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Armor in the Iliad


Expression is how one chooses to unveil oneself in the eyes of the public; consequently, expression comes into play in almost everything one does. Expression not only comes out through actions, but also through choices and decisions as well; consequently, the choice of apparel is a form of expression, and the clothes themselves in a way reveal a certain aspect of ourselves, and give us a sense of an additional identity clashing with our own to form one entity which is what others perceive us as. In order for this entity to live peacefully or live at all, in the case of Patroclus from The Iliad, our apparel must be our own, made through our own decisions and choices. If our apparel is the result of choices from another, it will betray us because the will of half of the resultant entity will be clashing against our own will, or in the case of Achilles and Hector, it will betray us by giving our opponent the upper hand due to Achilles being at full acquaintance with the armor. In order to ensure a comfortable fit with our apparel, we must craft it ourselves through our everyday choices and actions so that it may express a reflection of ourselves. In Homers The Iliad, armor portrays vigor, fighting spirit, and part of the identity of a person; consequently, by stripping it off the corpse of a fallen soldier that we have killed, we seize permanent proof of our victory in combat. But if we wear the armor of someone else’s decisions and choices, we doom ourselves to a constant fight over our identity vs. the identity and aura of the armor.

Armor is the indestructible identity that will mix with our own mortal identity to form one identity; armor is therefore the permanent proof of victory in combat. This intermingling of identities is shown right after Achilles receives the armor forged by Hephastos, god of fire. At first sight, the aura of the armor scared “all the Myrmidon ranks – none dared to look straight at the glare, each fighter shrank away. Not Achilles. The more he gazed, the deeper his anger went, his eyes flashing under his eyelids, fierce as fire” (page 489) None of the Myrmidons could look at the armor because it is not their identity, the armor’s aura itself is challenging the Myrmidons, and none of them have a strong enough identity, or enough glory, to even look at the armor. But since the god of fire has crafted the armor for Achilles, the armor’s identity is an even stronger version of Achilles’ own identity, and as Achilles stared it down, the two identities intermixed resulting in an angrier Achilles with eyes as fierce as fire. Because the god of fire made the armor, the identity of the armor reflects fiery passion; consequently, Achilles eyes turn as fierce as fire. Other then the fact that the identity reflected in armor can be different from the identity of the bearer of the armor, there is another significant difference. While the armor is indestructible, the person inside is definitely not invulnerable. After Hector spears Patroclus, the Euphorbus insists that the Acheans should “Back [away] from the corpse, and leave the bloody gear! I was the first Trojan, first of the famous allies to spear Patroclus down in the last rough charge. So let me seize my glory among the Trojans now.” (page 444) Euphorbus is trying to claim the armor of Achilles and justifies his possession of the armor by saying that he was the first to spear Patroclus, and that the glory should clearly belong to him alone. When the armor and Patroclus diverge in direction, Patroclus goes on to be buried on a funeral pyre while the armor switches hands to Hector proving that the mortal body is erased from physical existence while the armor is nearly indestructible. Prior to all of this, Hector with his own set of armor returning to Troy to visit his lovely wife and son tries to reach for his son, “But the boy recoiled, cringing against his nurse’s full breast, screaming out at the sight of his own father, terrified by the flashing bronze, the horsehair crest, the great ridge of the helmet nodding, bristling terror – so it struck his eyes. And his loving father laughed… and glorious Hector, quickly lifting the helmet from his head, set it down no the ground, fiery in the sunlight, and raising his son he kissed him.” (page 211) Hector’s mortal identity is a loving family man, but to an innocent young baby, his fathers loving intent is masked by the frightening identity of the armor, which the baby instantly recoils to upon contact. Yet as soon as Hector takes off his mask of war, the baby instantly recognizes the identity of his father proving that what people perceive us as the result of our apparel and our own identity and not just our own mortal identity. Armor is not only significant because it has its own identity, it is also the proof of glory, because while personal glory will someday be forgotten, the trophy armor can never be forgotten, and the glory one has obtained will never die and will live on long past the lifespan of the person because the trophy armor is nearly indestructable. In a war of such short lifetimes such permanent signs of glory were necessary, and it is strange when we see an exchange of armors, an exchange of indestructible signs of glory between two men who part as friends. It was Diomedes who proposed the trade, “Look, plenty of Trojans there for me to kill… and plenty of Argives too—kill them if you can. But let’s trade armor. The men must know our claim: we are sworn friends from our fathers’ days till now!” The exchange of armor symbolically is an exchange of character, in complete contrast to the brutality of the war. Homer introduces some aspects of civility and kindness that are the direct result of the exchange of two armors not based on durability, but rather on the pacts of friendship between the bearers’ grandfathers. The exchange of identity is renewing these pacts and honoring ancestral roots. All in all, armor is the indestructible part of all of us, it is symbolic of the glory we have achieved, the victories we have won, and is clearly a form of expression.

Armor clearly has an aura all of its own, and an identity that may be very different from the person the armor is protecting, so when a mortal identity comes into clash with an armor that the bearer has no right to wear, instead of a peaceful entity formed by the intermixing of two identities, a constant battle erupts between a mortal identity and the indestructible identity as well as the aura of the armor. This ideology is true in the case of Patroclus. Patroclus asks to wear the armor of Achilles, and in asking for this, he is asking for his doom. Although Achilles lends Patroclus his armor, Achilles warns him, “You must turn back—soon as you bring the light of victory to the ships.” (page 415) Patroclus is by no means an unreasonable man, and at first he intends on following the words of Achilles, yet as the armors identity, that of Achilles, mixes with his very own identity he now plans on doing exactly as Achilles would have done in such a situation. How could he come back when the will of such a strong armor was tempting him to massacre all the Trojans and sack Troy. The will of the armor prevailed over Patroclus’ original intentions on turning back. So even though Patroclus was by all means a reasonable and logical man, his logic was overrun by the armor. In such a situation Achilles would probably prevail, but Patroclus being no Achilles, lost his life due to the will of his armor that he could not overcome. Just as Patroclus is betrayed by a borrowed armor, Hector is betrayed by an armor unjustly seized by him. Achilles knows that “the rest of [Hector’s] flesh seemed all encased in armor, burnished, brazen –Achilles’ armor that Hector stripped from strong Patroclus when he killed him –true, but one spot lay exposed…there as Hector charged in fury brilliant Achilles drove his spear.” (page 552) Hector had been betrayed by the will of the armor, as the armor is still true to its previous beholder. The armor reveals to Achilles its weak spot and Achilles instantly takes advantage of this knowledge and quickly brings a close to the battle. Hector thinks he is safe from Achilles in such a protective armor, and yes the armor is indestructible, but Hector remains mortal. Hector was betrayed by the will of his armor, for his armor revealed to Achilles a weak point he could not have possibly of known if he was not the true owner of the armor. Because armor is indestructible it tends to cause an unjustified sense of safety to the bearer. Achilles feels so secure in his god fashioned armor that he even challenges the god of the river. When he realizes that no armor offers true protection, he shouts “Father Zeus! To think in all my misery not one god can bring himself to rescue me from this river! Then I’d face any fate. And no god on high, none is to blame so much as my dear mother –how she lied, she beguiled me, she promised me I’d die beneath the walls of the armored Trojans, cut down in blood by Apollo’s whipping arrows!” Achilles once so confident in his abilities and his own physical safety could not be protected from the god of the river by his armor, and the only reason he engages the river in the first place is because he is absolutely sure of his swift victory. Achilles is betrayed by his armor because it gave him a false sense of security. This false security is similar to the over confidence that Hector displays in the battle of Hector vs. Achilles. Another instance of a false sense of safety is depicted in the battle of Menelaus and Paris. Menelaus adapted new tactics at defeating Paris after his sword shattered, he “grabbed his horsehair crest, swung him round, started to drag him into Argive lines and now the braided chin-strap holding his helmet tight was gouging his soft throat—Paris was choking, strangling. Now he’d have hauled him off and won undying glory.”(page 140) Paris was parading near the Trojan lines acting as if he could challenge any Achean in one to one combat, yet as soon as he would see some great hero, he would instantly shrink away in fear. With this identity as the result of his true mortal identity plus that of his armor, it is only right to assume that his armor is primarily for show, with no great protective aspect in mind. It is only fitting that Paris is betrayed by his armor and that it is his armor that chokes him and restrains him from picking up a sword and slashing Menelaus. Whenever armor is in constant clash with a mortal identity, the armor in a sense betrays the bearer.

Expression is a second identity that can be shown through material objects such as armor where one chooses and decides which armor is necessary. For Paris, he chose an inefficient but beautiful armor, for Achilles, his armor reflected his own inner rage, his own fiery passion. Expression should be the result of decisions we alone make, and if we suddenly wear the apparel of another, our identities will clash in an ongoing battle over whom we really are.  In order to lead a successful life, we must choose our own clothes, our own armor so to speak. We must fashion our armor through choices that we alone have control over, and that no one else can change. We must live life as individuals, and we must have full control over our armor and fashion it in such a way that it will best benefit us.




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