The Iliad Symbolism – Overview of Symbols in Homer’s Iliad

Iliad Symbolism – Introduction

The Iliad takes place during the last year of the Trojan War, which is said to have lasted for approximately 10 years. The era during which the war took place is known as the Bronze Age due to the widespread usage of tools and devices made from bronze that enhanced human living.

In the arts and philosophy worlds, the Bronze Age (around 13th century B.C.) is also supposed to have been the age during which humans strived to live as god-like as possible, so exceptional morals and super-human trait were celebrated, admired, and sought after during this time. The region in which this poem’s action takes place is mostly the Trojan and Achaean (Greek) regions. Some action also takes place elsewhere such as Mount Olympus.

The motifs in this poem are strong representations of the ideals and values commonly found during the Bronze Age. The motifs consist of armor, burial, and fire. These three commonly noticed elements in the story show the importance of super-human strength (armor), the importance that man live with as much honor and seeking after as much glory as possible because he will eventually die and will leave behind only words and impacts (burial), and the intense passion, and therefore glory, that comes from war (fire).

Symbols in The Iliad

Here is a list of major symbols in the Iliad.

  • The Shield of Achilles
  • The Achaean Ships

Symbols in Homer’s Iliad

symbols in the Iliad

The Shield of Achilles

Although war is absolutely glorified by Homer in this epic poem, it is not without picking up on what is lost from serving in a war. A soldier must give up his personal and family life or else risk dishonoring all those who know him. The characters who refuse to fight or who do so half-heartedly are looked down upon whereas those who make these extreme sacrifices are able to secure honor and glory for their family names.

Achilles’s shield represents this with its depiction of what normal life would look like in peacetime rather than this decade-long war they have all been suffering from. This suggests that serving in battle is truly only one aspect of live even though its consequences hold so much weight. Children are depicted in play on this shield and artisans and laborers work as they normally would. This suggests that although serving in the war is the ultimate way to achieve glory, there is significant glory in life outside of wartime as well. 

The Achaean Ships

The ships by which the Achaean warriors travel symbolize the future of their race. They can either symbolize the army’s glory or its defeat—either way, the soldiers will have to return home on these ships.

Regardless of a victory or defeat, the ships carry an exceptional amount of glory. Even if they suffered a defeat, they would carry home the bodies of those who honorably sacrificed their lives for the sake of the families back home. In terms of the Trojan war, a defeat of the Achaeans would mean uncertainty for the continuation of the Greek civilization. A victory would be the continuation of a proud and mighty race of people.