Armor is defined in the dictionary as “A defensive covering, as of metal, wood, or leather, worn to protect the body against weapons (www.dictionary.com).” But in the Iliad, is the armor all that only? Just a shell protecting what lays inside? Armor is the war’s clothes, or fashion. All throughout the ages, clothes have not only served as just cover and protection to the wearer, but as a sign of status, as a sign of who we are. When we choose what to wear we project something about ourselves. When we meet someone, we examine how they are dressed and it affects our impression about him. The motives of clothing appears in different literatures, such as the exchange of clothes in “The prince and the pauper”. In Iliad, in a similar manner, armor is not just metal clothing, but it plays important parts. This essay will analyze the role of the armor in the Iliad to show the various roles it takes upon, to show that it serves a function more than just as protective gear. The essay will analyze the role of armor mostly through the scenes where something interesting happens- warriors wearing other warrior’s armor, such as Glaucus and Diomedes exchanging armors, and Patroclus going into battle wearing Achilles’ armor.

In book 6, in the heat of battle, we have the scene of Glaucus and Diomedes exchanging armor and avoiding killing each other when they find out they share something in common in their ancestry.

“Come, let us keep clear of each other’s spears.

Even there in the thick of battle

…But let’s trade armor. The men must know our claim:

We are sworn friends from our fathers’ days till now!

The act of exchanging their armors seals their oath and tells everybody that they are now friends. The poet seems to be pausing the battle in the background, zooming in on the meeting between Diomedes and Glaucus, giving us a heartwarming story inside the brutal happenings of the war. The armor has significance here beyond just protecting you- by wearing another warrior’s armor, and by letting him wear yours, you show a link, a connection, between the two warriors. This is not the only case in the book where we have someone wear an armor that is not his. In book 16, we have Patroclus wearing Achilles’ armor, and in book 17 we find Hector putting on Achilles’ armor. In both these books the wearing of another warror’s armor plays a different role.

In book 16, Patroclus asks Achilles to return to the fight, or if not, to give him his armor so that the Trojans might think Achilles has returned to combat and lower their morale:

“Let the whole Myrmidon army follow my command-

I might bring some light of victory to our Argives!

And give me your own fine armor to buckle on my back,

So the Trojans might take me for you, Achilles…”

Instead of stepping back into the battle himself, Achilles sends Patroclus with his armor. Perhaps just the sight of the armor shall inspire confidence in the Greek troops and demoralize the Trojans, even though it is not Achilles wearing it! In this book, Patroclus has his Aristeia. Is it mostly Patroclus skills as a warrior or the fact that he is wearing Achilles armor? He can only be defeated finally once Apollo strips Achilles' armor off him.

In book 17 it is Hector who wears Achilles’ armor. Again, the armor is used as a raising/lowering morale tool. The leader of the Lycians threatens that they will leave the battle. In order to boost the morale, Hector puts on Achilles’ armor. The poet shows his dismay by the fact that Hector is wearing Achilles’ armor, by showing how the armor did not fit him and that only with the intervention of the gods, Zeus and Ares, does the armor finally fit Hector.

“Trojans! Lycians! Dardan fighters hand-to-hand---

now be men, my friends, call up your battle-fury!

I’ll strap on the brave Achilles’ armor, burnished armor

I stripped from strong Patroclus when I killed him!

…Zeus fitted the armor tightly on Hector’s body.”

In book 18, Achilles decides to finally go back into the battle- but he has no armor. Thetis tells him to wait until she comes back with a new armor:

“But your own handsome war-gear lies in Trojan hands,

bronze and burnished---and Hector in that flashing helmet,

Hector glories in your armor, strapped across his back

…Tomorrow I will return to you with the Rising sun,

bearing splendid arms from Hephastus, god of fire!”

Thetis does not want Achilles to go back to battle without his armor. Is Achilles nothing without his armor? Is the armor the only thing that makes him who he is? Hera wants Achilles to return to battle, but he replies:

“How can I go to war? The Trojans have my gear

…I know of no other armor. Whose gear could I wear?

None but Telamonian Ajax’ giant shield.”

But Hera urges Achilles to go back to the field anyway, saying just the sight of him will give the Greeks a chance to recover Patroclus’ body:

“We know---we too---they hold your famous armor,

Still, just as you are, go out to the broad trench

And show yourself to the Trojans. Struck with fear

At the sights of you, they might hold off from attack

And Achaea’s fighting sons get second wind,

Exhausted as they are…

Breathing room in war is all too brief .”

And Achilles went out to the field and indeed just the sight of him instilled fear in the Trojans. Even though he did not have his famous armor on him:
”So there he rose and loosed an enormous cry

…and drove unearthly panic through the Trojans”

We can find therefore two contrasting views. In book 16, It is the armor, not the man, that inspires the Greeks and demoralizes the Trojans. Just sending the armor out there- The armor of Achilles, without Achilles himself, the shell without the yolk- which changes the tide of battle. In book 18, however, we see that the Achilles can rise up to his greatness without his armor- It is the man who brings the inspiration, and he is not reliant on his armor.


To summarize, this essay has shown how the armor plays several important functions throughout the Iliad. The armor in the Iliad is more than just protective metal gear. In book 6, the armor signifies common ancestry experience, friendship and trust, and the exchange of the armors is like the equivalent of a blood oath. In book 16, Patroclus goes into the field wearing Achilles’ armor, boosting the Greek troops morale and instilling fear in the Trojans. It is then Hector who puts on Achilles’ armor, changing the tide of the war. Finally, in book 18, we have emphasis back on the man, not the armor, when Achilles goes back to the battle without his armor, and just the sight of him allows the greeks to recover Patroclus; body.



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