The Iliad, Book XVIII

Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII
Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII Book XIII Book XIV Book XV 
Book XVI Book XVII Book XVIII Book XIX Book XX Book XXI Book XXII

The Shield of Achilles

Achilles had had a premonition of Patroclus’ death but when Antilochus confirmed the news to him and that Hector was wearing his armour and both sides were fighting over his body, Achilles’ grief was overwhelming. He poured ash over his head and body, tore his hair and screamed so loudly his mother, Thetis, heard him from the depths of the sea.

Thetis Receiving the Weapons of Achilles from Hephaestus, painting by Anthony van Dyck, 1630–32.

She and her Nereids came immediately to Achilles who told her he regretted his anger which had taken him out of the fighting, felt tremendous guilt over the death of Patroclus and was ready to seek glory and revenge by killing Hector, ignoring his mother’s warning that his own death would shortly follow. Having told Achilles not to rejoin the fighting until she returned, Thetis then went to Mount Olympus to ask Hephaestus to make Achilles a new set of armour.

As Hector was close to stealing Patroclus’ body, Hera sent Iris to tell Achilles to rejoin the fighting and save it; his very presence would unnerve the Trojans. Protected by Athena and following his mother’s instructions not to rejoin the fighting, Achilles stood by the ditch and three times uttered a piercing cry which frightened the Trojans into retreating, as did the blazing fire which Athena made to blaze round his head. Patroclus’ body was then brought back to the Greek camp. Polydamas advised the Trojans to retreat inside Troy now that Achilles had returned and would be seeking revenge but Hector successfully counter proposed that they remain to fight the Greeks the next day.

The Greeks spent the night mourning Patroclus and Achilles vowed not to bury him until he had killed Hector and brought his body to the Greek camp along with twelve Trojans to be sacrificed. Patroclus’ body was washed, anointed, laid on a funeral bier and covered with white cloth.

The shield’s design as interpreted by Angelo Monticelli, from Le Costume Ancien ou Moderne, ca. 1820.

Meanwhile Hephaestus welcomed Thetis into his home, as she had previously saved him from the sea when Hera had thrown him out of the sky, and agreed to her request to make armour for Achilles: the shield he made consisted of five layers and was decorated as follows: with earth, sea, sky and all the constellations, two towns, one celebrating weddings and settling a dispute, the other town under siege, a field being ploughed, corn being reaped, vines being picked in a vineyard to the sound of a lyre and singing, cattle beside a stream, lions killing a bull, sheep grazing, young men and girls dancing; round the rim was Oceanus. Hephaestus also made body armour, leg guards and a helmet with a golden crest.

Book XVII Book XIX