There can be a numerous amount of reasons that an author decides to write a particular work. However, the common goal of all authors is to catch the attention of the reader and eventually make an impression of some sort on the reader. There are many different approaches that the author may take in order to achieve this common goal. One approach that can be used is the particular style of writing that the author chooses. In the epic poem by Homer called the Iliad, Homers formula to gain the attention of the reader employs the continual use of similes and metaphors.
Being that the Iliad is an epic poem, it communicates to the reader the thoughts and messages that Homer wishes to convey. It is important for the reader to understand the style of writing that Homer uses in order to fully grasp the message of the work. The readers understanding is magnified if the reader clearly understands the techniques and devices used to write this particular work.
One of the simplest, most practical tools used in poetry is the use of comparison. Ordinary speech is enhanced by the use of these comparisons. There are two ways in which an author can compare two things. One is the use of simile, which is a comparison of two unlike things using the words as or like. An example of a simile in poetry is the line I wandered lonely as a cloud from William Wordsworths famous poem. Other examples of similes are fresh as a daisy, flat as a pancake, and beautiful like an angel. The other type of comparison is the metaphor, in which a comparison is made directly, without the words as or like. In other words, a metaphor is a condensed simile establishing an immediate relationship between two things. An example of a metaphor is the phrase drowning in sorrow.
In the Iliad, Homer extensively uses the device of simile in portraying many aspects of the text. Homer does not use the metaphor extensively in his work, and when he does use it, the comparisons are usually limited to simple phrases such as winged words (1.201). The main crux of comparisons in the Iliad is the use of similes in which Homer uses in two different ways. Homer uses short similes in which he compares two entities using one simple phrase. There are numerous examples of this found in the Iliad.
One example can be found in Book 1 when Homer describes how Achilleus called upon his mother for help from Zeus and how she came out from the sea. Homer writes, and lightly she emerged like a mist from the gray water (359). Another example can be found when Homer speaks of the robe that Hekabe was going to give Athene as a gift, he says the robe shone like a star (6.295). More prevalent however, are the extended similes that Homer has so brilliantly presented in this poem. There are several examples of extended similes that can be noted. One example can be found in Book 6 in the scene that characterizes the meeting between Diomedes and Glaukos. After Diomedes asks Glaukos about his background, Glaukos replies:
As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity. The wind scatters the leaves on the
ground, but the live timber burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies (146).
Another example of an extended simile is found in Book 16 as Achilleus snaps at Patroklos for crying because of the war. Achilleus compares Patroklos to a crying girl running after her mother. He says:
Why then are you crying like some poor girl, Patroklos, who runs after her mother and
begs to be picked up and carried, and clings to her dress, and holds her back when she
tries to hurry, and gazes tearfully into her face, until she is picked up. You are like one,
such a Patroklos, dropping these soft tears. (6)
Homer utilizes metaphors as well as similes to add texture to the Iliad. Most
often, the metaphors are simple phrases used to describe a person or object. Examples of metaphors from the Iliad are when Homer calls Achilleus shepherd of the people (16.2) and in Book 2, when Homer discusses Agamemnons dream. Homer describes the descent of the Dream to Agamemnon. Homer writes, He found him sleeping within his shelter in a cloud of immortal slumber (18).
Homers similes and metaphors are generally used as descriptions. The descriptions can be divided into different groups such as descriptions of people, descriptions of peoples language, and descriptions of war and battle. Homers descriptions of people, particularly the warriors are found throughout the Iliad. In Book 2, Homer describes the Achaian army, saying that it was as if they were young children or widowed women they cry out and complain to each other about going homeward (289). Book 3 says, Atreides ranged like a wild beast (448) and in Book 6, Hektors son is described as beautiful as a shining star (401). Achilleus in particular is compared to many things in the Iliad. In Book 16 Achilleus is called shepherd of the people (2). In Book 22, he is described in great detail in comparison with many things. He is compared to a racehorse who is in tearing speed (22), he is compared to a star which comes on in the autumn and whose conspicuous brightness far outshines the stars that are numbered in the nights darkening (26). He is also compared to a snake who waits for a man by his hole, in the mountains, glutted with evil poisons (93). Homer uses these comparisons to greatly emphasize the greatness and strength of Achilleus. Without these similes, our belief and understanding of Achilleus strength would be severely limited. If Homer told us at the beginning that Achilleus was the greatest of all warriors and did not add these comparisons throughout the poem, the strength would not seem as great as it seems with these comparisons. With these comparisons, Achilleus seems more like a god than a human, and because he is so honored by others in the poem for his strength, the reader will indefinitely honor him and be awed by him as well. The comparisons act not only as reminders, but also as reinforcers of the greatness of Achilleus.
Descriptions of peoples speech also occur as similes and metaphors in the Iliad. The speech that people use to put down other people usually contains similes and metaphors. In Book 3, Alexandros tells Hektor your heart is weariless, like an axe-blade driven by a mans strength through the timber (60). In Book 22, Hektor calls Achilleus a dog (345) and says that Achilleus has a heart of iron (357).
One of the main focuses of Homers descriptive language is his concentration on warriors, battle and war. An abundant amount of similes and metaphors can be found in Homers descriptions. In Book 2 Homer describes the Achaian army as:
swarms of clustering bees that issue forever in fresh bursts from the hallow in the
stone, and hang like a bunch of grapes as they hover beneath the flowers in springtime
fluttering in swarms together this way and that way (87).
In Book 3, the Trojans are said to come on with clamour and shouting like wildfowl (2), and the Achaians are described as:
on the peaks of mountains the south wind scatters the thick mist, no friend to the
shepherd, but better than night for the robber, and a man can see before him only as
far as a stone cast, so beneath their feet the dust drove up in a stormcloud of men
marching, who made their way through the plain in great speed (10).
The warriors in particular are described through comparison. The Trojan warriors are compared to a black cloud (16.65) while the Achaian warriors are said to be like wolves who tear flesh raw (16.155).
Homers technique in employing the similes and metaphors is fairly simple; they are everywhere. Without the similes, the work would be a plain and unreadable record of the Trojan War. It would not be a work of poetry, but rather a historical account of an event that took place. Without the similes and metaphors, the reader would not associate as closely with the characters, and there would be not as clear an understanding as there is with the similes and metaphors. The reason that the text becomes more interesting through the use of simile and metaphor is because they allow for the reader to associate better with the plot. The similes and metaphor bring the characters and the battles to life. The reader becomes familiarized with Homers style of writing, and will become more comfortable not only with the plot, but with the characters as well. This familiarity might thus let the reader to even take sides with certain characters, causing a kind of emotional connection to the characters as well as the text on a whole.
Homers brilliant use of language is what makes the Iliad such an ingenious work of literature. The reader becomes absorbed into the language that Homer employs, and what may have been difficult to read in the beginning becomes second nature to the reader after a while. The similes and metaphors add texture and depth to the characters as well as the plot. It is unquestionable that these similes and metaphors gain the interest of the readers and hopefully make an impression on them, thus achieving the ultimate goal of the author, Homer.