In Homer’s “The Iliad” and Virgil’s “The Aeneid,” the epic heroes Achilles and Aeneas are each gifted with a mighty sword. In “The Iliad,” Achilles receives a sword that is made by the god Hephaestus, while Aeneas in “The Aeneid” is bestowed with a sword that is crafted by Vulcan. Both of the swords are symbolic in the epic poems as they each depict scenes of war and peace from ancient times and they are both prophetic as to the destinies of Achilles and Aeneas.
Achilles’ sword is intricately designed by Hephaestus and is described as “great and massive” (558) with “a silver shield -strap run from edge to edge and five layers of metal” (561-562). Emblazoned on the shield are images of the universe, the sun, the moon, and the constellations, and also the images of two cities containing conflicting scenes. One city that is depicted shows a place that is at peace filled with weddings and festivals, but the second city is quite different. Its image is that of a city at war with “a divided army” (593) and scenes of battle.
Aeneas’ sword, like Achilles’, is also finely crafted, made by Vulcan and given to Aeneas by Venus. Unlike the contrasting scenes of war and peace that are displayed on Achilles’ shield, Aeneas’ shield shows the momentous events that will occur in the future glory that is Rome. The story of Remus and Romulus, the twins who built Rome, is told on Aeneas’ shield, as well as the glorious battles of Augustus Caesar. The themes displayed on Aeneas’ shield suggest that of a promising future.
Although both of the heroes possess similar shields that are made with fine detail, the story told on Achilles’ shield is not as hopeful as the one told on Aeneas’. The two cities on Achilles’ shield that represent war and peace are direct opposites of each other and suggest an unbalance in the world that will not be righted during Achilles’ lifetime, perhaps prophesizing Achilles’ imminent death in battle. Aeneas’ shield depicts the greatness of the future of Rome. His shield is not at all divided like Achilles’ shield, but instead it is hopeful, uplifting, and united, perhaps a prediction of the prominence of the role that Aeneas will play in the founding of Rome. Both shields hold significant symbolic value to the bearer of them in each poem and the differences between the shields represent the very different endings that each of the heroes encounters.
Homer. “The Illiad.” The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: the Western Traditon-7th Edition. Ed. Mack Maynard. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,1999.
Virgil. “The Aeneid.” The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: the Western Traditon-7th Edition. Ed. Mack Maynard. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,1999.