Finally, Hephaestus also gives us a picture of youth and fertility, with young men and maidens dancing on the green. Round the rim of the shield he portrays the river Ocean, which was then believed to gird the outer rim of the world.

The shield, then, depicts life in all its aspects as both the Greeks and Trojans know it. It shows life and death, love and war, all co-existing, and thereby puts the events of the whole poem into a larger perspective. War is grim and terrible, but it is also part of life. Conflict is ever-present, both among humans and nature in general. It is a part of the overall scheme of things. Terrible thought the Trojan war may be, it does not spell the end of all things; the universal cycle of birth and death will go on.

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