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Armor and how it happens to Iliad’s Achilles to have it?

Symbolism is a reoccurring theme in the Iliad; one commonly takes note that after the death of Patroclus, Achilles’ old armor transforms from representing “divine Achilles” to the symbolism of death, or Patroclus symbolizing the sacrificial servant. Although the symbolism between Achilles’ old and new armor is often scrutinized, one may notice a reoccurring resemblance with the changes happening within Achilles’ character, and the symbolisms existing within his armors. A parallelism seems to occur between Achilles as a person and the symbolism behind his suits of armor. Achilles is both divine and human, and when he transitions into his divinity, one sees a physical representation through the exchange of his armor.

“Two fates sweep me on to my death. If I stay here and fight I’ll never return home, but my glory will be undying forever. If I return home to my dear fatherland my glory is lost, but my life will be long,”[1] This is the prophecy that was made that to Achilles by his mother Thetis. Achilles has the choice to either stay and fight only to live a short life, but his glory will live on eternally or he can choose to leave and obtain no glory but live a long life. Glory is vital to the warriors of the ancient Greek culture, and with the absence of tangible evidence of such, or kleos, the men lacked any kind of social recognition or standing. The warriors of ancient Greece received kleos through the prizes they won in battle. To win prizes a warrior must act, by participating in a raid of a city or conquering a foe in war. They then loot the city or steal valuables, such as jewels, gold, women, or their victim’s armor. The accumulation of prizes gives a warrior a physical representation of the glory they had earned through their actions. Therefore, the more prizes a warrior possesses the more glory or kleos he has.

The revelation that Achilles’ glory could live on transcend time is beyond his comprehension, given the warrior-mindset, which believed glory was contingent on the possession of material objects. The idea of kleos living on forever is known as “kleos aphthition”, which means “eternal glory”. If Achilles chooses to live a short life but allow his glory to live on forever, there will be no physical evidence of this glory. This lack of evidence is why it is very difficult for Achilles to understand the importance of kleos aphthition and make his decision, because there is no physical evidence of his glory, his glory will be passed on through word of mouth.

Through the prediction of the choice he must make, Achilles is now the link between life and death. He ultimately decides to die young but to allow his glory to live on eternally. Achilles’ prophecy is essentially predicting that Achilles will physically die, but his memory will live on to immortality. This immortality is completely different from the immortality of the gods. Since Achilles’ mother Thetis is a goddess he is half divine, and has received some godly gifts; for example, when Achilles rages into battle after the death of his close friend Patroclus, Homer depicts the rage that is Achilles by recalling, “But the son of Peleus pressed on in glory, his invincible hands spattered with gore.”[2] Homer depicts Achilles in godly terms, “he pressed on in glory”, or “his invincible hands.” Only gods are invincible, therefore, Homer is emphasizing Achilles divinity. Although Achilles received some godly traits, he did not inherit the immortality trait from his mother. His glory and memory will live on forever, but his physical body will not.

Achilles new armor also being made by the god Hephaestus[3] is a physical representation of Achilles divinity. When Achilles’ mother brings her son his new armor his men shudder and cannot look at it, nothing has been made like this before and his men cannot understand it. Since this new defense is something never before seen, Achilles is now once again something that exists outside of his men’s frame of reference.

Although Achilles is not the first warrior whose armor was created by the divine, he obtained something that was never before seen. Depicted on the shield of his armor is a fantastic portrayal of creation, encompassing many of the aspects of life. Almost all of creation is depicted on the shield, demonstrating cohesion of divinity and humanity. Achilles’ shield is an excellent reminder that through his existence he is the link between the divine and human realms. Therefore, Achilles’ new armor is a physical representation of his divinity and his humanity.

In contrast to Achilles new armor, the moment he ceases to wear his old armor it begins to represent death. The moment Agamemnon steals Briseis the prize of Achilles, Achilles is forced to confront the problems within the Greek society, such as their lack of concern for the means through which kleos is obtained. Due to the revelations of disarray within the Greek society, Achilles begins to change who he is as a person; therefore, his old armor represents an Achilles who no longer exists. Agamemnon wronged Achilles and due to this dispute, Achilles quits the war and never wears his old armor again. The old Achilles is dead, therefore, the old armor no longer represents the greatest warrior of the Achaeans, but now symbolizes a man who no longer exists. To further prove this assertion, it seems that whoever wears the old armor dies.

When Patroclus is initially injured Achilles’ helmet tumbles to the mud. Homer stops in his recalling shock expressing, “Achilles helmet rang beneath the horses’ hooves, and rolled in the dust – no, that couldn’t be right-Those handsome horsehair plumes grimed with blood, the Gods would never let that happen to the helmet that had protected the head and graceful brow of divine Achilles.” Homer is aware that Achilles is meant to remain somewhat divine and therefore is shocked that the gods would allow the helmet of “divine Achilles” to fall to the mud. This incident could aim towards the idea that the helmet no longer represents Achilles but now death. Homer goes on to affirm, “But the gods did let it happen, and Zeus would now give the helmet to Hector, whose own death was not far off.”[4] This statement verifies the idea that Achilles’ old armor represents death, especially because Hector the Prince of Troy swipes Achilles old guard and wears it after his own death has been prophesized. Hector wears this protection when he encounters Achilles. Both men have had their deaths prophesized, but the prediction was made that Achilles would kill Hector; this is another demonstration that the armor now represents death. Homer alludes to Hector’s death during the battle between the prince of Troy and Peleus’ Son.

Achilles charges into battle against Hector wearing his new godly armor, while Hector parades in clothed in the armor that once represented Achilles. Both men were prophesized to die, but Hector was prophesized to be killed by Achilles. Although the prophecy was made, Hector arrogantly replies to the dying Patroclus insinuating, “Why prophesy my death, Patroclus? Who knows? Achilles, son of Thetis, may go down first under my spear.”[5] He seems to believe he can change his fate and defeat the greatest warrior of the Achaean’s, especially since he snatches Achilles’s armor from the late Patroclus. What Hector forgets to consider is the soul-quaking rage Achilles feels towards the man who slaughtered his best friend.

Achilles slaughters Hector in battle, then savagely disgraces the body of the dead prince. Hector wore Achilles’s old armor into battle against him, therefore Achilles knows where all of the weak points within the armor are located and can easily overcome his enemy. Achilles knowledge of the weak points within the armor could symbolize his knowledge of the weak points within the Greek culture. Such as, their immense desire for kleos and their lack of care for the proper means of achieving that glory.

Achilles new armor is a physical representation of his divinity, while the old armor represents death and idea that Achilles is changing and the old Achilles no longer exists. The parallelism between Achilles’s changes within himself and both of his armors is often overlooked, but is necessary for a complete understanding of the symbolism represented within the epic.

Works Cited

Homer. Iliad. Translated by Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Cambridge, 1997. [1][1]

Homer, Iliad, trans. Stanley Lombardo (Indianapolis: Cambridge, 1997), Book 9, pg. 171, lines 425-428. [2] Ibid., Book 20, lines 524-525, pg. 402 [3] Ibid., Book 19, line 5, pg.374 [4] Ibid., Book 16, lines 833-837, pg. 329 [5] Ibid., Book 16, lines 899-901 pg. 331

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