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Without the barest perception of a world that might abhor strife and violence, humanity has become simply unable to conceive of a reason not to propagate both. When the masses of Auden's world seek to please ethereal voices of authority, they do so likely hoping that they will find some sense of meaning. "The Idea in the Mirror: Reflections on the Consciousness of Consciousness." The Kenyon Review 9.2 (1987): 51-64.
It is a form of life far removed from the vibrance and singular personal experience that defines the classical imagery of the Iliad, which Auden references in his description of Hephaestus's creation of Achilles' shield.
The world that Thetis inhabits is one that stands in sharp contrast to Auden's modern environment, being defined in Auden's verse by the sheer brilliance of its construction, one in which "vines and olive trees" and "[m]arble well-governed cities" are prominent features (2-3).
The narrative of the poem describes a modern variation of the human race that can no longer be reduced to single individuals; it is, rather, an "unintelligible multitude" that is, at best, less a body of human beings than a statistical anomaly (Auden, 13).
Their world is one defined by the absence of personal meaning, and they have become so degraded that they have taken to silently occupying their space as a "million eyes, a million boots in line, / [w]ithout expression, waiting for a sign," seeking not for personal revelations but for any sign of authority (14-15).
Robert Pack explores this in his article "The Idea in the Mirror: Reflections on the Consciousness of Consciousness," stating that Auden uses the Homeric, mythical vision of life to provide a sharp contrast with the mundane, scientific reality that modern people live in, one in which the individual cannot appeal to personal or social meaning (61).
Rendered against the fantastic imagery of Homer, the meaninglessness of that modern life is made all the more stark and unmerciful.In "The Shield of Achilles," Auden juxtaposes the classical imagery of Hephaestus's construction of the eponymous shield with brutal modern imagery to illustrate the anxious meaninglessness of modern life, the warfare engendered by it, and the cruel social realities that lie behind both.Auden's poem is replete with images of the absence of hope and meaning in modern life, and these images are made all the more poignant for their juxtaposition with the vibrance of the classical imagery of the Iliad.These occurrences do not trouble the masses, however; rather, they are simply taken as reality.This mindless acceptance is hardly surprising, given the futility and hopelessness of the world they exist in.Humanity in Auden's modern world has actually ceased to be, as life has left them stunted; as the poem mentions, they "lost their pride / And died as [individuals] before their bodies died" (43-44).The stagnation of their life has destroyed them, and it is that stagnation that Auden so potently equates with the shield Hephaestus fashions for Achilles.As the article "Hephaestus' World: The Shield" by Eva Brann notes, the desolation of Hephaestus's shield is thoroughly modern in its imagery (42).Unlike the shield constructed in the Iliad, which is defined by its beauty and wonder, the eponymous shield of the poem is adorned with cruel, unbroken expanses of nothingness, featuring only an "artificial wilderness / [a]nd a sky like lead" (Auden 7-8). The world Auden describes in "The Shield of Achilles" is a horrific one, one bereft of inner meaning and whose only catalyst is the posturing of figures of authority.The environment is, as Auden describes, a "plain without a feature, bare and brown, / No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood, / Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down" (9-11).