omer’s Use of Them Affected theStoryAn Examination of Similes in the Iliad – and how Homer’s Use of Them Affected theStoryIn the Iliad, Homer finds a great tool in the simile. Just by openingthe book in a random place the reader is undoubtedly faced with one, or within afew pages. Homer seems to use everyday activities, at least for the audience,his fellow Greeks, in these similes nearly exclusively.
When one is confrontedwith a situation that is familiar, one is more likely to put aside contemplatingthe topic and simply inject those known feelings. This would definitely be aneffective tactic when used upon the people of Homer’s day. From the heroicefforts in the Iliad itself it is clear that the populace of his time werehighly emotional creatures, and higher brain activity seems to be in short, andin Odysseus’ case, valuable, order. It is also wise to remember that history is written by the winners. In theIliad, there seems to be relatively little storyline from the Trojan’s side.
Weare regaled with story upon story of the Greeks, their heroes, and theirexploits, while the Trojan’s are conspicuously quiet, sans Hector of course. Itcould almost be assumed that throughout time most of the knowledge of the battlefrom the Trojan side had been lost. Considering the ability to affect feelings with similes, and the one-sidedview of history, Homer could be using similes to guide the reader in thedirection 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 favorTroy. It could easily be imagined that throughout time, only great things wereheard about the Greeks mettle in war, and that Homer is attempting to balancethe scales a bit by romanticizing the Trojan peoples, especially Hector, andbringing to light the lesser-heard tales of Greek stupidity. Shortly into Book Two, Agamemnon gives the speech to his assembly about hisplan to rally the troops with reverse psychology.
Agamemnon shall announce heis giving up on taking Troy, whereupon the individual army captains will then”prevent their doing so. ” When the announcement is made, King Agamemnon isstartled to see the ranks, not surprisingly, take advantage of the chance toleave and make for the ships with vigor. Homer describes the scene as “bees thatsally from some hollow cave and flit in countless throng among the springflowers, bunched in knots and clusters. . .
” This simile is tainted with darkwords like “from a hollow cave” and “bunched in knots”, giving the “bees” anominous tone. The Greek ranks are painted as a throng of weak-kneed wimps withtheir 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 Greekwarriors have changed their mind about leaving and return to the Scamander:”They stood as thick upon the flower-bespangled field as leaves that bloom insummer. ” This scene assumes quite a juxtaposition. A flower-bespangledbattlefield? 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 ofdeath. Near the beginning of Book Three a group of elders of Troy, not fightingmaterial, but skilled orators, are found resting on the tower “like cicadas thatchirrup delicately from the boughs of some high tree in a wood.
” The cicadassong and the “tree in a wood” cast memories of repose and relaxation, rest andpeace, which are then injected into the “delicate” elders. Another attempt ofHomer to cast the Trojans in a favorable light. Later in the same book Ptolemaeus is Homer’s vehicle for putting down theGreeks again. Upon seeing shirkers of the front line of battle he likens themto “frightened fawns who, when they can no longer scud over the plain huddletogether. ” Undoubtedly, the men of Homer’s time hunted to survive, and relishedthe sight of the frightened fawns grouped together.
But does not one also feelpity for them? This is a wonderful simile that brings home the nervoustwitchiness that would denote a person scared to death in such a situation. Later in Book Five there is a great dichotomy of similes. First, Heracomes down “flying like turtledoves in eagerness to help the Argives. ” followedby a scene surrounding Diomedes where his men are “fighting like lions or wildboars.
” Both of these have their own respective importance. There is probablyno more revered avian for peace and beauty than the turtledove, and applyingthis to Hera shows where her intentions lie. While lions and boars arenotoriously vicious creatures, sure to raise a hackle or two on a Greek reader,and when exercised on Diomedes it brings their ferocity home. The interestingthing here is the contrast between the two.
This is another example of how theGreeks 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 some Trojans, that they are “like sunbeams. ” Avery short, and odd, description for horses. One is reminded of Apollo and hiskinship with his chariot, often referred to as racing across the heavens. Thethought of golden horses gliding straight and true, unwavering, is mostdefinitely an image depicting the eliteness of these thoroughbreds. Shortly after Agamemnon dons his armor.
On this armor fit for a king were”serpents of Cyanus” that appeared “like the rainbows which were set in heaven. “Quite an interesting description of something that is supposed to instill fearin ones enemy. The snake, as a notoriously evil incarnation, resembling arainbow seems foreign. The secret lies in the rest of the armor, that it isliberally covered in gold brings home the idea of the splendor and decadence ofthis armor, as wonderful as might be found on a god in heaven. The idea of aking possessing the gall to flaunt this frivolous armor in a situation thatcalls for something more practical, goes to show the ineptitude of the king ofthe Acheans. In Book Twelve we have Polypoetes and Leonteus, defending the gate of thewall to the Greek ships from the invasion of the Trojans.
These two imposingcharacters “stood before the gates like two high oak trees upon the mountains,that tower from their wide-spreading roots, and year after year battle with windand rain. ” This simile lends to the characters of the two, Polypoetes andLeonteus, along with the resolve of the Greeks at that time. The defenses arebrought out to be as long-standing and strong as one of natures most formidablecreations, as any Greek would know from the evidence of their existence in suchan inhospitable condition as the mountains. Going back, Book Three starts with: “the Trojans advanced as a flight ofwild fowl or cranes that scream overhead when rain and winter drive them overthe flowing waters of Ocean. ” The cranes bring to mind large, pure, gracefulcharacteristics, qualities befitting an efficient army troop. The screaming ofthe cranes would duly apply to the army, being that a scream would be terrifying,dissuading the enemy.
The choice of simile here is important. Homer is lettingthe Trojan army achieve the appearance of gracefulness, while the Greek army isconsistently portrayed as predatory animals. In Book Four Ajax duels with Simoeisius. Ajax runs Simoeisius through witha spear and “he fell as a poplar that has grown straight and tall in a meadow bysome stream and is cut down by a wainwright with his gleaming axe. ” The imageof a well grown tree with great nourishment from the stream and the pastoralsetting acquainted with Simoeisius is consistent with Homer’s beautifying theTrojan tradition. Ajax is consistently portrayed as a giant, and with his greatspear it is no stretch to align him with the strength of the lumberjack with hisaxe, giving him an air of respect and reverence to him that extends beyond hisbattlefield prowess.
Near the end of Book Five Diomedes is greeted by a rush from Hector’sforces. His reaction is described as like that of “a man crossing a wide plain,dismayed to find himself on the brink of some great river rolling swiftly to thesea. ” Up until this point Diomedes had been a potent force for the Greeks. Hisnewfound humility brought upon by the unsurpassable “river” of Hector’s troops.
It is enough to convince us that Hector’s army is menacing in this facet alone,but to imagine that mass of fighting spirit would be enough to purge its enemieslike the rapids swallows an unexperienced kayaker is all the more frightening. At the end of Book Six we find Paris catching up to Hector, to rejoin thebattle. Paris takes off “as a horse, stabled and fed, breaks loose and gallopsgloriously over the plain to the place where he is wont to bathe in the fair-flowing river- he holds his head high, and his mane streams upon his shouldersas he exults in his strength and flies like the wind to the haunts and feedingground of the mares- even so went forth Paris from high Pergamus, gleaming likesunlight in his armor, and he laughed aloud as he sped swiftly on his way. “Obviously Paris is just as much a show off as Agamemnon, and definitely morevain.
This simile is packed with phrases that exalt strength, beauty andgracefulness, but little reference to battle prowess, thus presenting Paris asnothing more than a figure-head. The notable laughing at the end is somethingthat is singularly Trojan. Not once is a Greek found laughing, more evidencethat Homer has glamorized the Trojan lifestyle. The method I used for examining these examples is exceptionally difficult. First, I examined the way the similes were used and the effect they achieved,and at the same time, and the same space, attempted to prove that Homer tried tobring the Trojans a sense of honor they didn’t receive in battle. Homer’ssimiles proved to have been generally bipolar, good or bad, and he applied themliberally where needed.
The goal of Homer’s trade, as a poet, was to stirpeople, and the easier the better. What better way than to appeal to onesalready experienced emotions? To make a person feel like their everyday actionssomehow partook in a greater story is what is accomplished by using the similesthat Homer used. These similes brought the story down to earth, and everydaylife into the story. There is evidence for Homer favoring the Trojans, at least literarily, inthis poem. His consistent use of beauty and grace with the Trojans contrastedwith the viciousness portrayed in the Greeks is clear. Homer might have givenother Trojan warriors besides Hector moments of aristea also if their exploitshad not have been lost through time.
Anyone, especially a poet, would feelindebted to the dead to give them some honor for their duties, and Homer hasdone just that.English