In Homer’s great work, the Iliad, Achilles is given a set of armor, including a glorious shield which allows him to return to battle and carry out his revenge against Hector. Likewise, in Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas is sent a shield for the purpose of aiding him in defending Rome from invasion. However, these shields are made special not by their military value, but by the engravings that decorate their surfaces.
Achilles’ shield holds engravings of common life during his time: farmers plowing the land, young men and women dancing in the vineyards, scenes of the countryside, slaves working for their kings, and armies fighting each other. On the other hand, Aeneas’ shield holds the story of Italy, from the birth of the twins, Romulus and Remus, to the peak of the Roman Empire. Because of the images that are depicted on both shields, they are of much more significance than just tools of war. These shields represent all that their nations are worth and have been especially chosen for each hero to carry. This, therefore, makes their presences in the Iliad and the Aeneid worth recognizing.
It is true that these shields hold great importance in their respective works, yet their exact meanings still remain unclear. Many may just see these shields as just ordinary weapons. However, their value is surely not found as tools of war.
The purpose of this study is to compare the role and impact of Achilles’ shield in the Iliad to that of Aeneas’ shield in the Aeneid. This has to do mostly with the shields’ origins and each hero’s need for them. This study also compares their physical and symbolic aspects in regard to their elaborate engravings. Although these designs provide the shields with much aesthetic beauty, they also offer them even greater symbolic significance.
In Homer’s Iliad, Troy falls under the siege of the Greeks. Although the war itself sways back and forth, Greece still holds the ability to overpower its opponent easily. However, its greatest warrior, Achilles, who is part-god, refuses to battle; a decision takes place due to his dispute with the leader of Greece’s armies, Agamemnon. It is not until Patrocles, his best friend, falls under the sword of the enemy that Achilles enters the war.
Upon hearing of the death of his closest friend, Achilles is devastated. Homer goes into great detail when expressing this grief in writing, “In both hands he caught up the grimy dust, and poured it over his head and face, and fouled his handsome countenance, and the black ashes were scattered over his immortal tunic. And he himself, mightily in his might, in the dust lay at length, and took and tore at his hair with his hands, and defiled it” (Il., 18.22-27). Achilles’ pain is so great that his mother, Thetis, a nymph, feels his tortured cries. She quickly appears by her son’s side and tries to comfort him; however, Achilles is not at ease. Instead, he vows to avenge Patrocles’ death. A worried Thetis does not agree with his planned course of action, but she nevertheless decides to help him. Realizing that her son is without his armor, which Patrocles had been wearing at his demise, Thetis declares, “‘I am going to tall Olympos and to Hephaistos, the glorious smith, if he might be willing to give me for my son renowned and radiant armour’” (Homer, Il., 18.142-144).
Thetis returns from her visit to Hephaistos with a set of armor that includes an extra-ordinary shield. However, this is no ordinary shield, as it bears on its surface various unique engravings. Hephaistos includes everything on this masterpiece from the stars and other celestial bodies, as Homer describes in writing, “He made the earth upon it, and the sky, and the sea’s water, and the tireless sun, and the moon waxing into her fullness, and on it all the constellations that festoon the heavens, the Pleiades and the Hyades and the strength of Orion and the Bear (…)” (Il.,...