In today’s battles, soldiers wear uniforms designed to make them indistinguishable from each other. Forced to wear the same clothes and don identical haircuts, soldiers are stripped of their identity as they collectively become G.I Joes. Conversely, in Homer’s epic The Iliad, warriors dress in decorative armor and wield glitzy weapons and shields to stand out and make a name for themselves, reflecting the heroic nature of the war. Throughout the epic, warriors wear armor to express their individuality, and, inevitably, their armor takes up a recognizable identity. But conflict arises when warriors wear armor that do not belong to them. Demonstrated through Patroclus and Hector’s deaths while wearing Achilles’ armor, the identity of the warrior and identity of the armor clash as the warrior attempts to live up to the armor’s reputation but pays the price when he cannot reach the potential of the armor.
In The Iliad, warriors choose specific armor to express themselves in a certain way, consequently revealing underlying character traits they may have not meant to express. This motif is clear through the description of Paris’ armor, which encapsulates his beautiful, but narcissistic characteristics: “But shining Alexandros put his fine armor upon his broad shoulders, he, the husband of Helen of the lovely hair. First he strapped the splendid greaves around his shins…over his powerful head he placed his well-forged helmet with flowing horsehair” (3:328-336). Descriptive vocabulary such as “broad” and “lovely” paint Paris as a strong, attractive male. Just as pretty as his looks is his armor, as illustrative vocabulary including “splendid”, “well-forged”, and “fine” draw attention to the alluring armor. Although his armor is shiny and pretty, it hinders him on the battlefield as Menelaus “seized Alexandros’ horsehair-crested helmet” (3:67), hinting at Paris’ obsession with beauty over utility. After being saved by Aphrodite from certain doom, Aphrodite quotes in a sarcastic tone, “he is in there, in his bedroom, on his bed that is inlaid with rings, shining in beauty and raiment—you would not think that he come from fighting a man, but rather that he was going to a dance, or had just left the dance and was reclining” (3:91-94). As beautiful as Paris’ armor is, the chief purpose of it is to be beautiful and not contribute to the battlefield, just as Paris often finds himself not on the battlefield, but rather in the bedroom unscarred, narcissistically admiring his beauty.
Similarly, the scene where Achilles is armored in Book 19 not only reflects his rage following Patroclus’ death, but also suggests Achilles’ godliness. As Achilles continuously stares at the armor aptly forged by Hephaestus the god of fire, “anger entered him all the more, and his eyes terribly shone out beneath his lids like fire flare” (19:16-17). The symbol of fire mirrors Achilles’ uncontrollable wrath and indicates Achilles’ ability to wreak havoc on the battlefield. Furthermore, at first sight, the armor’s aura intimidates all other warriors: “And trembling took all the Myrmidons, nor did any dare to look upon it straight, and they shrank” (19:14-16), but Achilles is the only warrior capable of staring at the armor, suggesting that he is godlike because he is able to wear armor from the gods. The juxtaposition between the godlike Achilles and the mortal Myrmidons highlights the greatness of Achilles on the battlefield, as he stands as a godlike figure among mortals.
While warriors wear armor to express certain traits, they also wear armor as a trophy of glory to flaunt their victories, therefore leading to armor taking up the identity of the warrior. To win glory on the battlefield, warriors not only had to claim victory, but also have others see it. Hence, warriors strived to strip the armor of their fallen foes to seize permanent proof of victory, which is why a big fight occurs over Achilles’ armor when Patroclus falls. What follows is that armor becomes a sign of reputation and identity. Achilles gains the reputation as the strongest warrior because others see him defeating other warriors and stripping their armor. Because others see Achilles claim victory in his armor, the reputation and glory of Achilles as a warrior becomes associated with Achilles’ armor. Thus, his armor takes up his identity. In other words, Achilles’ enemies fear the image of Achilles’ armor, not necessarily Achilles himself.
Since armor takes up the identity of its owner, it veils sightseers from the true warrior underneath. When people view a warrior and garner a certain impression, anybody could be underneath the armor, but the person viewing the armor will have a certain impression because of the armor’s reputation. When Hector meets with his wife and son before saying farewell, his son does not recognize him in his shining armor. In fact, “the child turned away, back to the breast of his fair-belted nurse, crying, frightened at the sight of this own fire, struck with terror seeing the bronze helmet and crest of horsehair” (6:467-469). Hector’s moral identity is that of a family man, evidenced by when his son immediately returns affection when Hector takes his helmet off. But with his armor on, Hector is masked and appears as a monstrous man, unrecognizable by the masquerade his armor creates.
Yet, though armor can mask the physical appearance of a warrior, armor cannot disguise the true warrior underneath. Before even stepping on the battlefield, as Patroclus suits up in Achilles’ gear, he is able to wear all the armor but is unable to take the spear, as “Only the spear of blameless Aeacides he did not take up, heavy, massive, powerful; this no other Achaeans could wield, but only Achilles knew how to wield” (16:140-142), signifying Patroclus can never be the warrior Achilles is, no matter how much he looked like Achilles.
Since wearing someone else’s armor disguises the wearer’s appearance, the wearer strives to take on the identity of the armor due to how people react to seeing the armor. What brings Patroclus’ downfall is not his plan, but rather his over-eagerness while wearing the armor of Achilles. Patroclus, normally a man of reason, conjures a seemingly innocent plan to hold off the Trojans from the ships: “And give me your arms to wear upon my shoulders, with the hope that likening myself to you the Trojans will hold off from fighting” (16:40-43). Homer, however, foreshadows his impending death after he relays his plan to Achilles, suggesting he will be a “great fool; for he was to beseech his own evil death and destruction” (16:46-47) because he does not keep his promise to follow the plan. With the appearance of Patroclus in Achilles’ armor, the illusion of Achilles being back on the Achaean side rallies the Achaeans and startles the Trojans as Patroclus “drove panic upon them all when he killed their leader” (16:292). Descriptions such as “And Patroclus, when he had cut off the ranks of the Trojans turning back, he penned them against the ships… he rushed among and killed them, and exacted vengeance for many” (16:392-297) highlight the temporary boost Patroclus gains from wearing Achilles’ armor. He feels stronger because he is wearing the armor of the greatest warrior, and his opponents are scared to fight the greatest warrior. Patroclus’ plan is working, but the identity of the armor overtakes Patroclus’ identity. With his logic blinded by the lust of power when wearing Achilles’ armor, Patroclus overextends by pushing the Trojans all the way back to the gate—something only Achilles would dare do, leading to his gruesome death. From this, it is clear Patroclus is not Achilles, no matter if Patroclus wears Achilles’ armor.
Hector’s death in Achilles’ armor is another reminder that you cannot become someone else by wearing their armor because armor stays true to its identity and is loyal to its intended wearer. When Hector strips Achilles’ armor, he gains glory that elevates him to the title of the greatest warrior. Despite this, the armor is attributed to Achilles’ identity and aura. The armor betrays Hector when fighting with Achilles, as it seemingly communicates to Achilles the right spot to strike, “The rest of his body was held by brazen armor…but at the point where the collarbone holds the neck from the shoulders there showed his gullet, where death of the soul comes swiftest” (22:322-326). Hector’s false sense of security from wearing Achilles’ armor is his downfall, as the armor betrays him for its true master. Wearing Achilles’ armor only gives Hector the illusion of being the greatest warrior when the reputation that comes with the armor rightfully belongs to Achilles. As long as Achilles is alive, Hector can not claim the title of “greatest warrior” no matter if he dresses in the armor of the “greatest warrior”.
All in all, armor in The Iliad serves as a form of expression on the battlefield. It functions as a trophy of conquest and glory, garnering reputation for prowess on the battlefield. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that although wearing armor can act as a disguise from reality, wearing armor is not disguise from the true warrior underneath. By wearing someone else’s armor, warriors strive to live up the identity of the armor. However, the clash of identities between the armor and warrior may lead to disastrous consequences, as the true warrior comes from within, not from their gear.