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An Examination Of Similes In The Iliad - And How Homer's Use Of Them Affected The Story

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Poetry & Poets

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An Examination of Similes in the Iliad - and how Homer's Use of Them Affected the
In the Iliad, Homer finds a great tool in the simile. Just by opening
the book in a random place the reader is undoubtedly faced with one, or within a
few pages. Homer seems to use everyday activities, at least for the audience,
his fellow Greeks, in these similes nearly exclusively. When one is confronted
with a situation that is familiar, one is more likely to put aside contemplating
the topic and simply inject those known feelings. This would definitely be an
effective tactic when used upon the people of Homer's day. From the heroic
efforts in the Iliad itself it is clear that the populace of his time were
highly emotional creatures, and higher brain activity seems to be in short, and
in Odysseus' case, valuable, order.
It is also wise to remember that history is written by the winners. In the
Iliad, there seems to be relatively little storyline from the Trojan's side. We
are regaled with story upon story of the Greeks, their heroes, and their
exploits, while the Trojan's are conspicuously quiet, sans Hector of course. It
could almost be assumed that throughout time most of the knowledge of the battle
from the Trojan side had been lost.
Considering the ability to affect feelings with similes, and the one-sided
view of history, Homer could be using similes to guide the reader in the
direction of his personal views, as happens with modern day political "spin".
These views that Homer might be trying to get across might be trying to favor
Troy. It could easily be imagined that throughout time, only great things were
heard about the Greeks mettle in war, and that Homer is attempting to balance
the scales a bit by romanticizing the Trojan peoples, especially Hector, and
bringing to light the lesser-heard tales of Greek stupidity.
Shortly into Book Two, Agamemnon gives the speech to his assembly about his
plan to rally the troops with reverse psychology. Agamemnon shall announce he
is giving up on taking Troy, whereupon the individual army captains will then
"prevent their doing so." When the announcement is made, King Agamemnon is
startled to see the ranks, not surprisingly, take advantage of the chance to
leave and make for the ships with vigor. Homer describes the scene as "bees that
sally from some hollow cave and flit in countless throng among the spring
flowers, bunched in knots and clusters..." This simile is tainted with dark
words like "from a hollow cave" and "bunched in knots", giving the "bees" an
ominous tone. The Greek ranks are painted as a throng of weak-kneed wimps with
their constitution sapped, obviously not the case as they go on to win the war,
but it suffices to cast the Lycians in a negative light.
A short, but emotionally appealing, simile is found after the Greek
warriors have changed their mind about leaving and return to the Scamander:
"They stood as thick upon the flower-bespangled field as leaves that bloom in
summer." This scene assumes quite a juxtaposition. A flower-bespangled
battlefield? This is perhaps an attempt to show the absurdity of the Greek army,
changing positions from fleeing to brazenness as flowers are to the field of
Near the beginning of Book Three a group of elders of Troy, not fighting
material, but skilled orators, are found resting on the tower "like cicadas that
chirrup delicately from the boughs of some high tree in a wood." The cicadas
song and the "tree in a wood" cast memories of repose and relaxation, rest and
peace, which are then injected into the "delicate" elders. Another attempt of
Homer to cast the Trojans in a favorable light.
Later in the same book Ptolemaeus is Homer's vehicle for putting down the
Greeks again. Upon seeing shirkers of the front line of battle he likens them
to "frightened fawns who, when they can no longer scud over the plain huddle
together." Undoubtedly, the men of Homer's time hunted to survive, and relished
the sight of the frightened fawns grouped together. But does not one also feel
pity for them? This is a wonderful simile that brings home the nervous
twitchiness that would denote a person scared to death in such a situation.
Later in Book Five there is a great dichotomy of similes. First, Hera
comes down "flying like turtledoves in eagerness to help the Argives." followed
by a scene surrounding Diomedes where his men are "fighting like lions or wild
boars." Both of these have their own respective importance. There is probably
no more revered avian for peace and beauty than the turtledove, and applying
this to Hera shows where her intentions lie. While lions and boars are
notoriously vicious creatures, sure to raise a hackle or two on a Greek reader,
and when exercised on Diomedes it brings their ferocity home. The interesting
thing here is the contrast between the two. This is another example of how the
Greeks are made to look like animals.
In Book Ten Nestor comments on a set of horses that Odysseus is ushering,
won by Diomedes through killing ...

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