Gagnon the Agony of Homer

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The Agony of Homer: What is the Shield of Achilles to Us? Jennifer M. Gagnon Chapter One of Agonistic Politics, Contest, and the Oresteia Prepared for the University of Minnesota Political Theory Colloquium October 22, 2010 "if all men, by the act of being born, are destined to suffer violence, that is a truth to which the empire of circumstances closes their minds."1 “the toil was endless, the victory unaccomplished, the contest unjudged;”2 The Iliad, called the poem of force by Simone Weil, glorifies the contestations and deeds of heroes caught up in the ever-tightening net of the Trojan War. Book 18 marks a significant turning point in the action of the Iliad. It is here that Achilles ends his withdrawal from battle, and it is the shield and armor forged for him by the smith-god Hephaestus that enables him to seek revenge against Hector for the slaying of his dearest friend and comrade Patroclus. Awash in the agony of his grief, Achilles determines to ignore the warnings of his goddess mother Thetis that his own death will follow quickly on the heels of his revenge. Once the mortal Achilles is newly armed in the armor fashioned for him by the immortal Hephaestus, the events that will ultimately lead to the destruction of Troy and the defeat of her protector Hector are set in motion. Since Hephaestus cannot “hide him away from death and its sorrow,”3 he agrees to make Achilles a set of armor so fine “that any man in the world of men will marvel at through all the years to come – whoever sees its splendor.”4 However, the imagery that Hephaestus selects to place on Achilles’ shield is not that which the audience would have 1 Simone Weil, "The Iliad, Poem of Might," in The Simone Weil Reader, ed. George A. Panichas (New York: David McKay Company, 1977). p. 163. 2 Hesiod, Shield trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis, Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days, Shield
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