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Paperback Book Details
  • 07/2018
  • 9780999162187
  • 190 pages
  • $29.99
Ebook Details
  • 09/2018
  • 190 pages
  • $2.99
Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles

Filled with intimate glimpses of ancient Greek life, Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles offers an exciting exploration of the spectacular shield created for Achilles by Hephaistos, the ancient Greek god of the forge. Featuring images of the life-size shield she created in brass, Vail also offers a new verse translation of Homer's elaborate description from Book 18 of the Iliad, as well as abundant photographs of ancient Greek vases illustrating the Trojan War. Chasing the raging Achilles through the blood and gore of war, Vail then launches an expedition in search of Achilles' immortal shield after his epic death on the battlefield of Troy.

Dr. Bernard Knox, Founding Director, Harvard Ctr for Hellenic Studies, Wash., DC

Personally, I find the project interesting and the photograph with accompanying text, absorbing. I found myself following the different units round the shield as I read the Greek text and was pleased to see all the Homeric components present and correct, as they say in the Army. I think that what Webster meant by his remark was merely that Homer was describing an ideal, imaginary shield and that no such ornate and complicated piece of armor really existed. But even though it was an imaginary shield, you have shown that it could in fact have been made.

Dr. Elizabeth Fisher, Professor of Classics and the Arts, Randolph-Macon College

I wish you great success with this work. I am most impressed with your consistent adherence to the profile head with frontal eye, triangular kneecaps, upturned, pointed feet, and careful costume details such as greaves and helmets, and embroidered borders. The appropriately sparse background features are also quite a nice touch. I will be waiting for this work to appear, for use in my classes on Greek art and the Bronze Age Aegean. The benefit of this work to a teacher such as myself is not only as a visual representation of the shield which is as remarkably detailed as Homer's description, but also as an example of the ongoing power of Homer's narrative to inspire thought and art.

Dr. James A. Arieti, G H Thompson Professor of Classics, Hampden-Syndey College

The arms are presumably lost, but fortunately for us, Kathleen Vail has reconstructed it.

Using her Homer the way Schliemann used his, she has excavated from the text the shape and composition of the shield of Achilles. In so doing she has confounded some of the critics, who claimed it could never be done.

"Detailed reconstruction of the shield is impossible," writes Webster.

"...nothing so comprehensive and detailed as this could ever have been seen by Homer or his audience," says Hogan.

"It is not to be supposed that the poet had ever seen such a shield as he describes," claims Gardner. (1)

Finding artworks of roughly contemporary handiwork, she documents the illustrations and shows that indeed they could have been found on a shield such as Homer describes. It took a god one night to construct the shield; it has taken Ms. Vail-a mere mortal-five years of work and study to complete hers.

Reading Homer's description of the shield while looking at the illustrations will compel one to read slowly, savoring the details. 

A humorless Platonist-the kind who took Plato literally and failed to see the smile behind the dialogues-might think that these images take us even further away from the reality of the ideas. Homer, the Platonist would say, imitated in words the shield Achilles used; Ms. Vail altered the medium and put the words into pictures, moving still more distant from the original idea of a shield.

What does the dour Platonist know? She has changed the words back into gold and silver; she has revivified the text. She supplies the modern reader with an image for his mind's eye to grasp on to. She has provided for us a glimpse of the world of archaic Greece.

Dr. Kenneth J. Atchity, prizewinning author, Homer's Iliad: The Shield of Memory

Kathleen Vail's work on artistic recreations of literary artifacts is unique as well as visually stunning. If Hephaistos wrote blurbs, he'd certainly blurb her new book.

Fiona Ingram - Reader Review on Word Magic: All About Books

The Trojan War is one of the earliest wars recorded in the history of human combat. The Iliad and the Odyssey are among the oldest extant works of western literature, written by the blind poet Homer in the eighth century. The Trojan War concerns the Achaeans of ancient Greece and the inhabitants of Ilios, the Trojans. But the story begins before that, at the wedding of the sea nymph goddess Thetis and the mortal but mighty king of the Myrmidons, Peleus. The seeds of this tragic and interminable war were sown when Eris, the goddess of strife, was not invited but arrived anyway, tossing into the company a golden apple inscribed with the words ‘to the most fair.’ Paris, the long-lost son of the Trojan King Priam, is asked to choose between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Lured by her promise of bestowing upon him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy, Paris chooses Aphrodite… Unfortunately, Helen is married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. And thus, the epic war begins, brought to life by the words of the poet Homer, and forever cemented in the minds of succeeding generations.

Greek mythology and the various heroes, gods, and demi gods have a solid place in modern popular culture, given the many novels and movies devoted to various mythological themes. Names like Zeus, Poseidon, Achilles, Hector, Paris, Helen, Menelaus and Agamemnon are not unfamiliar, especially the mighty Achilles, hero of the Greek forces. Achilles being the son of a goddess, Thetis, and a mighty mortal, Peleus, meant he was already special. Added to this was his legendary prowess as a warrior. When Achilles loses his armor during battle to Hector, the son of King Priam, his mother pleads with Hephaistos, the lame god, to fashion her son an incredible shield. Thetis, knowing that Achilles’ death would follow upon that of Hector, still had the shield made, bowing, one imagines, to the inevitability of the cycle of life. Hephaistos makes the shield, and the details are minutely described by Homer. These details bring us to the reconstruction of this magnificent piece of armor by Kathleen Vail, who documented this artistic project in her book, Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles.

A lifetime student of Homer’s ancient Greece, Vail has created a 'physical, artistically relevant, life-size reconstruction of the divine shield of Achilles based literally and solely on Homer’s specifications in Book 18 of the Iliad.' This is no easy feat because although many now discovered and similarly crafted and decorated Mycenaean artifacts – swords, daggers, vases, and more - prove the potential existence of this shield, Vail was working from the details in Homer’s poem and existing archaeological discoveries. The shield is described as having an awe-inspiring effect on Achilles’ enemies, notwithstanding his mighty prowess and physical attributes. However, for me, the importance of the shield is what the poet conveys in the descriptions and which Vail recreates for the reader with images of the actual reconstructed shield and the corresponding artifacts which provided the inspiration for the images.

Vail takes each section and describes it in detail, as well as the significance in Greek society at the time, starting with the centre piece, creation, and radiating outward in circles depicting levels of Greek society – civil, judicial, military, entertainment, daily and pastoral activities. Ultimately the shield depicts both earthly and heavenly cycles of life. The shield is a microcosm of civilization, depicting the values and ideals of the ancient world, and the eternal cycle of birth, death, renewal. If the shield ever existed, where could it possibly be now? Thetis held funeral games in honour of her son Achilles, offering his armor as the prize to the ‘best of the Achaeans.’ Odysseus won the armor but given his many wanderings and shipwrecks before finally reaching home and his beloved wife, Penelope, who knows what happened to the shield? Perhaps only the gods know?

Kathleen Vail offers both the interested amateur and the dedicated scholar a minutely detailed and incredibly well researched literary work, complete with meticulously referenced and labelled images and many bibliographic references. The reconstruction of the shield is, to me, more than a labor of love. There is far more to the story of Achilles, the flawed and magnificent warrior, than the war. The psychological depths, the drama, the tragic emotions, actions, and motivations of the characters, both human and divine, the merging of heavenly and earthly activities, and many grander symbolic themes make the Iliad more than just a poem. The reconstruction of the shield proves this.

Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Network/MJ Magazine

Reconstructing the past through illustrations and pictures can bring to light the history of many time periods, the lives of mythological figures and the excitement of seeing each event placed on a shield so ornate, so beautifully crafted that you would think these figures were alive today. From Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, to the story behind Helen of Sparta and the lives of many other mythological figures, author Kathleen Vail’s Reconstructing Achilles Shield is more than a work of artistry, photographer or history but a book that entices readers to learn more about each section of the shield and the history behind it. The history behind the Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey is replete within the pages of this historically depicted book as we take many journeys back in time to learn how the many illustrations on the shield were created, the history behind each one and the stories that have kept readers reading and re-reading Homer’s work for centuries.

...The remainder of the book focuses on the actual reconstruction of the shield and the different historical events depicted within it. There is a total of 145 beautifully depicted illustrations each one related to a specific historical time.

...This is a book to cherish, keep on your shelf and read repeatedly. Vail has brought to life the history behind the life of Achilles, his trials, tribulations and the wonders of a life worth remembering.

Grant Leishman - Reader Review for Readers' Favorite

Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail is a scholarly attempt to put some meat and vision to the legendary shield of the warrior Achilles from Greek fable and mythology, especially as described by Homer in his numerous epic poems, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. The author takes us on a trip through legendary Greek history, describing in detail the circumstance and the background to the most famous of all Greek battles; the Battle for Troy and then its aftermath. We are shown various other scholars’ depictions of their view of what they believed Achilles’ shield would have looked like, before the author creates her own version of the fantastic amour that was the Shield of Achilles. Using Homer’s direct translated text, she follows the journey of the shield subsequent to the death of Achilles, as Odysseus takes control of the legendary armour. She finds considerable justification for accepting the words of Homer as being, in some part, real and truthful, rather than just fanciful meanderings. 

As a big fan of both Homer and the fables of Greek mythology, as a layman, I found this book, Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles to be a fascinating insight into the Greek traditions, heroes and fables of the time. Author, Kathleen Vail has produced a book here that is as useful to a Greek Scholar as it is to someone with a love of heroic adventure and the time of mythical Greek lore. I don’t usually quote from books I review, but one passage in this book is so telling and reminds us all why the study of history and especially of archaeology, is critical to us, as a human race. “Human history is rendered tangible in the physical form of archaeological artifacts. In our search for archaeological treasures, we find meaning and significance in our collective human life on Earth. With each discovery, we gain extraordinarily perceptive records. From this unique perspective, we gain both a telescopic view into the lost and distant past and a microscopic view of iconic moments in the human experience.” For me, this perfectly sums up the field of study and the importance of this book. Perhaps the most ironic observation in the book is that Achilles, the greatest warrior in history, actually hates war. As a final note, the photographs and renderings of Greek history and mythology give the book an impressive perspective that even the layman can truly enjoy. This is a fantastic book and receives my wholehearted endorsement.   

Jack Massa - Customer Review on

Remarkable combination of mythology, history, and literary detective work. Scholarly yet entertaining and easy to read. Vail reconstructs the design of the shield made for the Greek hero by the god Hephaestus in Homer’s Iliad. Her interpretation and analysis start with Homer, but draw on other sources from antiquity and later scholarship.

Most compelling here is Vail’s actual artwork as she depicts all of the motifs for the shield. The book is lavishly illustrated, not only with the author’s work, but with dozens of paintings from antiquity.

This is a unique and fascinating book for anyone who loves the ancient Greeks.

John Gaudet - Customer Review on

A wonderfully interesting diversion. The author, Kathleen Vail, a computer engineer and graphic artist as well as writer, re-created an artistically relevant shield of Achilles. It was, based literally and solely on Homer’s specifications in Book 18 of the Iliad. She describes how she did the design using bits and pieces of information that she dug out of classical literature and a multitude of research bases. At the end of the book she records many of these “golden nuggets” uncovered in her research. As for the shield itself, after inscribing the scene images with a stylus on individual thin sheets of brass, they were painted with enamels to match, as literally as possible of the original descriptions in Homer’s Greek. Bronze, silver, and tin, as well as specifically mentioned colors, e.g. red and blue, were represented with colored enamels, and unpainted brass represents inlaid gold.

The author is quick to acknowledge in her work Homer’s captivating power over the human imagination, especially Homer’s ancient narrative describing the forging of the ageless and invincible weapons of Achilles, with which he heroically brings the Trojan War to a close. The shield itself was designed and made for Achilles by Hephaistos, the Greek god of blacksmiths, metalworking, artisans and volcanoes. Hephaistos came up with a shield that was interpreted by some to represent a microcosm of civilization, in which all aspects of life are shown. If we were looking over Hephaistos’ shoulder while he worked, we would see, starting at the shield’s center, the Earth, sky and sea, the sun, the moon and the constellations, following this Homer tells us we will see beautiful cities full of people on the verge of war; a king's estate; a vineyard with grape pickers; a herd of classic straight-horned cattle and savage lions which the herdsmen and their dogs fend off; a picture follows of a sheep farm and celebrants dancing on a country green; and finally along the edge a design was made that represented the great Oceanus stream that encircles the earth. 

Vail’s reconstructed graphic of the shield reminded me a great deal of the extraordinary gates and doors of the medieval churches in Italy including the Gates of Paradise, for example, in the Baptistry of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1450) or the central solid bronze double doors of St Peter’s Basilica which were created in 1445 by Antonio Averlino. Though these works of art only portray a small part of life, including scenes from the Old Testament and from the life and martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, you can’t help but feel that there is a message here for everyone and for all time.

Despite having the whole world depicted on his shield, including acts of peace, war, life, death, weddings, farming, dancing and courtrooms, a shield that we think would dazzle anyone, the author tells us that Achilles seems not to be impressed. Apparently nothing interested him except hastening the death of Hector and himself, events that would bring an end to the Trojan War.

Did the shield ever really exist? Will some future dig reveal it? Whether it did or did not, the author believes that the “ingenious and truly extraordinary significance of the Shield of that it is... an archaeological treasure buried within the pages of Homer’s Iliad. Not buried under the ancient earth, or as yet undiscovered, Homer’s Shield of Achilles is accessible to all, offering the same exquisite quality of view, both telescopic and microscopic, as any ancient archaeological artifact.” 

Mamta Madhavan - Reader Review for Readers' Favorite

Reconstructing The Shield Of Achilles: An Artistic Reconstruction and Exploration of the Ingenious Ancient Greek Weapon Immortalized by Homer In Book 18 of the Iliad by Kathleen Vail revolves around the shield of Achilles which came to light in Homer's Iliad, written in the 8th century BC. The author brings the shield to life through this book which is a real treat for all those readers who are interested in learning more about Greek mythology, the Trojan War, and Homer's Iliad. The whole world is on the shield; be it war, peace, weddings, life, death, farming, dancing, and more that will amaze readers with its vivid descriptions and images. The innermost and outermost parts of the shield depict elements of human life, the sun, moon, stars, and sea. The author explores each scene on the legendary Shield of Achilles and gives intimate glimpses of life in ancient Greece in those days.

This book is insightful, poetic, aesthetic, and creative and the author does a fabulous job recreating the shield using her own interpretations after reading the epic poem. The images in the book are gorgeous and they make the book more appealing and captivating to readers. The author's time spent on researching and writing on a topic like this is commendable and is evident in the pages of the book. The Iliad was not only about the Trojan War but also about Achilles, and the author's reconstruction of the shield not only speaks about its significance but also relives Homer's story of war, peace, and humanity.

Mara S. Hardy - Customer Review on

This slim volume packs a lot of punch. For those unfamiliar with the Homeric epic the Iliad, it provides a concise description of the story, set during the Trojan War, and the various mythological elements represented within the tale. At the same time, it makes clear that the Iliad was not about the war, but about Achilles, his perception of honor, his emotional crises, and, of course, his rage. One of the high points of the poem is the description of armor, forged by the god Haephaistos, given to Achilles to replace his own, lost to Hector. The central item of the panoply is the shield. Homer takes time and care to describe this extraordinary shield. And Kathleen Vail has taken much time and care to reproduce it. Several times in the book scholars are quoted as saying that such a reproduction would be impossible. Yet here it is. The shield tells the story of the universe, of human life, of war and peace. Vail’s reconstruction is as complex and beautiful as Homer’s words.

Such a book would be pointless without illustrations. And the quality of the illustrations is superb. We are treated, of course, to Vail’s image of the entire shield, but also to the elements, broken down into small set pieces and explained with Vail’s own translation of the descriptive lines in the poem. There are also lovely illustrations of artifacts that further enhance the text. I purchased the Kindle edition, which I read on an iPad, and the photographs are just beautiful.

As a lover of Homer, I strongly recommend this book to others like myself. But I also believe this would be of interest to those whose curiosity is stronger than their knowledge of the subject. It is a beautiful way to meet Homer and to enter into the mystery of Achilles’ shield.

PJ - Customer Review on

The Shield of Achilles was first made famous in Homer's Iliad, written in the 8th century BC, in which the shield is described in great detail, and has now been brought to life by Kathleen Vail. This artist/author has reconstructed Achilles' shield based on her own interpretation of the poem, as well as extensive research into the artwork and motifs that were common to that age. The exquisite detail Kathleen Vail has put into the reconstruction of the shield itself is fantastic, with its many layers and scenes as described by Homer.

I purchased both paperback and kindle versions, and am happy to have both formats. The book itself is a font of knowledge, and sits in a prominent position on my coffee table for when certain friends visit whom I know love ancient Greek history. With the Kindle I can enlarge each photograph to hone in on the fine detail of the shield itself, as well as the supporting detail that went into its creation.

Kathleen Vail's Reconstruction of Achilles Shield is as beautiful as the words Homer once used to describe it.

Ray Simmons - Reader review for Readers' Favorite

I spent my childhood reading about heroes. First, the heroes of the Bible. My mother is very religious and approved of my love for men like Samson, King David, and Moses. Then I discovered the Greek Pantheon and its heroes, and I could not get enough of those stories. As I grew up, I realized that Hollywood drew deeply from that source and those ancient Greek stories are part of the bedrock of our popular culture. This bedrock is built on the hard work and dedication of real researchers who go out and find the facts that underlie the myth. That is why Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail resonated so much with me. I loved it! I loved it because I can see the painstaking care of someone who loves those stories as much, maybe even more than I do. 

Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles is very well written. The content lays out the history behind one of the greatest and earliest wars in human history. Many of the principal characters are there. Thetis, the mother of Achilles, Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, Menelaus, the wronged husband, and so many more. Kathleen Vail lays out the story and gives us all the background as she reconstructs the shield and why it was made. Rich in detail, myth, and history, this is indeed a story for the ages. If you love Greek mythology and want to delve deeper into its roots, then this is the book for you.

Reviewer 516639 - Reader review on

Who did not fall in love, at one time or another, with the Iliad and the Odyssey. Who did not fall in love, at one time or another, with the themes, characters, and poetry of Ancient Greek epic poems?

I did!

And after having fallen in love with the poems, I had a strong desire to see with my own eyes Troy, the Ancient Greek life, the Ancient Greek people, the architecture, and the arts. I had the strong desire to built my very own time machine!

In the meantime, between looking for the components of my time machine and dreaming about the past, I traveled to Ancient Greece with the help of this book.

This is a marvelous book. A wonderful book for teachers and students. An exceptional book for homeschoolers. A beautiful book for history lovers.In simple and clear language, the book tells you the story of the shield of Achilles—its significance, its appearance, its value.

The book shows you a visual reconstruction of the shield made by combining the information in the Iliad with the information gathered from past reconstructions. In addition the book shows and explains to its readers each image on the shield and it pairs up the images with the words in the Iliad.

This detailed study of the shield may be used to create lesson plans or simply to explore the Iliad from a different point of view. The Iliad is hard to read and to understand. We should have more books like this one—books that explain the past in a clear, approachable, and interesting way.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Rita Roberts - Reader Review on

Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles is a well-constructed book by Kathleen Vail. Kathleen takes us back in time to Homers Iliad and the forging of Achilles armour and his magnificent Shield. Vail's reconstruction of the Shield provides an in-depth story of the Trojan war. She describes Achilles Shield forged by the god Hephaistos in great detail by reproducing individual parts of the Shield, thus giving us her interpretation of each part with wonderful high-quality illustrations. The interpretation of the Shield of Achilles has been a bone of contention among scholars and historians alike for many years. Perhaps now Kathleen has solved the long awaited puzzle. A thoroughly fascinating read which I can recommend to all interested in this subject.

Romuald Dzemo - Reader review for Readers' Favorite

Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail is aptly described in the sub-title: An Artistic Reconstruction and Exploration of the Ingenious Ancient Greek Weapon Immortalized by Homer in Book 18 of the Iliad. Here is a book that will mesmerize fans of Homer’s Iliad and readers who have been fascinated by the world of ancient Greece. The reader follows the tale behind Achilles’ shield, forged by Hephaestus at the request of his mother, the nymph goddess, Thetis. And the god of the forge provides Achilles with the perfect weapon. The book follows the adventures of this young hero who hates war but who is destined for glory as he sets out to bring the city of Troy down and exact revenge. Kathleen Vail deconstructs the Greek world and Homer’s world, enabling readers to feel the beauty of the work, to immerse themselves in the setting in which the great poet wrote.

This book is well researched, featuring interesting and eye-catching images from the ancient Greek world. The references are seamlessly crafted into the writing. I had the feeling of walking into Achilles’ world, of feeling his heartbeat, and being in contact with a culture that is so ancient and yet feels so familiar. Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles is a work of art that examines the different components of a tale that has fascinated readers over the centuries — the setting with cultural nuances, political conflicts, and the place of power in the Greek world, with images pulled from the day-to-day lifestyle of the era, and a lot more. This book is intelligently presented, rendered in language that is as accessible as it is delightful. It is a beautiful offering to aficionados of Homer’s Iliad

Stefan Vucak - Reader Review on

Thetis is the daughter of the Titan Nereus and Doris. She is forced to marry the mortal Peleus Aiakides, and they have a son, Achilles. Nereus invites all the gods and goddesses to his daughter’s wedding, except the goddess of strife, Eris. Angry at not being welcome, Eris sneaks in and tosses among the crowd the legendary golden apple inscribed, ‘To the Most Fair’, which provokes a rivalry between Zeus’ wife Hera and his daughters, Athena and Aphrodite, and thus sows the black seed of the Trojan War. As a young man, Prince Paris attends the wedding of Thetis and Peleus. When asked to select the ‘most fair’ inscribed on the apple, he must choose between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman on earth, Helen, who is married to Menelaus, King of Sparta. Paris gives Aphrodite the apple, sails off to claim Helen, and takes her to Troy. Agamemnon assembles an army, and with a thousand ships proceeds to Troy to rescue Helen. Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles sweeps the reader into the eventual confrontation between Hektor and Achilles, which resulted in the death of both heroes and ends the ten-year war with Troy. The tale is not over, though.

Everyone has read and seen films about the Trojan War. However, the roots of that conflict are convoluted and complex. Most people have heard of Homer’s epic tales, the Iliad that deals with the war, and the Odyssey that tells the stirring tale of Odysseus’ adventures during his long voyage back to Greece, even if they have not actually read the books. Kathleen Vail summarizes these heroic works in Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles with straightforward narrative and a combination of evocative artwork and supporting notes that takes the reader deep into Greek history and mythology. Having read this book, I am tempted to go back to Iliad and immerse myself among the gods of Olympus and the deeds of legendary heroes. Reconstructing the Shield of Achilles is a great introductory scholarly work into Homer’s epic poems and the wonder of Greek myths.

Paperback Book Details
  • 07/2018
  • 9780999162187
  • 190 pages
  • $29.99
Ebook Details
  • 09/2018
  • 190 pages
  • $2.99