Sweet Similes

Although Homer’s main aim in reciting The Iliad is to relay the story of Achilles’ rage, he takes multiple opportunities to reveal his great talent as an artist. Homer uses different descriptions to take the readers/audience off of a page of mere written/spoken word. He uses animals (lions, falcons, eagles, deer, horses, wolves, etc.), and insects (flies, cicadas, etc.) likely common to the people of that time. The various asides in The Iliad show his ability to make a reader feel and see the scenes he is writing/telling of. Let’s take a look at the following similes to see what can be learned of Homer and 8th Century Greece.

…Where the river Caystrius branches out in streams…

Here we have an example of something that the people of that time would have known. Sometimes the hindrance in being a modern reader is that we do not get to read through the eyes of an 8th Century citizen of Greece. We do not know what it looked like for the river Caystrius to branch out in the 700’s B.C., and sadly enough, we’ll never know.

Picture a horse that has fed on barley in his stall breaking his halter and galloping across the plain, making for his accustomed swim in the river, a glorious animal, head held high, mane streaming like wind on his shoulders. Sure of his splendor he prances by the horse-runs and the mares in pasture.

A picture of Paris running from a high rock. This particular aside is loaded with all kinds of imagery of Paris. We know from the story, Paris was a very proud man and it seems here this shows in the description. I think a special aspect of this quote is the fact that Homer set up a scene behind a scene with the first bit. With the imagery of the horse, if only for one second, Homer takes the reader completely away from the plot and the strife, and battle.

Think of wolves ravenous for meat. It is impossible to describe their savage strength in the hunt, but after they have killed an antlered stag up in the hills and torn it apart, they come down with gore on their jowls, and in a pack go to lap the black surface water in a pool fed by a dark spring, and as they drink, crimson curls float off from their slender tongues. But their hears are still, and their bellies gorged.

Did this quote almost make you sick to your stomach as well? I think Homer displays his talents incredibly well here. I wonder if he had a difficult time writing it. I hope so. This is likely one of the asides most filled with gore, yet most captures a reader in its ultimate description of the Myrmidon warriors. Homer shows that he is an artist willing to describe for readers what people would rather remain ignorant about: the savageness of battle.

Passion sometimes blinds a man so completely that he kills one of his own countrymen. In exile, he comes into a wealthy house, and everyone stares at him with wonder.

For me, this aside was the most unique. However, the scene which it aids in setting up in incredibly tense. This is when Priam comes to retrieve Hector’s body from Achilles. Can you see and feel Achilles’ being so stunned? This aside especially almost adds to the tension of the readers and listeners wondering what will happen next. In the middle of the tension, Homer brilliantly asides to seemingly begin describing something so unrelated to the current situation. The best part is that this aside last for a few lines and then goes straight back into the story; but, the reader is left with a description of the kind of awe one of the character’s is feeling at the moment in the plot.

Indeed, Homer shows some of his true artistic genius in the similes of The Iliad. Instead of viewing these as unnecessary additions for Homer to show of his skill, rather we should read them to see if we can truly picture the scene. Read them carefully to be sure to understand the small details that add so much value and description to the rest of the words on the page.

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