The Significance of Achilles’ Shield

Known as the “Mask of Agamemnon,” this exquisite funerary mask is made of gold, c. 16th century BCE. It was found in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann in Tomb V at Mycenae, Greece. Currently on display in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece.

Searching for an Ancient Paradox

How convenient it is to ascribe such glorious handiwork to the hands of a god. But if archaeology has not, or has not yet, found any physical evidence to support Homer’s literal description of a shield such as Achilles’, who are we to deny it?

Of course, if Homer was truly blind, as some believe, our paradox grows more paradoxical. We are searching for a shield described in intimate detail by a reportedly blind poet – a shield no one has ever seen, possibly not even the one describing it, and he says it is the handiwork of a god, whom we comprehend as a sophisticated, imaginary creation of deified, personified allegory.

Thus, for many centuries the locations of Troy and Mycenae and all of the events of the Trojan War were considered mythical. Born in 1822, Heinrich Schliemann did not agree, but he was an amateur and his opinions were not significant to the scholars of his day. Fortunately, by 1870 Schliemann had enough resources and confidence in himself and in Homer to go have a look, and do a little digging in the dirt. Today we can visit the historical sites of Troy and Mycenae, thanks to Heinrich Schliemann, considered by many to be the Father of Modern Archaeology.

Archaeological Artifacts Provide Proof of Homer’s Accuracy

Gold Funerary Mask, known as the  'Mask of Agamemnon,' ca. 16th century BCE. Found in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann in Tomb V at Mycenae, Greece. Currently on display in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gold Funerary Mask, known as the ‘Mask of Agamemnon,’ ca. 16th century BCE. Found in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann in Tomb V at Mycenae, Greece. Currently on display in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Now in the National Museum of Athens, swords and daggers of bronze, decoratively inlaid with gold and silver characters have been recovered from the fourth and fifth royal tombs of Mycenae. The fifth tomb also contained the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon.” There is no way to know the name of the king for whom this mask was made, but the visage remarkably matches our imagination’s image of the High King of Mycenae, leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. The title, “Mask of Agamemnon” has stuck since this gold funerary mask was first discovered and named by Heinrich Schliemann.

The physical existence of such similarly inlaid weapons provides a very real witness to Homer’s accuracy. The search and unearthing of these glorious treasures fill volumes regarding the physical significance of not only weapons similar to Achilles’ shield, but also the archaeological endeavors ongoing all over the globe. Human history is rendered tangible in the physical form of archaeological artifacts.

In our search for archaeological treasure, we find meaning and significance in our collective human life on Earth. Measurable values are identified in the compelling artistry of our ancient ancestors. The artistic metaphors employed and the moral lessons communicated are equally as significant as the physical reality of the treasure.

With every unearthing of lost archaeological treasure, we gain extraordinarily perceptive records. From this unique perspective we simultaneously gain a telescopic view into the lost and distant past, and a microscopic view of iconic moments in the daily human experience.

This is the extraordinary significance of the shield of Achilles. It is an archaeological treasure buried within the pages of Homer’s Iliad. Not buried under the ancient earth, it is accessible to all, with the same exquisite quality of view, both telescopic and microscopic, as any ancient artifact.

The following articles explore the physical, metaphorical and spiritual significance of Achilles’ shield, employing both telescopic and microscopic focus to enrich the unique perspective.

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Finding Physical Significance in a Literal Shield

The great and classic legend of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans is in fact not a legend about a war. It doesn’t start at the beginning of the war, and the war doesn’t end, but the story does. So the war is not significant, …

Regarding the Metaphorical Motifs on Achilles’ Shield

Achilles is the greatest warrior in history, and yet he hates war with a passion. “Make Love, Not War” could be his motto. Dressed in full armor and mounting his chariot for battle, Achilles vows he will not stop fighting on this day until all the Trojans hate war…

Appreciating the Spiritual Allegories on Achilles’ Shield

Peace is a prize shared equally among the living and the dead. A body not properly laid to rest is a soul unable to find peace; unable to pass on to the hereafter. Any dead body prevented from being buried is still today considered an inhumane atrocity. Patroklos, unburied, complains to Achilles all night long …

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