Achilles is the greatest warrior in history, and yet he hates war with a passion. In full armor and mounting his chariot for battle, Achilles vows he will not stop fighting this day until all the Trojans hate war.1 War is Achilles' worst enemy and, true to his promise, he kills every warrior whom heaven places in his path.2 By the end of the day no Trojan still living wants to be outside the walls of the city.

"Make Love, Not War" could be Achilles' motto. It is love that drives his action. Love stolen from a fellow captain originally drives him to war, when Agamemnon's troops are finally assembled. Wars are not won, nor launched overnight, if we use Helen's words and numbers. At the end of the tenth year of the Trojan War, she says she has been in Troy for twenty.3 When Thetis receives word of war brewing over the kidnapping of Helen, love of peace drives Achilles from his home. Thetis disguises him as a girl, sending him to hide among King Lykomedes' daughters. For a good part of ten years he enjoys a peaceful life on Skyros with the princess Deidameia, and now leaves his young son in her arms. But when Achilles leaves for the war, he leaves his peaceful life willingly. Commanding his Myrmidons, he leads them in arms in the service and love of fairness.

If Achilles can no longer have peace in his life, he will at least have love. For most of the next ten years, Briseis brings comfort and love to Achilles in his tent every night after long days of war. When Agamemnon removes Briseis to his tent, Achilles' love for her drives his next action. He restores to himself a kind of personal peace by swearing abstention from battle. Achilles lives his life with disciplined passion, doing everything wholeheartedly, or wholeheartedly refusing to do it. He swings like the shining scales on a balance, adding his weight here, removing it there, maintaining his value of fairness.

Soon the scales swing again, with the death of his best friend, Patroklos, and Achilles springs back into action. With peace and love now both fully vanquished, he is driven instead to chase glory. Glory is another aspect of love, rendering the one glorified beloved. He is so skilled at the art of chase only his reputation can outrun him. And shining in new armor fitting lightly as wings, Achilles flies as on wings of passion. More awesome than charisma, he possesses command; no woman or man can resist him. Every Trojan sees a wargod racing toward him, filled with righteous fury. Every Trojan he sees is a destroyer of peace, protecting a guilty thief. Achilles wins no glory for slaughter, but rather for settling the score. He wins for righting the scales of fairness on the battlefield of war.

Achilles is the quintessential warrior, carrying the quintessential shield. In its purest essence a shield is a protection device, and Achilles' shield is a device so pure that its creation seems a work of pure genius. It is so beautiful, it has the power to stop an enemy in his tracks, and by this mistake, rendering him an easy target. Face to face with Achilles, any enemy might pause to gaze at his extraordinary shield. The entire shield is a symbol of life, so eloquently symbolic that the quickest gaze of the hardiest warrior finds something lovingly familiar. It takes his breath away, and in that instant he falls at the feet of Achilles. We can only wonder if it is the shield or the sword that kills him, dying at the hands of Achilles. The shield is Achilles' quintessential defense, emblazoned with emblems of a happy life, and emblems of war's horror for deterrence. It is an earnest prescription, a brilliant device in shining defense of peace.

"We can feel the whole life of the Homeric world stirring and moving and going on its way behind the events of the story," is the way Owen looks at Achilles' shield. He continues, "The countryside with its farms, vineyards and pasture lands, scenes of hunting and all the homely crafts, nature in its beauty and calm, and in its storms and terrors - we are thus enabled to see it all without straying from the battlefield."4 "But obviously," says Stobart, "an idealising poet in describing such objects permits his imagination to excel anything he has ever seen or heard of. Besides, it was wrought by the lame god Hephaistos, and the gods do not make armour such as you can buy at the shop."5 Hogan widens the scope, insisting, "nothing so comprehensive and detailed as this could ever have been seen by Homer or his audience."6 And, finally, "Detailed reconstruction of the shield is impossible," states Webster,7 slamming the door shut in our faces.

For many scholars, Achilles' shield is purely symbolic. Gardner says it is symbolic, but representing nothing more than an elaborate work of art. He believes, "though many scenes and figures in varied action are described, there is no attempt to represent or to illustrate a mythical story, or even an actual event. All the scenes are merely typical events of town and country life, in peace and war."8 Ferruci sees it more broadly symbolic, "round in shape, encircled by a representation of the Ocean River, which is also the outer boundary of the earth, and with the sun, the moon, and all the constellations depicted in the center, it is a compendium of the cosmos."9

Beautifully perceptive, Clarke expands our imagination further. "Hephaestus is its maker," he explains, "just as fire produces all things; he makes the shield at night, just as all matter was created out of the chaos of a primal night; ...he makes it out of gold, silver, bronze, and tin, which are the metal equivalents of the four elements, ether, air, water, and earth. ...The shield itself is round like the world and has five zones, which correspond to the five zones of the earth."10 Taking flight, Ferruci soars higher on wings of enlightened consciousness, exclaiming, "This is the significance of Achilleus' shield. As an image of the hero's consciousness, it reflects the cosmos while representing it, and is thus the first symbolic image of art's capacity to function as a stereoscope. ...As a similar situation recurs in every great book, the paradox of writing is continually magnified. The first model of reality has been created, the first work contains its own interpretation; art has already the power to formulate art. The cosmos contains the poem, in which resides the shield - the shield that reflects the universe. The poem becomes an image of the cosmos so complete as to discourage any attempt to compete with it."11

Taking flight with Ferruci, we risk flying too close to the sun. Turn back at the first scent of singeing feathers and return to the shield at hand. The scenes are metaphorical recreations of life. The images used are ancient motifs, current with Homer's culture. Like the stained glass windows of many Christian churches, the scenes tell a story; they hope to teach a lesson. The first scene, in the center of the shield, is undeniably a metaphor for the earth in its heavenly environment. To find the message, to learn the lesson, explore the next three rings.

The first ring is a metaphor for city life, with associated motifs of social control. Here are people interested in established limits of behavior in order to maintain the peace. Weddings signify legal relationships; one man accosting another man in the marketplace signifies legal accountability for illegal behavior; and a trial by judges unquestionably signifies legal justice for all. This is a true coalition of the willing, willing to address what is right and wrong, willing to abide by social and self control. If I am not accountable for my behavior, nothing will stop me from robbing my neighbor if I see he has something I want. But if, as a thief, I will be thrown into jail, I prefer to be a peaceful neighbor. The seed of government grows or dies according to the perceived need for peace.

The second ring is metaphorical war, the result of man's jealousy, passion or greed pushing him to exceed the limits of social control. The city of Troy, with its encircling wall and massive gates, could not protect her citizens from the inevitable punishment coming. When the son of a king steals another king's wife, retribution follows closely behind. The moral begins to clarify, studying the shield's scenes of war. Even if Ares and Athena lead them out in battle, or in other words, no matter how high is their technology, or how massive their weapons of destruction, they will still end up victims of Strife, Tumult and Fate. Everyone suffers and most will die, trampled in the mud and the blood with their brothers.12

Ring 3 follows naturally after ring 2. After war, life retreats to the country. When the war is over, the city is sacked, every good thing is broken, stolen, or burnt. Shops and homes are utterly ruined and there are no more markets. Every salesman-turned-soldier is missing or dead, along with his father and brothers. It is time to pack up the donkey with whatever remains, and head back to the village, to Grandma. Time to return to tilling the fields, reaping the grain and gathering the juicy sweet grapes. At least the lions do not carry swords, and there are fewer of them than the soldiers who came to steal all the goods and destroy the entire city. Soon enough Grandma's home in the country will become crowded again, when young sons bring home wives from the dances. Soon enough there will be a surplus of goods, and the young people will rebuild the cities.

The waves on the rim are the generations of men destined to repeat this cycle. Look again from the beginning and see the full message, clear now to those who can see. The earth, moon and sun and stars in the center are unable to change their cycles. But the cycle of war and peace, while predictably repetitive, are not really involuntary. This is a lesson about social control, about fairness and valuing peace. The shield is Achilles' quintessential defense, earnestly defending peace.



1. Homer's Iliad Book 19, line 423.

2. Homer's Iliad Book 21, line 104.

3. Homer's Iliad Book 24, line 765.

4. Owen, S. T. pg. 189.

5. Stobart, J. C. pg. 47.

6. Hogan, J. C. pg. 239-40.

7. Webster, T. B. L. pg. 214.

8. Gardner, E. A. pg. 27-28.

9. Ferruci, F. pg. 29.

10. Clarke, H. pg. 80.

11. Ferruci, F. pg. 30-31.