The Immortal Heroes of Homer’s Iliad Essay

1419 Words 6 Pages
The Immortal Heroes of Homer’s Iliad

In Homer’s Iliad, a warrior can only attain heroism and immortality by embracing an early death. Jean-Pierre Vernant describes this paradox in his essay, “A ‘Beautiful Death’ and the Disfigured Corpse in Homeric Epic.” According to Vernant, heroes accept the fact that life is short and “devote themselves completely and single-mindedly to war, adventure, glory, and death” (53). 1 Curiously, this is because heroes overcome death only when they embrace it (57). The importance of death stems from the fact that the individual is defined by his reputation and esteem among others, as Vernant points out when he argues that

. . . real death lies in amnesia, silence, demeaning obscurity, the absence of
…show more content…
Heroes devote themselves to ideals of strength and bravery, die gloriously on the battlefield, and are immortalized by the poetry of generation (22.304). 2

Many passages in the Iliad demonstrate this heroic endeavor to die a death worthy of future generations’ praise, but most visible among them is the description of the shield of Achilleus. Fashioned by Hephaistos, this shield depicts many scenes, but one scene in particular stands out in its relation to the greater epic—the vineyard. This pastoral scene can be read as a rich allegory of the heroic quest for glory and immortality.

The vineyard’s structure resembles the Achaian camp and the fortifications of war. Hephaistos inscribed on the bronze shield “a field-ditch of dark metal, and drove all around this a fence of tin” (18.564). The combination of ditch and fence recalls the defenses that the Achaians built around their own ships: Poseidon described earlier how the Achaians had “built a wall landward of their ships, and driven about it / a ditch” (7.448). Thus, the shield displays an artistic representation of the Achaian camp.

The contents of the vineyard foreshadow the fate of heroes, to which Achilleus will soon fall victim: “the grapes upon [the shield] were darkened / and the vines themselves stood out through poles of silver” (18.562). The clusters of grapes evoke the countless number of men who were earlier compared to “the swarms of clustering bees that issue forever / in fresh bursts
Open Document