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 still 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.