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BOOK XVIII: The New Armor of Achilles

Summary

Since Achilles has received no news from the battlefield, he ponders the fate of Patroclos and assumes his friend has probably disregarded the warnings he has given him about attacking Troy or Hector. As he thinks about Patroclos, the messenger arrives to tell him the sad news of his death. The grief of the hero is so great that he throws himself on the ground and his laments reach Thetis and the Nereids, who dwell far under the sea. His mother, therefore, arises from her watery abode to comfort Achilles. He tells Thetis that his heart is filled with sorrow for not helping Patroclos and his fellow warriors to fight the Trojans. He announces he will now return to the battlefield. Although she fears that her son will be killed by Hector, Thetis knows it is the right decision for Achilles. She promises to go to the god of fire and ask him to make new armor for her son.

After the departure of his mother, Achilles is visited by Iris, who has been sent by Hera. She tells Achilles that he should place himself near the ditch so that the Trojans can clearly see him. Athena aids him further by putting a blaze of fire around his head and giving him a far-sounding voice. When Achilles returns to the battlefield, he shouts loudly and frightens the Trojans away. He then sees the body of his dead friend, which intensifies his grief. He promises to kill Hector and sacrifice twelve Trojan warriors on the funeral pyre of Patroclos.

Concerned about the reappearance of Achilles, the Trojans hold an assembly to decide upon a plan of action. Polydamas, the Trojan seer, recommends a retreat to the citadel, but Hector refuses to run. Consumed by excessive zeal, he seems unafraid of Achilles and is eager to continue the battle in the open field.

When Thetis arrives on Mt. Olympus, she is ushered into the workshop of the fire god. She relates all that has happened to the Greeks and Achilles and asks him to make her son some new armor. He agrees and prepares himself for the task. He then fashions a helmet, a corselet, and a shield, on which he depicts the great universe.


Notes

In the first section of Book XVIII, Homer describes how Achilles is affected by the death of Patroclos. His laments are so loud that his mother hears them in her home below the sea. She arises to comfort Achilles, who admits to her that he has erred in not helping Patroclos and the other Greek warriors on the battlefield. He says that his anger and pride have taken away his humanity. Now he must return to the fight to avenge the death of his friend and defeat the Trojans, just as Zeus has planned. Thetis, afraid for her son's safety, tries in vain to change his mind. When she realizes that Achilles is determined to return to the battlefield, she promises him that she will have the fire god make him a new suit of armor for protection.

The change of heart in Achilles, initiated by himself, marks the climax of the book. The hero has overcome his weakness by facing the truth about himself. He will now return to the battlefield with a new suit of armor (equaling a new identity). His presence will ensure a Greek victory over the Trojans, fulfilling the master plan of Zeus.

The gods immediately come to the aid of Achilles. Iris brings a message from Hera, stating that Achilles should stand clearly before the Trojans, who will be frightened away by his mere appearance. Athena aids him further by putting a ring of fire around his head and giving him a strong, new voice.

Thetis goes to the fire god, who agrees to make new armor for Achilles. He carefully creates the new shield, composed of five bands from the center outward: the first band depicts the sun, moon, and stars (the heavens); the second band shows two cities - - one at peace, one at war; the third band pictures the seasons - ploughing, reaping, and gathering the grapes; the fourth band gives scenes from pastoral life; and the fifth, outermost band depicts the sea. Through these images, the fire god captures the complete world of Achilles, the world of the Greek hero.

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