A Study Guide and Review Questions for Book 18: “The Shield of Achilles”
You should be able to:
tell what has happened to Patroclus
explain what has happened to Achilles’ armor
explain how the wave of grief grows and moves in response to Patroclus’ death
put the deep emotions Achilles expresses into perspective
put Achilles’ willingness to die into perspective
explain why Achilles feels he may, in fact, deserve to die
understand the emotions that are pushing Achilles to return to battle
realize what Thetis will bring to Achilles
explain Polydamas’ strategy for the next day’s fighting
explain Hector’s strategy for the next day’s fighting
understand which strategy the troops accepted and whether or not this was a wise decision
appreciate Achilles’ emotional side
recognize and interpret the smile made by Achilles and its link to Hector and his fatherly role
understand Achilles plan regarding Patroclus’ burial
appreciate the burial customs of the ancient Greeks
Homer’s description of Achilles’ shield is as fabulous a piece of art as the shield itself. Using a pattern of images—concrete representations of sensory experiences and abstractions—Homer brings the scenes on the shield to life. He endows the people in the scenes with motion, sound, thought, speech, and action. Contrasting scenes of peace and war, country and city, sowing and harvesting, and dancing and working reflect the intense joy and utter pathos of life as Homer’s audience knew it. Ultimately, the images on the shield form a coherent pattern of human reality.
Remarkably, the shield contains the entire cosmos, or ordered universe. The outer circle is the River Ocean, the boundary of the world. Within the boundary are planets and constellations that form an essential part of the daily life of people who till the soil and live by the seasons. Agriculture, harvest festivals, and marriage rites find their place in the shield. Two cities, one at war and one enjoying peace represent all the major aspects of life in The Iliad—the heroic and tragic reality of war and the relieving calm of peacetime. In fact, Achilles’ shield is a microcosm of The Iliad and of Homer’s world.
Interpreting Book 18
Why does Achilles blame himself for Patroclus’ death? Is Achilles self-incrimination justified? Explain and support your answer.
What causes and emotions allow Achilles to overcome his intense fury and join the fighting?
Fate is a critical issue in Greek culture and in The Iliad. What role do Achilles’ personal characteristics play in bringing about his fate?
Hephaestus says that he wishes that he could forge a shield that could protect Achilles from his fate. Based upon your understanding of Greek culture and your reading of The Iliad so far, is it ever possible for human beings to escape their fate? Explain and support your thinking.
Applying Book 18 to a New Situation:
Both Hector and Achilles make a conscious decision to confront death, which makes them heroic in the eyes of the ancient Greeks. Does modern society consider people who consciously face death heroic? Explain and support your answer.
In his description of Achilles’ shield, Homer’s imagery captures the complex world of The Iliad. The marriage ceremonies and harvest festivals of one of the cities of the shield represent the joyous side of life, while the city beleaguered by two armies contain images of the pathos of war.
How are images of violence on the shield balanced by images of plowing and harvesting?
What is the significance of the Ocean River that runs around the outermost rim of the shield?
From the text, find images of war and peace and discuss ways in which they correspond with human nature as it is presented in The Iliad.
Formulate a short statement that would give the Greek view of life based upon the images Hephaestus has placed on Achilles’ shield.
Critical Thinking and Reading—Comparing and Contrasting Characters
According to the heroic code of ethics, male characters in The Iliad must fight to win for glory for their families and for themselves. Each hero, however, responds differently to the warrior code he learned since childhood. Consider how differently Achilles and Hector behave as heroes.
In a well-crafted answer, explain whether Achilles or Hector is characterized as being more human? Contrast Achilles’ reasons for wining glory with Hector’s reasons. Finally, since heroism is so critical to both individual’s cultures, which man is more heroic?
Please note: I have had to vary the translations that I use for the Iliad, the page numbers may be an estimate and not an exact reference.