The Shield of Achilles (from Book XVIII)

The Iliad
from Book XVIII

Achilles' Shield

Silver-footed Thetis                                                                          369
came to the palace of Hephaistos,
a palace imperishable and so devised
as to seem  set among the stars,
made all of bronze and indeed
the most extraordinary of immortal palaces,
and of course the crooked-footed deity himself had constructed it.
She found him all perspiring 
as he rushed about
twisting to and fro with his pair of bellows;
for he was busy making 
                           twenty tripod cauldrons
to stand about the wall of his messauges.
He put golden wheels beneath each leg of them,
that they might enter the assemblies of the gods
and return again to his palace
quite on their own, a wonder to see.
They were all but completed--
only the ear-handles, cunningly fashioned,
were not yet fastened on them.                                                           379
He had accomplished this much
and was hammering the rivets,
and while he worked at these things,
the goddess Thetis, with silver feet, approached him.
Fair Charis, with glimmering veil,
whom the famous lame deity had taken to wife--
Charis saw her descending
and took her by the hands
and spoke and addressed her:                                                             384

"Why, O trim-robed Thetis, have you come to our abode,
though certainly revered by us and welcome?
But first do follow me,
that I might set before you
things appropriate for a visitor."

So saying, the radiant goddess led her,
and she sat her down on a throne studded with silver,
beautiful and intricately crafted,
and a foot stool was beneath it, 
and she called to Hephaistos, famous craftsman, and said to him:       391

"Come here,  Hephaistos; Thetis needs something from you."

The famous lame one responded:

"Well, then, indeed, a most honored deity is in our halls.
It was she that once saved me
when I was in pain
from that long fall I suffered
through the will of my dog-eyed mother.
She wanted to hide me away because I was lame,
and would have undergone 
much torment in my spirit
if Thetis and Eurynomê had not 
                                              welcomed me to their breasts--
Eurynomê,  daughter 
of backward flowing Okeanos.                          399
For nine years while with them,
I forged much intricate craftwork:
neck chains, curling brooches,  twisted fastenings.
The unspeakable streams of Okeanos
with murmuring foam flowed around us.
No gods or mortals knew of it 
but Thetis and Eurynomê.                   495
And Thetis now has come into our home
so it behooves me to pay 
the emolument due her
for saving my life.
So do set before her
fair things to entertain a visitor,
while I put away my bellows and my other tools."                                        409

Thus Hephaistos.
And from behind the anvil block
a monstrous limping, panting thing arose;
and yet beneath him
his slender leggings nimbly skooted along.                                        441
He set down the bellows away from the fire
and gathered the rest of the instruments
with which he was wont to labor
into a silver chest,
and, with a sponge, 
he wiped his countenance,
and bathed his neck
and shaggy breast
and he put on a chiton
and grasped a stout scepter
and walked back limping.                                                                    416
Mechanical golden handmaids
skooted about nimbly
in support of their lord.
They'd been fashioned to seem living maidens
                                                    with a mind in their breasts
and savoir faire for craftwork
granted by the immortal gods.                                                             420
And they busied themselves 
in support of their lord
from beneath him,
and he, with labored steps
drew near to Thetis,
who sat on a shining chair.
He took her hand and spoke to address her:                                        423

"Why, O trim-robed Thetis
do you come to our abode?
You never favored us with a visit before now.
Say what is on your mind.
My heart bids me fulfill it 
if fulfill it I can,
and if it's the sort of thing to be fulfilled."

Thetis answered him then, her tears a-streaming.                                 428

"O Hephaistos--who of the goddesses on Olympos
has suffered as many painful cares as I--
cares that Zeus son of Kronos has put upon her?
Of all the daughters of the sea
he forced me to marry a mortal--
Peleus, son of Aiakos--
and I suffered the bed of the man
very much against my desire,
and now he lies in his halls
conquered by grievous old age,
though other matters than these afflict me now.                                   438
Zeus gave me a son to bare and to foster
distinguished among the warriors.
And he shot up like a wild fig tree.
And then when I had reared him like a shoot in an orchard
                                                        best-placed to catch sunrays,
I sent him off in beaked ships to Ilion
to make war on the Trojans.
And I'll never welcome him again
returning to the palace of Peleus,
and though he lives and sees the light of the sun,
he knows only sorrow
and I am unable to help him, 
though I go to him.                                                                               444
The girl whom the son of the Achaians
awarded him as a guerdon,
Lord Agamemnon has snatched right out of his arms.                          445
And indeed he was eating his heart out
                                          on account of him. 
But the Trojans had trapped the Achaians
                                                      by the sterns of the ships
and would not allow them an exit,
and the elders of the Argives beseeched him
and named many glorious gifts for him;
and though he himself
refused to ward off their ruin,
he put his battle-gear on Patroklos
and sent him into the war
and provided a considerable army to boot.
They fought all day about the Skaian gates,
and on that day they should have sacked the city,
the valiant son of Menoitios
having done much damage,
had Apollo not slain him
among the frontline fighters
and given the glory to Hektor.                                                              456
On account of all this
I come to your knees
that you might be willing to give to my son,
whose doom comes swift upon him,
a shield and four-horned head-gear,
corselet and handsome greaves
fitted out with ankle pieces,
for the gear that was his was lost 
when his friend was slain by the Trojans,
and now my son lies writhing 
                          in anguish on the ground."                                         461

The famous lame deity responded:

"Take courage; do not let these matters
further trouble your heart.
If only I could hide him 
away from grievous death
when his dread fate comes upon him--
but handsome battle-gear shall belong to him
that many men in later times will marvel at."                                        467 

So saying he left her there
and went back to his bellows
and turned them toward the fire
and commanded them to start functioning.
Twenty bellows in all blew on the vats.
Each puffed out suitably to shoot up
whatever sort of breath-blast was required,
some puffing presently, some presently shut off--
however Hephaistos might wish it to further the work.
He threw bronze in the fire, indefatigable metal,
and tin, and precious gold,
and silver.
And he placed a giant anvil 
on the anvil block
and took up in one hand
a big hammer,
in the other he took up the tongs.                                                        475

First he created the shield, massive and stable,      
each segment intricately elaborated.
Around it he cast
a glowing rim
with triple-thickness, all glittering,
and a silver baldric attached to it. 
The shield had five layers,
upon each of which he'd created
numerous elaborate devices
and upon which considerable 
ingenuity was lavished.                                                                       482

On it he created the earth,
                       on it the heavens,
                                   on it the sea,
indefatigable Helios,
                  and the moon at the full,
and all the constellations
with which the heavens are crowned:
the Pleiades and the Hyades and mighty Orion
and the Bear,  that they also call
by a second name: the Wagon.
It turns about itself
and ever keeps an eye on 
who alone of the constellations
has no part 
            in the baths of Okeanos.                                                          489

And on it he created two cities of mortal humans, very beautiful.
In one of them were weddings and drink-feasts.
They were leading the brides
out of their bridal bowers
to the city,
guided by luminous torches,
and the bridal anthem went up audibly.
Young men whirled in the dance
and among them lyres and flutes
kept up the music.
And the women were standing admiringly,
each in front of her door.
But the people were gathered in the place for assembly.
A dispute had arisen.
Two men were striving concerning 
                                     the blood-price for a homicide.
One swore he'd paid up entirely
and was making his case
in front of the people.
The other refused to accept it.                                                           500
Both agreed to take the matter to an arbiter.
The people were persuaded by both of them,
lending succor to each by turns,
and the heralds had to hold back the people. 
The elders sat on polished stones
in a sacred circle,
grasping in their hands by turns
the scepters of the loud heralds.
And each stoop up in turn
and delivered his decision.
In a central place 
amdist it all
lay two talents of gold
to be given to the one among them
who pronounced the most righteous judgment.                                508

About the other city
sat two camps of men
in shining battle-gear.
They were considering a pair of strategies:
whether to divide in two
the wealth contained within the handsome citadel
or rather to sack it.
The city's people would hear nothing 
of the first alternative
and had withdrawn to form an ambuscade.
Dear wives and innocent children were guarding the wall
on which they stood
together with the men
whom old age had overtaken.                                                                 515
The rest were on the march.
Arês and Pallas Athena
constructed of gold
and clad in golden raiment
led them.
They were huge and beautiful and conspicuous
                                                        as is befitting deities.
Diminutive were the people beneath them.
And when they arrived at the place to prepare their ambush--
it was in a river bed--a watering hole
for every sort of grazing animal--
they settled there
clothed in shining bronze.
And then two sentinels
went to their posts
far from the armies,
and waited to catch sight of flocks of white sheep 
and herds of cattle
with helical horns.                                                                                 524
And soon these did come by
and two shepherds along with them
playing on reed pipes
completely unaware of the stratagem;
and the men rushed them
and cut off the herds of cattle
and the handsome flocks of white sheep
and slaughtered the herdsmen.                                                              529
And the leaders of the siege,
when they heard the great disturbance among the animals
as they sat in counsel,
mounted their high-stepping horses
and were off to see what it was
and quickly reached the site of it.
And both armies set their troops in order
and fought a battle by the river bank
and were going at one another with bronze javelins,
and Strife was there and Uproar and ruinous Fate,
taking one man alive, newly wounded,
another not wounded at all,
another--a dead one--dragged by the feet through the fray.
And the cloak Strife wore on her shoulders
was red with the blood of men.
And as if they were living mortals, these deities
joined the battle and fought
and dragged off the corpses
of each other's slain.                                                                       540

And he placed on the shield
a field, soft and fallow,
rich and broad,
to be ploughed three times over,
and over it many ploughmen
were turning their yokes
and driving them down and back,
and whenever they came to the turning point
at the end of the field,
a man came forth and put in their hands
a cup of honey-sweet wine,
and thus would they turn the furrows,
eager to arrive at the end of deep-soiled fallow field rows.
And behind the ploughmen as they proceeded
the field turned black
and appeared just as if it had indeed been ploughed
though it still was gold,
such was the wonder of the craft of it.                                           549

And he put upon it
a plot of land
separated off for a king,
and workers wielding sharp sickles in their hands.                        552
Swathes of cut grain were falling to the ground
                                                           along the rows
while binders were binding others with straw bands.
Three binders stood there,
while boys behind them gathered in the crook of their arms
                                                                         the fallen swathes
to furnish them to the binders with alacrity.
And the King stood among them in silence
holding his scepter 
before the harvest scene,
his heart rejoicing.                                                                         557
Heralds, some distance off
beneath an oak tree
were readying a feast,
dressing a mighty ox
they'd slaughtered for sacrifice,
and the women were sprinkling white barley
for a porridge
for the workmen.                                                                           560

And he put upon it a great vineyard
with heavy grape clusters--
the vineyard was gold and beautiful
and the bunches were black,
and everywhere the vines were supported
by silver poles.
All around the vineyard
he drove a ditch
in blue-black enamel,
and about that a fence of tin.
One solitary path went through it,
and on it the vine-workers walked
when they gathered a vintage.                                                       566
Maidens and children in childish exuberance
carried the honey-sweet fruit
                                  in wicker baskets.
And among them a boy played sweetly
on a clear-toned lyre
and sang the lovely Linos melody
to mourn the end of summer
with his small boy's voice.
His companions, beating time with their feet,
followed along
amidst dancing and general celebratory shouting.                       572

And on it he created a herd of straight-horned cattle.
The cows were made of gold and tin
and were on the move, all bellowing,
from farmstead to pasture
along a murmuring river
along the waving reeds.                                                               576
Four golden shepherds 
walked with the cattle.
Nine swift wild-footed dogs
followed along.
But two ferocious lions
among the front-most cattle
had seized a bellowing bull
and he was groaning mightily
while being dragged from the herd,
and the dog and youths pursued them.                                       580
The lions had ripped open the skin of the ox
and were gulping down its black blood
                                                       and eating the innards,
and the shepherds were sicking the hounds upon them
in the hopes of fighting them off,
but the hounds shrank from sinking their teeth in the lions
and stood nearby barking
and springing aside.                                                                   586

And on it the famous lame deity
created a pasture
in a beautiful valley--
a long pasture
for white fleecy sheep
and he created a farmstead 
and roofed huts
and sheep pens.

And on it the famous lame deity created
with intricate art
a dance floor
like the one that Daidalos created in broad Knossos
for Ariadne of the beautiful tresses.                                           592
And youths and maidens
                          that bring many cows as a bride-price
were dancing,
holding each other's hands, gripped by the wrists.
The maidens were clad in light linen garments,
the youths wore fine-spun chitons
                                         gleaming slightly with oil;
and the maidens had beautiful chaplets,
and the youths had golden daggers
that hung from baldrics of silver.
And they were twirling about with dexterous steps
and particular lightness and grace of foot,
just like a potter
sitting with his wheel
fitted between his palms to test it out
to see how it would turn--
and then they'd rush in lines
towards one another.                                                                  602
And a great throng was there to enjoy it
standing around the dance floor,
and two tumblers
tumbled up and down
in the midst of it
as leaders of the dance.                                                              605

And on it he put the great force
of the river Okeanos
at the edge of the rim
of the tight-wrought shield.                                                       608

And when he had finished the shield, massive and stable,
he made a corselet, brighter than firelight
and a heavy helmet 
to fit snug to Achilles' temples
handsome and ornamented intricately,
and he put a gold crest upon it
and he made him greaves
of pliant tin.

And when the famous lame deity
had labored to create these articles of battle-gear,
he laid them out before Achilles' mother
and she, like a falcon, swooped down from snowy Olympos
bearing the shining battle-gear from Hephaistos.                     615