February 18, 2011 Leave a comment
This is an introduction to an upcoming longer paper, examining the symbolic and esoteric meaning behind the Shield of Achilles, particularly in relation to Platonic cosmogony.
The liad of Homer is a foundational work of Western Civilization, and one of it’s most famous sections is the book dealing with the forging of the shield for the great warrior Achilles by the god of metallurgy, Hephaestus. While the story of the forging of the shield occupies a lengthy book, this paper will examine the beginning of Hephaestus’ work, highlighting the numerology, shape and imagery from lines 560-600. In this section, it is apparent that the shield functions not merely as a defensive piece, but as a symbolic construct for the Greek worldview itself.
At the imploring of Thetis, mother of Achilles, Hephaestus begins crafting a shield that “…any man in the world of men will marvel at through all the years to come—whoever sees its splendor” (ll. 545-6), cluing the hearer into the special, surreal nature of this armor.1 In other words, this is not mere armor, but in fact will become a microcosm display of the totality of the Greek worldview itself. It is significant to note that the image chosen for the Greek world is a circular shield, about which shape more will be said later, but that what first appears is the defensive nature of the symbol. Homer could have chosen a sword with engravings or a spear, but has instead chosen a defensive article, intending the reader to see the proper place of warfare as a necessary evil in this life. Indeed, the Iliad itself famously portrays the strife and misery caused by warfare. Thus, Homer would have hearers of his epic understand that true wisdom sees that warfare should have a defensive, balancing role in the protection and maintenance of civilized order.
And first Hephaestus makes a great and massive shield,
blazoning well-wrought emblems across its surface,
raising a rim around it, glittering, triple-ply,
with a silver shield-strap run from edge to edge
and five layers of metal to build the shield itself,
and across a vast expanse with all his craft and cunning
the god creates a world of gorgeous immortal work. (ll. 558-64)2
As with above in lines 545-6, translator Fagles has chosen to use “world,” indicating that the shield’s purpose is not merely as a weapon for Achilles, but as a microcosm image of the whole of the Greek worldview. It has, in effect, the function of a creation account. The shield itself is possibly even a mnemonic device, whereby the oral tradition of the Greek account of creation might possible be recalled, as well as functioning as a memory device for the Greek orator reciting the story. Critic James M. Redfield explains of this totality world notion: Read more of this post