The Shield of Achilles, or Homer’s View of Representation in Art

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Margalit Finkelberg


Homer’s descriptions  of representational  artifacts of­ten  allow for effects  which  could  hardly  be  achieved  by  means  of regular  crafts­manship.  Thus, it is impossible to interpret the Shield of Achilles as a specimen of craftsman’s work: the images on the shield move and utter sounds. At the same time, there is no reason to suggest, as is sometimes done, that Homer drew no distinction between art and reality or that he treated images of art in terms of magic. The only way to account for the peculiar behaviour of these images is to admit that Homer entertained a view of representation in art accoding to which images of art were seen as artificial and real at the same time. The concept of the “living artifact” thus emerging fits in well with the primitive view of representation in art attested all over the world, including early Greece — the moving statues of Daedalus come to mind in this connection.  Whatever its source, it afforded the images of art a special status with respect to reality.

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