From Wikipedia: The Iliad - Achilles - Hephaestus - Thetis - Auden's poem

The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.

Achilles' name can be analyzed as a combination of ákhos "distress, pain, sorrow, grief" and laós "people, soldiers, nation", resulting in a proto-form Akhí-lāu̯os "he who has the people distressed" or "he whose people have distress". The grief or distress of the people is a theme raised numerous times in the Iliad (and frequently by Achilles himself). Achilles' role as the hero of grief or distress forms an ironic juxtaposition with the conventional view of him as the hero of kléos ("glory", usually in war). Furthermore, laós has been construed by Gregory Nagy, following Leonard Palmer, to mean "a corps of soldiers", a muster. With this derivation, the name obtains a double meaning in the poem: when the hero is functioning rightly, his men bring distress to the enemy, but when wrongly, his men get the grief of war. The poem is in part about the misdirection of anger on the part of leadership.

The Rage of Achilles , fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1757, Villa Valmarana ai Nani, Vicenza) From Wikimedia Commons. Angered by Hector's killing of Patroclus (Achilles' cousin/friend/lover), Achilles enters a rage, kills Hector, then drags his body disrespectfully through the dirt.

The Rage of Achilles, fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1757, Villa Valmarana ai Nani, Vicenza) From Wikimedia Commons. Angered by Hector's killing of Patroclus (Achilles' cousin/friend/lover), Achilles enters a rage, kills Hector, then drags his body disrespectfully through the dirt.

Hephaestus is the Greek god of blacksmiths, metalworking, carpenters, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes.Hephaestus' Roman equivalent is Vulcan. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the gods. In another version, he was Hera's parthenogenous child, rejected by his mother because of his deformity and thrown off Mount Olympus and down to earth. [...] As a smithing god, Hephaestus made all the weapons of the gods in Olympus. He served as the blacksmith of the gods, and was worshipped in the manufacturing and industrial centers of Greece, particularly Athens. Hephaestus had his own palace on Olympus, containing his workshop with anvil and twenty bellows that worked at his bidding. Hephaestus crafted much of the magnificent equipment of the gods, and almost any finely wrought metalwork imbued with powers that appears in Greek myth is said to have been forged by Hephaestus. He designed Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite's famed girdle, Agamemnon's staff of office, Achilles' armor, Heracles' bronze clappers, Helios's chariot, the shoulder of Pelops, and Eros's bow and arrows.

Thetis (Achilles' mother, the "she" in Auden's poem): a figure from Greek mythology with varying mythological roles. She mainly appears as a sea nymph, a goddess of water, or one of the 50 Nereids, daughters of the ancient sea god Nereus. [...] Some sources argue that she was one of the earliest of deities worshipped in Archaic Greece, the oral traditions and records of which are lost. Only one written record, a fragment, exists attesting to her worship and an early Alcman hymn exists that identifies Thetis as the creator of the universe. [...] In the Trojan War cycle of myth, the wedding of Thetis and the Greek hero Peleus is one of the precipitating events in the war which also led to the birth of their child Achilles. [...] Most extant material about Thetis concerns her role as mother of Achilles, but there is some evidence that as the sea-goddess she played a more central role in the religious beliefs and practices of Archaic Greece. In Iliad I, Achilles recalls to his mother her role in defending, and thus legitimizing, the reign of Zeus against an incipient rebellion [...].

Thetis Receiving Armour for Achilles from Hephaestus  (Rubens, 1577-1640)

Thetis Receiving Armour for Achilles from Hephaestus (Rubens, 1577-1640)

The Shield of Achilles is the shield that Achilles uses in his fight with Hector, famously described in a passage in Book 18, lines 478–608 of Homer's Iliad. The intricately detailed imagery on the shield has inspired many different interpretations of its significance, with no definitive answer. [...] In the poem, Achilles lends Patroclus his armor in order to lead the Achaean army into battle. Ultimately, Patroclus is killed in battle by Hector, and Achilles' armor is stripped from his body and taken by Hector as spoils. The loss of his best friend (often times, called soul mate), prompts Achilles to return to battle, so his mother Thetis, a nymph, asks the god Hephaestus to provide replacement armor for her son. He obliges, and forges a shield with spectacular decorative imagery.

The Shield of Achilles can be read in a variety of different ways. One interpretation is that the shield represents a microcosm of civilization, in which all aspects of life are shown. The depiction of law suggests the existence of social order within one city, while feuding armies depict a darker side of humanity. The imagery of nature and the universe also reinforce the belief that the shield is a microcosm of Greek life, as it can be seen as a reflection of their perception of the world. Also, the sun and the moon are shown shining simultaneously, which some consider representative of a general understanding of the universe and awareness to the cosmological order of life and as such, its akin to a mandala of antiquity. [...] The shield shows images of conflict and discord by depicting the shield’s layers as a series of contrasts – i.e. war and peace, work and festival. Wolfgang Schadewaldt, a German writer, argues that these intersecting antitheses show the basic forms of a civilized, essentially orderly life. This contrast is also seen as a way of making “us…see [war] in relation to peace.".

Auden's poem (1952) is written in two different stanza forms, one form with shorter lines, the other with longer lines. The stanzas with shorter lines describe the making of the shield by the god Hephaestus, and report the scenes that Achilles' mother, the Nereid Thetis [a water goddess], expects to find on the shield and which Hephaestus, in Auden's version, does not make. Thetis expects to find scenes of happiness and peace like those described by Homer.

Both graphics from

Both graphics from

How do positive (green) and neutral (blue) aspects of the poem contrast with -- and lead to -- negative aspects?  1) Setting: Where — and how — does Auden go from one setting to the next? What constitutes and accompanies each setting? Where are the settings vague in terms of objects, actions, and figures, and where are they specific? Why the difference?  2) Time: Why is the poem’s date (1952) relevant? Why is the time difference between Ancient Greece and mid-20th Century Europe relevant? 5) Theme: What is Auden saying about the devastation of war and about peace vs. war and civilization vs. barbarism?

shiueld jpeg.jpeg
Dresden, Germany, before and after the Allied bombing of this city which had no military target and was an asylum for war refugees (from The Allies bombed from Feb 13-15, 1945 -- more or less on Valentine's Day...

Dresden, Germany, before and after the Allied bombing of this city which had no military target and was an asylum for war refugees (from The Allies bombed from Feb 13-15, 1945 -- more or less on Valentine's Day...


Jupiter and Thetis, Ingres, 1810 (Museo Granet): "She sank to the ground beside him, put her left arm round his knees, raised her right hand to touch his chin, and so made her petition to the Royal Son of Cronos" (Iliad, I.) - from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia: Jupiter and Thetis is an 1811 painting by the French neoclassical painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, in the Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, France. Painted when the artist was yet 31, the work severely and pointedly contrasts the grandeur and might of a cloud-born Olympian male deity against that of a diminutive and half nude nymph. Ingres' subject matter is borrowed from an episode in Homer's Iliad when the sea nymph Thetis begs Jupiter to intervene and guide the fate of her son Achilles; who was at the time embroiled in the Trojan War.

The painting is steeped in the traditions of both classical and neoclassical art, most notably in its grand scale of 136⅝ × 101¼ inches. Ingres creates many visual contrasts between the god and the slithering nymph: Jupiter is shown facing the viewer frontally with both his arms and legs spread broadly across the canvas, while the color of his dress and flesh echos that of the marble at his feet. In contrast, Thetis is rendered in sensuous curves and portrayed in supplication to the mercy of a cruel god who holds the fate of her son in his hands. Thetis' right hand falls on Jupiter's hip with a suggestion of erotic caress, while the dark green of her dress accents the dread and foreboding of the bare landscape behind. Her clothing is drawn up against her lower hip, and seems about to fall off. The focal point of the work is Thetis' left hand extended vertically upright as she attempts to stroke the beard of the god.


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