As long as there is thought there will always be debate as to the relevance and applications of any figure that has potential symbolism deeper than its appearance. We see it with the Bible, with its accompanying fundamentalism, literalism, interpretationalism, and its downright detractors. Attention given to an object for such a prolonged time is bound to foster battleground for linguists, philosophers, and literary scholars. Additionally, we see it with the Shield of Achilles in Homer's The Iliad. The Shield is a literary figure of beauty which the world has enjoyed, despised, and revered for several millennia. Its lengthy and detailed description forces any reader to, if not look past it for higher meaning, at least imagine and stare at it for a significant amount of time.
There are conflicting explanations as to the importance of the passages describing the images on the Shield. They range from it being an afterthought by the Poet to the revelation of God as interpreted by Homer. There are many differing ideas as to the significance and the use of the figure by Homer, but the beauty of his work is that it doesn't really answer itself. Homer doesn't give the key to his secret closet in his work; he leaves it to the interpretation of others.
That is the beauty of literature, there is no right or wrong answer. What the creator meant it to be is only a shadow of what it is, as a branch of a tree can become a home to chittering fowl. And so it is with the Shield of Achilles.
One of the more interesting, in my opinion, of the ideas, concerning the Shield, is the interpretation of Hugh Nibley in his book Abraham in Egypt. He discusses at length, in the volume, the manner in which God reveals His knowledge and specifically to His repeated use of visual aids to form man's idea of heaven. He draws comparisons of the Shield to Facsimile 2 in the Book of Abraham. He compares the physical description, with the circular depiction of the cosmos and geologic structure of the earth, and the significance of the two images, in the depiction of the God(s) interaction with man. Nibley quotes Justin Martyr when he said that "Homer became acquainted with Moses' cosmic teachings while he was visiting Egypt... impressed by what he [Moses] had written about the origin of the cosmos, he depicted it in the Shield of Achilles." (Nibley, pg. 46) This interpretation causes there to be a more eternal implication in the tone of the Shield, instead of merely a work of beauty, it is a work of Divine Beauty, wherein a revelation of the world as it really is, is incorporated into the description.
There is, also, a thought wherein the importance of the Shield's image is merely a meandering act of poetic prowess by Homer. That the Poet's stream of thought brought it about, as much of an aesthetic wonder as a relief from the intensity of the battle scenes. This mode of thought was described by Oliver Taplin in his essay The Shield of...