The Iliad - Book 18 - The shield of Achilles
- Reading time: about 48 minutes
- Achilles learns of
Patrocluss death. 1-109.
- The death of Patroclus is reported in brief words to
Achilles. In two and a half lines of simple diction,
Antilochus tells Achilles what has happened:
Patroclus has fallen. They're fighting over his
corpse. He's stripped, nakedHector with the
flashing helmet, Hector has your arms. (21-23)
- Watch as Homer has Achilles say not a word in his grief except an inarticulate cry until he finally speaks on line 92. Achilles is a character of the greatest passions, yet the depiction of his initial reaction is wordless. It is a fascinating poetic touch that Homer lists 14 lines of names of sea nymphs at this point. Their names are probably chosen for the mellifluousness of sound rather than for any meaning. It is as if the aural meaning takes precedence over the intellectual at this pointsound over sense.
- Mueller says, "The death of Achilles begins with the news of Patroclus' death" (58). By this he means that dying characters may reflect briefly upon the meaning of their life. Achilles (perhaps most notably among all literary characters) is allowed the most extensive reflection of all. Achilles does not die in The Iliad. His death comes afterwards. Hence, his death is reflected in the death of Patroclus.
- Thetis speaks with Achilles. 109-172.
- Thetis comes up from the sea to console her son over his loss.
- As always, Thetis reminds Achilles of his mortality and impending doom.
- Achilles both regrets his decision to remain in camp nursing his anger and simultaneously wants to go to seek vengeance on Hector.
- Achilles turns his anger from Agamemnon to Hector (131).
- Thetis goes to get a new set of immortal armor made for him by Hephaestus.
- The appearance of Achilles in battle 233-
- Iris urges Achilles to get Patroclus corpse,
but, without armor, Achilles can't enter battle. Iris
tells him just to stand in battle and his mere
presence will intimidate the Trojans.
- His appearance is remarkable. His body shines and is
magnified. Athena makes blazing light emanate from
his head. With this visual metaphor, Achilles is
present and changes all reality around him. He works
miracles by his presence, to borrow vocabulary from
the much different culture of Christianity.
- Hector once again rejects advice. 280-
- Polydamas advises Hector to retreat back to Troy: make Achilles fight around the walls of Troy. Hector rejects this advice (330), wanting to go out to meet Achilles and fight him. Remember that Hector rejected Polydamas's advice back in Book 12 and was wrong.
- The narrator comments on Hector's folly: "The Trojans raired their assent, lost in folly. Athena had swept away their senses (361-).
- Achilles tends Patroclus' body
- The shield of Achilles. 430-end.
- Here, in this pause before the final killings of the
epic, Homer inserts a magnificent picture of the
fullness of life and art.
- The god Hephaestus creates a fighting shield of such
detail and beauty, we forget in the description that
we are hearing about a work of art and not actual
- Here we see every phase of life beyond the
battlefield, from war to hate, from birth to death.
- Consult the essay on the meaning of the shield of Achilles by Gregory Nagy: "The Shield of Achilles: The Ends of the Iliad and the Beginnings of the Polis.
- Poem by W.H. Auden: "The Shield of Achilles"
- Discuss the symbolic meaning of the shield of Achilles in the context of this book. [Discuss Iliad Bk18 Q01]