Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.01.28

Matteo D'Acunto, Riccardo Palmisciano (ed.), Lo Scudo di Achille nell'Iliade: esperienze ermeneutiche a confronto. Atti della giornata di studi, Napoli, 12 maggio 2008. AION 31-2009.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2010.  Pp. 245.  ISBN 9788862272940.  €145.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Sara Chiarini, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore - Milano (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

To deal with one of the most studied texts of antiquity is surely a hard and risky task, since one must first confront the vast bibliography on the subject and then be careful not to produce a mere summary or repetition of past theories and approaches. This interesting work, collecting the results of the one-day congress held at the University of Naples L'Orientale on May 12th, 2008, avoids this pitfall. As the editors explain in the introduction, the aim of this meeting was to let scholars of different disciplines, ranging from classical philology to archaeology and history, join forces and discuss the Homeric ekphrasis of the shield of Achilles (pp. 11-14). The result is a new and synthetic approach to this extraordinary piece of Greek poetry.

The book contains twelve papers by as many scholars

The first paper, written by Riccardo Di Donato, professor at the University of Pisa, is entitled "Diacronia di civiltà. Lo Scudo rivisitato" (pp. 15-21). It underlines the role of the oral and traditional qualities of this piece of literature, which allowed new material to enter it over time and consequently gave it a plurality of reference. By this the author does not mean that an inquiry into the archaeological sources of these references would be useless, but that the attempt to reduce such an inquiry to a unitary view would be futile.

The second brief contribution, "I codici della comunicazione" by Luca Cerchiai of the University of Salerno (pp. 23-28), is a textual analysis that proposes a new reading, taking into account the relationships among the various scenes depicted on the shield. The focus is on the spaces in which the activities take place and the ages of the figures. The author's exegetic method runs the risk of generating logical patterns and connections, which might be alien to the text.

The third paper, "L’ἔκφρασις, una tipologia compositiva dimenticata dalla critica antica e dalla moderna", by prof. Roberto Nicolai of La Sapienza University in Rome (pp. 29-45), does not refer to the Homeric text itself, but explores the ekphrasis as a literary genre through the ancient theoretical sources. Special attention is given, through some sample texts, to the intermediate category of ekphrastic diegesis .

The fourth contribution, by one of the editors, Riccardo Palmisciano, and entitled Il primato della poesia sulle altre arti nello Scudo di Achille (pp. 47-64), explores two basic principles of the text: the absence of a detailed description of a poetic performance within the Homeric poems maintains the invisibility of the creative poetic process, but the bard can penetrate and describe the same process in other artistic forms, like figurative art, with his verses. Moreover, he can demonstrate the superiority of poetry, which makes it possible to add thought, movement and sound to visual images.

The same themes are explored in the following paper, "Erga charienta: il cantore e l'artigiano nello Scudo di Achille" by Livio Sbardella of the University of L'Aquila (pp. 65-81), and the results are similar. Behind the more or less explicit allusions to figurative art, the author recognizes an implicit querelle with it and a sort of delimitation of the spheres of competence of the two arts, sharply illustrated by the comparison between Charis, wife of Hephaistos according to the Shield, on the side of craftsmen, and the Muses, on that of poets.

The next three papers are dedicated to more circumscribed inquiries arising from the passage of Achilles' Shield. The first of them, "Ho visto un re...La regalità nello Scudo di Achille" by Francesco Guizzi of La Sapienza University in Rome (pp. 83-95), discusses the figure of the sceptre-bearing basileus in the ekphrasis, whose historical milieu should be identified as the early development of the polis, rather than the Mycenaean world.

"Lo Scudo e le armi magiche della Guerra" by Mauro Menichetti of the University of Salerno (pp. 97-110) focuses on the narrative context of the ekphrasis , with special attention devoted to the extraordinary nature of the arms of Achilles (along with those of the other Achaeans), indicated by their brilliance. At the same time, this brightness conveys the ill-fated destiny of the bearer.

Bright arms also appear in the paper of Stefano Amendola (University of Salerno), "La luce e lo Scudo tra simbolismo e metallurgia" (pp. 111-123), where they are analysed for their symbolic value, as well as for their literal (metallurgic) meaning. Concerning the shield in particular, its double face corresponds to its ambivalent use: both as defensive weapon for the living warrior and as cover for the dead.

A second group of three papers is based on archaeological issues. The first one is "Echi dal passato: lo Scudo di Achille e la Grecia della tarda Età del Bronzo" by Massimo Cultraro (pp. 125-144). It deals with the long debated question of how much of Mycenaean civilization can be found in the Homeric poems, by discussing those details of the description of Achilles' Shield for which a connection with the Bronze Age has been proposed. Some of these are confirmed, but others are denied and traced to Geometric times.

The long contribution "Efesto e le sue creazioni nel XVIII libro dell'Iliade, by Matteo D'Acunto (pp. 145-198), aims at highlighting the early Archaic horizon underlying the material culture described by the ekphrasis. Each section is dedicated to a single archaeological or iconographic aspect. According to the author, the Geometric and Orientalizing styles correspond closely to the characteristics of the objects mentioned. Some very interesting comparisons are presented, notably with the siege scene on the shield.

The last archaeological paper, "L'ἀγορή di Omero. Rappresentazione poetica e documentazione archeologica" by Fausto Longo (pp. 199-223), focuses on a single subject from the decoration of the shield, that of the trial in the public square of the polis, and tries to explain the features of this place by comparison with some early Iron Age sites. The result is that the Homeric agora reflects an evolutionary process of this basic structure of the polis, which is still in fieri and not yet completed.

The last contribution to the volume is an overview of what has gone before. In "Qualche riflessione in margine" (pp. 225-232), Bruno D'Agostino presents concluding observations about the congress, synthesizing the main results of each paper.

A useful bibliography, collecting the most recent studies on the Shield of Achilles from various points of view, closes the volume (Bibliografia sullo Scudo di Achille (1945-2008) by Maria Arpaia, pp. 233-245).

One can predict that this volume will become a point of departure for all further studies on literary and antiquarian aspects of the Shield of Achilles. Some, if not all, the papers make a significant contribution to the development of research in this field.


Ricordo di Luigi Enrico Rossi 9

MATTEO D'ACUNTO, RICCARDO PALMISCIANO, "Le ragioni di un'iniziativa" 11

RICCARDO DI DONATO, "Diacronia di civiltà. Lo Scudo rivisitato" 15

LUCA CERCHIAI, "I codici della comunicazione" 23

ROBERTO NICOLAI, "L’ἔκφρασις, una tipologia compositiva dimenticata dalla critica antica e dalla moderna" 29

RICCARDO PALMISCIANO, "Il primato della poesia sulle altre arti nello Scudo di Achille" 47

LIVIO SBARDELLA, Erga charienta: "il cantore e l'artigiano nello Scudo di Achille" 65

FRANCESCO GUIZZI, "Ho visto un re...La regalità nello Scudo di Achille" 83

MAURO MENICHETTI, "Lo Scudo e le armi magiche della guerra" 97

STEFANO AMENDOLA, "La luce e lo Scudo tra simbolismo e metallurgia" 111

MASSIMO CULTRARO, "Echi dal passato: lo Scudo di Achille e la Grecia della tarda Età del Bronzo" 125

MATTEO D'ACUNTO, "Efesto e le sue creazioni nel XVIII libro dell'Iliade" 145

FAUSTO LONGO, "L'ἀγορή di Omero. Rappresentazione poetica e documentazione archeologica" 199

BRUNO D'AGOSTINO, "Qualche riflessione in margine" 225

MARIA ARPAIA, "Bibliografia sullo Scudo di Achille (1945-2008)" 233

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