The Shield of Achilles is a symbol that shows readers two of the dominant themes of the Iliad, namely the cruel cold of war and its opposite, the unrequited warmth of family and love, on the same plane, revealing not only Achilles’ dilemma but also the realities of life for an ordinary warrior and even an ordinary citizen.
First, one must speak technically; Homer’s description of this shield is actually an example of “ekphrasis”. This description is also the first known example of ekphrasis. If an object occupies an important place in a narrative, the writer should be responsible for describing that object as clearly and aesthetically pleasing as he/she can. This must be the reason why Achilles’ shield is depicted for one hundred and thirty lines.
Referring to Shield of Achilles’ story, one can see why it has been explained for one hundred and thirty lines. To summarise the story; Achilles refuses to take part in the war, so he gives his armor to Patroclus, who wants to go to war instead of him. Thus, Patroclus, who went into the middle of the Trojan War to lead the Achaean soldiers, is killed by the great warrior Hector, the champion of the Trojans. Hector also confiscates the armor on him as spoils of war. Upon hearing the news of Patroclus’s death, Achilles goes crazy and is determined to go to war to avenge him, but the most important thing he needs to go to war, namely his armor, is in Hector’s hands. He goes to his mother, Thetis, who is a nymph. Thetis asks Hephaestus to make an armor for his son. Hephaestus accepts this request and makes a legendary shield for Achilles.
As it can be seen throughout the story, this shield stands right in the middle of war and love. Achilles wanted to throw himself into the middle of the war because of his love for Patroclus.
As the importance of the story has been implied, I will examine more specific parts. In the specific part of this shield that I will examine, ekphrasis describes two different cities. These cities are actually divided into two. In one city, there is marriage and order, while in the other, there is a war-scorched image. The life that Achilles might have chosen but left behind is on one side; the life he felt compelled to choose is on the other. Achilles could have never gone to war and lived in order by marrying in his hometown but he would have been deprived of the glory and fame that war brought. However, remembering that glory and fame are at the heart of life for a Greek warrior, that situation gives an answer; if there is a war, it will simply be fought. If Achilles had chosen love, he would have lost the most important concept of his life, glory. On the other hand, when he chooses war, he is deprived of compassion and love.
Therefore, the Shield of Achilles actually seems to reflect life itself. We say that every choice we make is a renunciation, not in vain. It is not possible to objectively decide which of these two choices is correct. Life is really all about the choices we make: While we get the things we want, we unknowingly push other options away with our own hands. Achilles rejected love by choosing war. A war brought the end of Patroclus, his dear friend. His shield is just a keepsake for him. It’s basically a symbol that reminds Achilles of what he’s lost and what he has chosen, just like our memories.