The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile

Scott, William C. (William Clyde), 1937-

Dartmouth College Library

Hanover, NH 03755, USA

© Copyright 2009, William C. Scott

This work has been re-issued as an electronic book by the Dartmouth College Library, to coincide with the digital and print publication of Professor Scott’s 2009 publication, The Artistry of the Homeric Simile (University Press of New England: Hanover and London).  The electronic versions of both books are publicly available for non-commercial use, free of charge. These publications are the result of a partnership between the University Press of New England, Dartmouth College Library, and Professor Scott.


















ISBN 90 04 03789 6
DOI: 10.1349/ddlp.704

Copyright 1974 by E. J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
translated in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm, microfiche
or any other means without written permission from the publisher.




Preface vii
I. The Similes and their Critics 1
II. The Traditional Poet I: The Placement of the Similes 12
I. Similes Joined to Themes 15
1. The Journeys of Gods 15
2. Measurement 20
3. Actions of Divine Beings 24
3a. Actions of Spirits and Monsters 26
4. Themes of Specific Emotions 28
5. Similes for Variation of Standard Themes 31
6. General Scenes of the Armies 33
7. Summary Scenes before Battle 36
8. Entrance of the Hero 38
9. Withdrawal of the Hero 41
II. Similes as Poetic Technique 42
1. Emphasis on Anticipated Meetings 42
2. The Joining of Two Scenes 45
3. Emphasis in Short Episodes 46
4. Emphasis of Continuing Motifs throughout the Larger Narrative 49
III. Similes in Speeches 50
Conclusion: The Placement of the Similes 51
III. The Traditional Poet II: The Subject Matter of the Similes 56
1. The Lion Similes 58
2. Wind and Sea Similes 62
3. Fire Similes 66
4. Gods and Goddesses 68
5. Tree Similes 70
6. Wolf Similes 71
7. Deer Similes 71
8. Stele Similes 72


9. Diver Similes 72
10. Hunting Similes 72
11. Similes of Children 73
12. Swarms of Insects 74
13. Fish Similes 75
14. River Similes 76
15. Bird Similes 77
16. Farm Animal Similes 79
17. Fragments of Evidence for the Tradition 80
18. Similes from Outside the Tradition 81
Conclusion: Tradition and Subject Matter 83
IV. The Oral Composer: The Extended Simile 96
I. The Similes of the Iliad 98
1. Preparing for New Action 98
2. War and Peace 100
3. Peace in War 107
4. Series of Similes 113
5. The Aristeia of Achilles 114
II. The Similes of the Odyssey 120
V. The Oral Composition of the Similes 126
I. Homer's Repeated Similes 127
II. Methods of Extending the Simile 140
III. Conclusion: The Language of the Similes 161
VI. The Homeric Simile and the Oral Tradition 166
I. The Relationship between Art and Poetry 166
1. Mycenaean Art and Its Precursors 174
2. Proto-Attic Pottery 177
3. Clazomenian Sarcophagi 179
II. The Audience and Oral Tradition 183
Appendix: A Classification of the Similes by Location and Subject Matter 190
Books cited by Author's Name 206
Index 207


9. Diver Similes 72
10. Hunting Similes 72
11. Similes of Children 73
12. Swarms of Insects 74
13. Fish Similes 75
14. River Similes 76
15. Bird Similes 77
16. Farm Animal Similes 79
17. Fragments of Evidence for the Tradition 80
18. Similes from Outside the Tradition 81
Conclusion: Tradition and Subject Matter 83

IV. The Oral Composer: The Extended Simile 96
I. The Similes of the Iliad 98
1. Preparing for New Action 98
2. War and Peace 100
3. Peace in War 107
4. Series of Similes 113
5. The Aristeia of Achilles 114
II. The Similes of the Odyssey 120

V. The Oral Composition of the Similes 126
I. Homer's Repeated Similes 127
II. Methods of Extending the Simile 140
III. Conclusion: The Language of the Similes 161

VI. The Homeric Simile and the Oral Tradition 166
I. The Relationship between Art and Poetry 166
1. Mycenaean Art and Its Precursors 174
2. Proto-Attic Pottery 177
3. Clazomenian Sarcophagi 179
II. The Audience and Oral Tradition 183

Appendix: A Classification of the Similes by Location and Subject Matter 190

Books cited by Author's Name 206

Index 207



The present study of the Homeric simile begins with a familiar
assumption, that the writer was an oral poet. There are already
numerous studies of poetic techniques in the Iliad and Odyssey
which are dependent on the hypothesis that Homer was an oral
poet. On such an assumption one can study a wide spectrum of
topics ranging from rather precise matters, such as versification
and word choice, to broader concerns of type scenes and developing
themes. The idea that Homer was an oral poet similar in most
respects to present day oral poets has not found a warm reception
in all quarters since no critic can compare contemporary oral verse
with the Homeric poems without noticing several important
discrepancies. And yet it is the basic assumption of this study that
the phrasing and composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey were
deeply rooted in a long and complex tradition of oral poetry.
Whatever may be the true picture of Homer in the act of composition,
it at least seems clear that he was a poet who was fully acquainted
with and steeped in such a tradition. Once this is granted,
many of the features of Homeric verse which seem so familiar to
writers and readers must be examined to ensure that our understanding
of these features is based on an awareness of the capabilities
and the techniques of an oral poet. Where it is not—and this is
often true of our understanding of the similes—there is need for
further exploration.

The extended Homeric simile, which is a hallmark of the epic
style, has been used with great effect by Vergil and Milton who in so
many ways acknowledge their dependence on and inspiration from
Homer. Still there are great differences in the old Homeric simile
when it is taken over by the two later writers. Vergil and Milton
created their longer similes with full understanding and consciousness
of the literary tradition in which they were writing skillfully
matching details between simile and narrative, adding color to their
texts, and developing themes by their artful handling of this small
form. The simile in the Iliad and the Odyssey is never so close in its
parallels to the narrative nor so related to a consistent theme, and
yet it is in its own way highly effective. As in the later written
epics, Homer's perceptive employment of the simile presupposes a


certain amount of practice and most probably a tradition by which
the form, phrasing, and usage of the simile were defined and
developed. Tradition so completely dominated the individual lines
and type scenes throughout the Iliad and the Odyssey that it would
seem odd if there were not an inheritance of customary practice
in singing similes from earlier poets. In spite of the suspicion that
Homer drew on a tradition which was as strong as that influencing
Vergil and Milton, such a tradition remains largely hidden because
of the disappearance of Greek epics earlier than or contemporary
with the Iliad and the Odyssey.


Yet to attempt to define this tradition and to delineate the extent
of its influence is possible because of the consistent and economical
system which lies at the root of improvised oral composition.
Whereas Vergil and Milton could always draw upon the tradition to
aid their creative efforts but were not bound to it, an oral poet
works within the limits of a strong tradition which he follows with
regularity because of the pressure from his audience, the circumstances
of composition, and the normal limitations of a human
mind. It is possible to find patterns of words and motifs in the
poetry of Vergil and Milton and such patterns reveal much about
the techniques and intent of these poets. Though is easier to find
patterns of phrasing and scene construction in the Iliad and the
Odyssey, these patterns do not reveal as much about the individual
poet Homer as they do about the oral tradition in which the poet
was educated and which, therefore, underlies the poems.

In regard to the similes there are surprisingly consistent patterns
of usage which can be found in their placement, their subject, their
extension, and their phrasing. By comparing the various simile
groups and families, it is possible to trace with some degree of
accuracy the simile materials which the tradition offered to Homer
as an aid in composition. Such conclusions are more relevant to the
collective body of practicing oral poets who carried on the tradition
than to Homer. In a real sense any study of the patterns of society
as revealed in a single phenomenon tells far more about the society
— poets and painters, mothers and children, craftsmen and teachers
— than it does about the individual ordering force behind the

The Homeric simile is merely one aspect of a much larger creation,
the stories and the poetry of the Iliad and the Odyssey. However
masterful the artistry of these poems may be, it can only be enhanced


by an understanding of the tradition which lies behind, or rather
permeates, every line and scene. As the similes in the Aeneid and
Paradise Lost become more meaningful when compared to their
models, so also Homer's similes gain in meaning when the tradition
in which they are firmly rooted is better understood.


Many people have aided me in completing this study; I am most
indebted to President James I. Armstrong of Middlebury College,
to Professor Bernard Fenik of Princeton University, and to Professor
Max Treu of the University of Munich, all of whom were faithful
guides as this project grew from an idea to a completed manuscript.
Thanks are also due to Mrs. Nancy Heffernan who saved me from
many mistakes by her careful reading of the manuscript. I am
further grateful to Dartmouth College for a Faculty Fellowship for
post-doctoral research, which enabled me to extend my study in
order to examine the structure and extension of the similes and to
explore the possible connections to art works. Dartmouth College
has also aided in the publication costs for this book.

To those many friends and colleagues who have read portions of
this book in manuscript and who have enlarged my understanding
by their generous criticism, I offer my grateful appreciation.

Hanover, N.H.

December 1972.

W. C. S.

Postscript, 2009

I wish to express my appreciation to the officials of the Thesaurus
Linguae Graecae
for allowing me to use their Greek text for quoting
similes in re-issuing this book as an electronic publication.

Hanover, N.H.

September 2009.

W. C. S.



A recent guidebook for writers by E. B. White contains the
following advice:

Use figures of speech sparingly.
The simile is a common device and a useful one, but similes
coming in rapid fire, one right on top of another, are more
distracting than illuminating. The reader needs time to catch
his breath; he can't be expected to compare everything with
something else, and no relief in sight.

When you use metaphor, do not mix it up. That is, don't
start by calling something a sword fish and end by calling it
an hourglass. 1

This pithy comment contains two suggestions: first, a writer should
not use many similes in a row; and second, once he picks an image,
he should develop it rather than jump nervously from subject to
subject. Of course, Homer never wrote such a book of helpful hints
for young poets; but if he had, his feelings about similes would
probably have been different, at least in view of this passage:


Just as a destructive fire consumes an endless forest on the
peaks of a mountain, and the blaze is seen far away, so did the
gleam from the wondrous armor of the men as they marched
rise up to the heavens through the air.

And as many flocks of winged birds, of geese or cranes or
long-necked swans, fly this way and that in the fields of Asia
near the streams of Cayster, delighting in their flight—with
loud cries they advance and settle and the field echoes with
their cries, so did the many tribes of men pour forth from the
ships and the tents onto the plain by Scamander. And the
earth resounded terribly from the marching of the men and


their horses. In their thousands they stood on the flowering plain
of the Scamander, as numerous as are the leaves and flowers in


As the many close-packed swarms of flies crowd throughout
the herdsman's barns in the springtime, when milk fills the pails,
just so many long-haired Achaeans stood in the plain facing the
Trojans, eager to destroy them. 2

(2.455-473) 3


There is a great difference in the theory and practice represented
by E. B. White and Homer. E. B. White has the freedom of the
blank page and the eraser. He can let his thoughts lead him wherever
they wish, then retrace his steps rearranging and removing those
words which do not serve his purpose. Homer, on the other hand,
accepted the limitations of a tradition. His stories were old and
familiar, and his characters had already been depicted many times
performing the same acts in the same situations. Even his language
was a hand-me-down from poets who had told the same tale in the
same words for generations. If Homer made a mistake or a slip in
taste, there was no second chance and no eraser. What had once
passed the poet's lips had to stand as it was, to be modified and
corrected either immediately or not at all. In spite of the difference
between a prose-writer and a poet, both men are devoted to composing
clearly, concisely, and effectively. E. B. White, however, is
relatively free; Homer volunteered to be constrained by the bonds
of a strong tradition. 4


It is that tradition, especially in regard to the simile, which I
intend to examine. The subject for such a study is almost exclusively
the two Homeric poems, the sole extant exemplars of early Greek
epic. In other early poets there are traces of epic diction used in a
manner which may appear oral. However, only the two monumental
poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, preserve closely the language and
the method of the oral epic poet. 5 It is not necessary to enter into
the battle over the authorship of each poem since it is sufficient for
my purpose that the poems are based on the same traditional
diction. I suspect that one man was the composer of both poems;
ultimately it may be shown that two different men are responsible
—or ten. Nonetheless, the language of the two works is fairly
uniform; the myriad hypothetical "poets Homer" seem, at least,
to have been trained in the same tradition. 6


The Homeric simile has not been studied as intensively as have
Homeric morphology, epic formulae, the boar's tusk helmet, or the
major themes and movements of the poems; and yet the simile is a
basic characteristic of Homeric epic and has been imitated by all
successors in the genre. 7 Such lack of attention by scholars is as
surprising as the sedulous devotion of later epic writers. Similes
seem an apt scholarly topic but are not always ideally suited to the
advancement of the narrative. They are little pictures which are
spread widely through the poems. They slow down the action
rather than advancing it. Similes, which lack the brilliant gleam of
the heroic warrior and have none of the romantic, adventurous
spirit of an Odysseus, refuse to raise the mind to heroic heights.
They bring it back to the humble hearths of the common man.
Their characters are typically men who quarrel over the boundary
marker of their corn field or old women who squabble in the streets.
The Iliad and the Odyssey may be compared to a picture galley in
which the similes are the small and rather fine etchings hung
between the large and colorful canvasses on which the acknowledged
masters of the world have exhibited their genius.

A study focusing on small elements in a larger whole tends to
confuse one's perspective. The major motifs and episodes of the
narrative exist separately from the similes. Characters and events
could have been, and were, portrayed equally well without them.
In its nature the simile is only a supplement that can lend momentary
vividness to an episode or aid in emphasizing a vital fact. But by
itself it cannot give luster to a shabby scene or immortalize an
otherwise insignificant object; the narrative must achieve its
results in its own way. Then, and only then, can the simile reinforce
the development of the plot. Since similes must be continually
regarded as smaller components of the total epic, a critic should
always view each simile as a means to a greater end, the epic tale.

Previous scholarship on individual similes and on the generic
form has raised six basic questions:

    1. How much of a simile did the poet know before he began to sing?
      To what extent did the simile exist in the tradition?
    2. How closely can one connect simile and narrative?


  1. Is there any principle guiding the placement of the similes?
  2. Are simile families used in a traditional way? Is there any
    consistent pattern in the use of various subjects?
  3. How does the simile supplement the oral narrative and aid it in
    telling the story more effectively?
  4. Is Homer's handling of the simile consistent with the methods of
    oral poetry?

Highly probable answers have been found to some of these questions,
while others remain under consideration. A brief and necessarily
selective survey of the previous work on Homeric similes will
delineate the limits of present understanding and reveal the areas
in which basic questions remain.

1. How much of a simile did the poet know before he began to sing?
The extent to which the similes existed in a prepared form available
to the poet whenever the need arose has been the subject of controversy.
At one extreme is the statement of Gilbert Murray:

Even the similes, the very breath of life of the poetry of Homer,
are in many cases, indeed usually, adopted ready-made. Their
vividness, their closeness of observation, their air of freshness
and spontaneity, are all deceptive. Nearly all of them are taken
over from older books, and many of them were originally
written to describe some quite different occasion. 8

G. P. Shipp, having demonstrated that the similes show a significantly
high proportion of late linguistic forms, takes a middle
position when he states:

The "Homeric" simile must have a long history behind it, and
it is a very natural view that its full development is later than
that of the art of the narrative which it adorns. 9

Representing the other extreme T. B. L. Webster calls the long
similes Homer's personal compositions. The short comparisons were
inherited: "These old short comparisons were the themes which


Homer expanded into long similes adapted to the particular scene
that he is describing". 10


Repeated similes are significant in determining the traditional
nature of the simile. Webster states that the poet has free choice
"to repeat instead of varying". Often there appears to be an element
of conscious reminiscence in the second occurrence of the simile;
both Agamemnon and Patroclus weep like fountains before they
attempt to sway Achilles (9.14 and 16.3). 11 On the other hand the
majority of Analysts have attacked the repeated similes as insertions
into the text or signs of a late text. Typical is the comment of Leaf
on the repeated simile of the galloping stallion (6.506 and 15.263):

We have here ...a clear plagiarism of a passage whose intrinsic
beauty marked it out for plunder. How a single 'Homer' could
have thus repeated his own best passages, careless of their
appropriateness, it is for the defenders of the unity of the
Iliad to say. 12

However, even when Analysts employ a similar method, the results
are often contradictory and, therefore, self-defeating. A. Shewan
has catalogued the internal dissent. 13 There seems to be no proof of
the age or the originality of the similes here.

W. Schadewaldt has shown that the spirit which created the
similes is far from that which stimulated the artists of Minoan-
Mycenaean art. 14 R. Hampe has tied the subjects, treatment, and
stylistic mannerisms of Geometric artists to those of Homer concluding
that the similes were conceived and grew in the epic diction
during the eighth century. In addition, Shipp writes that the lion as
a single creature in a simile has no relation to the Mycenaean
representations of lion hunts. 15 From the evidence of these three
studies, it seems likely that the similes were formed late in the traditional


diction, at least later than the narrative. Their similarity
to the Geometric art of the eight century is probably the key to
the date of their present formation, a date which linguistic evidence
tends to reinforce.


2. How closely can one connect simile and narrative?—The exact
connection between simile and narrative has been defined in various
ways. Finsler felt that there was one, and only one, point of contact
between simile and narrative. The simile was a self-contained
picture developed in itself and for itself giving a feeling of richness
and beauty to the story. 16 Wilamowitz examined many individual
similes and found a similarity of tone (Stimmungsgleichnis) between
simile and narrative in many cases. Ajax is like a lion in his feelings,
but like an ass in his behavior. There is no room for the squeamishness
which will not sanction the comparison of an heroic warrior to
an ass. Since the poet has inserted the simile into the narrative
concentrating on the poetic effectiveness of the image, the toilsome
search for the single, proper tertium comparationis has little point
for Wilamowitz. 17 H. Fränkel continued and expanded this approach.
He lists the similes and examines the multiple connections
between simile and narrative, the contributions of tone, and the
echoes from simile to simile. He admits finally that any connection
is valid:

Fragen wir schliesslich, aus welchen Gebieten die Ähnlichkeiten
entstammen, so müssen wir antworten: aus allen von denen
überhaupt homerische Dichtung etwas zu künden weiss. 18

K. Riezler takes the more metaphysical approach that both the
narrative and the simile are interwoven and grow together. Homer
has seen the essential oneness in two separate phenomena, which is


the key to early philosophy, and Homer's works become the first
literary evidence of philosophic thought. 19


Simile and narrative are connected—but beyond this statement
scholars disagree. Current criticism favors poetic unity: the complete
picture drawn in the simile is tied intricately to events in the
narrative, while its tone or atmosphere may heighten the emotions
in the story.

3. Is there any principle guiding the placement of the similes? — No
scholar has yet undertaken a systematic study of this question,
although types of passages in which similes repeatedly appear have
been pointed out. M. Coffey divided these passages into the following
categories: movement or lack of movement, appearance of a hero,
noise, measurement, time measures, numbers, various narrative
situations, and psychological characteristics. F. Müller adds
passages which describe the unusual, the difficult to sing, meaningful
moments in the battle, and scenes of weapons. DeVelsen in an
older study found similes used often in scenes of crowds or in the
journeys of gods. Many people have felt that there should be
traditional places in the story at which the poet would sing a simile.
Though several suggestions have been made, proof of these propositions
requires a general study of all similes in the Homeric poems.

4. Is there any consistent pattern in the use of various simile
—Scholars have noticed that there are families of similes;
for example, the lion family or the bird similes though the question
of a traditional usage of the various subject families had not been
fully explored. F. Krupp divides the families as follows: elements of
nature, world of flowers, life of animals, life of men, inner life of men,
religious figures. 20 Others have similar or modified classifications. 21
Only H. Fränkel of Homeric critics has systematically attempted to
relate the subject matter of the similes to the context in which they
occur. He has found certain constant symbols: a storm represents
an attack; the sea, a mass of warriors or people; a rock, a king or
leader; and clouds, a group of followers or a mass of warriors. In his


study Fränkel grouped the similes as members of families and then
established repeated symbolic equivalents which relate the simile to
the narrative. 22 His method required a close look at the details in
the simile to find connections to the narrative. M. Coffey has
recently called for a study with the opposite orientation, namely a
focus on the details in the narrative in order to find connections to
the general subject of the simile:

The frequent recurrence of certain kinds of subject matter,
such as wind and birds, suggests that many are stock comparisons
deriving from generations of bards and used to illustrate
common events in the narrative, e.g. speed of movement. 23

This would be a study of the narrative contexts in which certain
simile families repeatedly occur. I intend to follow this suggestion.


5. How does the simile supplement the oral narrative and aid it in
telling the story more effectively?
—Beyond very general statements
about the values of the simile in bejeweling the narrative and very
particular statements about the force of certain similes in enhancing
individual passages, little has been written about the simile as a
device of the poet in telling an effective story. Wilamowitz considered
only the individual similes; Fränkel lists various ways in which
the similes can aid the poet in single scenes. 24 K. Riezler shows how
similes participate in the larger movement of the narrative. He
defines several functions of the simile: some tell how the story could
have developed but did not; some demonstrate the mixing of god
and man; many keep before us the mixture of war and peace;
several foreshadow future events. 25 T. B. L. Webster points out the
technique of "cross-referencing" by similes which permits similes
to contribute importantly to the telling of the tale. When the Trojans
camp before the Greek wall, two weather similes express the
contrasting emotions of the Trojans and the Greeks: fair weather on
land characterizes the Trojans; foul weather at sea, the Greeks
(8.555 and 9.4). 26 Few scholars have, however, examined the


relationship of narrative and simile in extended passages, a problem
which will be explored further here.


6. Is Homer's handling of the simile consistent with the methods of
oral poetry?
— Finally there is oral poetry itself. Scholars have
assumed that the Homeric simile is an element rooted in a tradition
of oral, not written, poetry. M. Coffey assures us that at least "the
comparisons and similes of the Odyssey, though a complicated
literary device, have like other aspects of the Homeric language the
fundamental characteristics of an oral manner of composition". 27
J. A. Notopoulos has called for further work on this question:

Why single out the similes as the sole evidence of Homeric
originality, when it is becoming increasingly apparent that the
whole texture of Homeric poetry—aside from the architecture,
length, and perhaps characterization—is traditional, subject
of course to the originality that is possible in using traditional
material? Our aesthetic perceptions of the freshness of Homeric
similes have blinded us to the fact that the similes, no less than
the formulae, the type-scenes, and the themes, are part and
parcel of the oral tradition. 28

This statement is the guiding principle of this study. That the
Iliad and the Odyssey are purely oral poetry has never been proved
to the satisfaction of all critics, and perhaps it never will. The
strongest claim for the oral nature of the poems depends on continuing
studies of particular facets of Homeric style or diction since each
time the composition, phrasing, or content of a passage is perceptively
examined with reference to the traditional manner of oral
composition, the oral quality of the poems can be more precisely
defined. I shall assume in this study of the nature of the similes that
the Iliad and the Odyssey are the products of oral verse-making or
are so closely related to that process that they are best criticised
and studied on the basis of such an assumption. Homer remains a
misty figure—perhaps a blind, wandering poet of ancient fame, but
also a mortal bard with sensitive and yet human intellect, human
strengths, and human weaknesses, who earned his living by composing


oral songs about the glories of former heroes. Perhaps
Homer is a member of a society which had begun to learn to write—
a poet who could draw on the tradition of oral verse in order to
write longer, more complex, and more subtle poetry in the spirit of
previous epic. In either case Homer was thoroughly steeped in the
language and techniques of oral verse-making and several conclusions
may be validly drawn about his poetry as a reflection of the conditions
of oral creation.


The scholars of this century have dated the origin of the similes
with admirable accuracy considering the vagueness of the evidence.
With the guidance of Wilamowitz, Fränkel, and Riezler literary
critics have come to understand and explore the unity of simile and
narrative. But concerning the actual handling of the simile—the
placement, the choice of subject matter, the use of the simile in
telling the tale, and the technique by which the simile is extended—
the record is small. It is these points which will be examined in the
following chapters.

Notes — Chapter 1

1. W. Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style (New York 1959), p. 66 f.

2. Where linguistic matter is not important, I will use translation with no
Greek text. For the prosaic translations accompanying the text I take full
responsibility. They were not done with an eye toward immortality but
rather with the hope that they would illustrate clearly the point under
discussion. The text used throughout has been the Oxford text of Monro and

3. Throughout this study citations to the Iliad will be given by the number
of the book of the Iliad and the line number. Citations to the Odyssey will be
in the same form but will be prefaced by "Od." Thus, 5.59 refers to the
Iliad while Od. 5.59 refers to the Odyssey.

4. This contrast has been well expressed by F. P. Magoun, Jr., "Oral-
Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry", Speculum 28 (1953),
pp. 446-467: "Whereas a lettered poet of any time or place, composing (as
he does and must) with the aid of writing materials and with deliberation,
creates his own language as he proceeds, the unlettered singer, ordinarily
composing rapidly and extempore before a live audience, must and does
call upon ready-made language, upon a vast reservoir of formulas filling just
measures of verse. These formulas develop over a long period of time; they
are the creation of countless generations of singers and can express all the
ideas a singer will need in order to tell his story, itself usually traditional."
(p. 446).

5. Cf. the discussion of criteria for assessing oral quality by G. S. Kirk,
"Formular Language and Oral Quality," YCS 20 (1966), pp. 155-174.

6. Parry (p. 239 f.) found the diction uniform—even if the authors were
many: "On trouve ainsi entre la diction de l'Iliade et celle de l'Odyssée une
similitude des plus complètes, mais il faut pourtant se garder d'y voir la
moindre preuve de ce qu'on appelle l'unité des poèmes homériques. Nous
savons seulement que l'auteur ou les auteurs de ces deux poèmes suivent
fidèlement la tradition de la diction aédique et c'est pour cette raison que
leurs styles, à en juger par l'emploi de l'épithète, se ressemblent jusqu'en
leurs moindres détails." For recent discussion of the linguistic and formulaic
differences between the Iliad and the Odyssey see D. Page, The Homeric
(Oxford 1955), pp. 149-159 and an answer by Webster, pp. 276-283.
G. S. Kirk, The Songs of Homer (Cambridge 1962), pp. 288-300 explores both
arguments and calls for further evidence before any firm conclusions can be
reached: "This result [the difference in style between the two poems] could
not be absolutely dissociated from the effects of advancing age in a single
main composer..., but like other differences it is probably better explained
on the assumption of separate composers, of whom the poet of the Odyssey
was already familiar with the Iliad, though he probably had not assimilated
the whole poem into his own repertoire." Cf. also M. van der Valk, "The
Formulaic Character of Homeric Poetry and the Relation between the Iliad
and the Odyssey," L'Antiquité Classique 35 (1966), esp. pp. 46-70. In support
of Parry's statement Webster notes the comments of H. N. Porter, "The
Early Greek Hexameter," YCS 12 (1951), p. 27: "The Iliad and the Odyssey
differ very little from each other in the 1,000-line samples examined in this
paper. When compared with any of the other texts they present a common
front. The differences between them are slight. . . The evidence of the structure
of the line strongly supports the unity, if not of authorship or of time,
at least of style of the two poems."

7. For a discussion of later poets' techniques in writing similes see W. D.
Anderson, "Notes on the Simile in Homer and his Successors," CJ 53 (1957),
pp. 81-87 and 127-133.

8. Murray, p. 249. Cf. J. Duchemin, "A Propos des Comparaisons dans
l'Iliade," Information Litteraire 12 (1960), pp. 113-118 and "Aspects Pastoraux
de la Poésie Homérique. Les Comparaisons dans l'Iliade," REG 73
(1960), pp. 362-415.

9. Shipp, p. 212.

10. Webster, p. 235.

11. Webster, pp. 235-6 and Whitman, pp. 279-283. On the question of
repeated similes, however see infra pp. 127-140.

12. Leaf on 15.263-68. He does not consider this simile an interpolation;
it is firmly "embedded" in Book 15.

13. A. Shewan, "Suspected Flaws in Homeric Similes" in Homeric Essays
(Oxford 1935), pp. 217-228.

14. W. Schadewaldt, Von Homers Welt und Werk (4th ed.; Stuttgart 1965), pp. 130-154.

15. Shipp, p. 213 ff.

16. G. Finsler, Homer (3rd ed.; Leipzig and Berlin 1924) II, p. 258 ff.

17. U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Die Ilias und Homer (2nd ed.;
Berlin 1920), p. 193 f. Cf. T. Plüss, "Mykenische und nachmykenische
Gleichnisse der Ilias," Zeitschrift für das Gymnasialwesen 64 (1910), pp.
612-619: the simile "... solle eine gefühlsstarke Vorstellung von dem nicht
anschaubaren Charakter eines epischen Hauptvorganges möglichst lebendig
ausdrücken" (p. 613).

18. Fränkel, p. 106. For opposition to Fränkel's approach see G. Jachmann,
Der homerische Schiffskatalog und die Ilias (Köln und Opladen 1958), pp.
267-338. In support of Fränkel see M. van der Valk, Researches on the Text
and Scholia of the Iliad
(Leiden 1964) II, pp. 475 f. and 654-5.

19. Κ. Riezler, "Das homerische Gleichnis und der Anfang der Philosophie,"
Die Antike 12 (1936), pp. 253-271. Cf. Snell, pp. 199-204.

20. F. Krupp, Die homerischen Gleichnisse (Zweibrücken 1883).

21. Cf. the detailed analysis of simile subjects by E. G. Wilkins, "A Classification
of the Similes of Homer," CW 13 (1919-20), pp. 147-150 and 154-159.

22. Fränkel, pp. 16-25.

23. M. Coffey, "The Similes of the Odyssey," BICS 2 (1955), p. 27.

24. Fränkel, esp., p. 98 f.

25. Riezler op. cit. (supra, n. 19).

26. Wilamowitz (supra, n. 17), p. 32 f. and Webster, p. 231 f. For opposition
to this view see Jachmann (supra, n. 18), p. 309 ff.

27. M. Coffey op. cit. (supra, n. 23).

28. J. A. Notopoulos, "Homeric Similes in the Light of Oral Poetry,"
CJ 52 (1957), pp. 323-328 (p. 326 f.).



One of the most obvious questions concerning Homeric similes is:
why have all the similes of countless subjects and countless
usages been placed in their particular positions in the narrative?
At one extreme the answer could be poetic freedom; placement
would depend solely on the sensitivity or whim of the individual
poet. But there are several contexts in the narrative where a simile
is quite usual—where a reader of today is not surprised to see a
simile and where the poet was not being notably creative or innovative
in introducing such an image. For example, once a person has

Apollo came like the night...
Thetis came forth from the grey sea like a mist...

he is not startled or dazzled to find:

Thetis jumped down from snowy Olympus like a hawk...
Athena flew away like a bird...

Athena hurried to the couch of Nausicaa like a breath of
(1.47, 1.359, 18.616, Od. 1.320, and Od. 6.20)

In the Homeric poems when gods and goddesses travel from place
to place, they are so often described by a simile that there seems to
be a pattern of placement determined by traditional guidelines.
These guidelines are based in the oral tradition since they are
derived more from the context and its customary development
than from the free creative impulse of the poet.

The idea that Homer drew on a strong tradition is scarcely new.
Indeed, it is the basis for our understanding of epithets and type
scenes. While literary critics must always allow the poet to surrender
to the press of time and to his idiosyncratic urges, it is clear that the
oral tradition permeates every section of the poems. Oral verse is
composed in terms of individual scenes which in conjunction form a
larger general plot. The individual scenes, the lines which compose


them, and the half-line building blocks, all are dominated by the
poet's recollection of the scene as it has been sung for generations.
There is, of course, always room for modification to adapt the inherited
scene to its new location. The larger plot—judging from
information concerning the Cyclic Epics—tended to be dictated by
tradition, such as the several epic songs which centered on the
Trojan War and the Theban War. But again the particular development
of the tale remained in the hands of the poet. Homer was,
consequently, always involved in the necessity of choosing between
various elements of the tradition.


Oral poets construct their poems from individual short scenes
so that the narrative is continually moving from one unit of action
to another. The transition can be made smoothly, though it is often
clear from the abruptness of the intervening lines that one scene
has ended and another has begun in the poet's mind. His style is
marked by such introductions as:

πρῶτος δὲ ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων …
Ἰδομενεὺς δ ἄρα Φαῖστον ἐνήρατο Μῄονος υἱὸν …
Τὸν μὲν ἄρ Ἰδομενῆος ἐσύλευον θεράποντες·
υἱὸν δὲ Στροφίοιο Σκαμάνδριον αἵμονα θήρης …
Μηριόνης δὲ Φέρεκλον ἐνήρατο, τέκτονος υἱὸν …
Πήδαιον δ ἄρ ἔπεφνε Μέγης Ἀντήνορος υἱὸν …
Εὐρύπυλος δ Εὐαιμονίδης Ὑψήνορα δῖον … (5.38, 43, 48-49, 59, 69, 76)

In the passage from which these lines are taken the poet wants
to sing a series of killings by individual Greek warriors. This series
is introduced by the words:

Τρῶας δ ἔκλιναν Δαναοί· ἕλε δ ἄνδρα ἕκαστος
ἡγεμόνων· πρῶτος δὲ ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων …

There follows a list of six unconnected woundings, each one joined
to the last by the word "δέ". Then the series is summarized by one
closing line. When the poet moves to the next major scene, the
reentrance of Diomedes, the transition is marked by another "δέ".

If one of these six small scenes had fallen out, it probably would


not have been missed either by the listeners or by later critics;
at any moment after two or three short scenes the bard could have
inserted the closing line and turned to Diomedes, his principal
subject. At the end of the fourth, fifth, or sixth short description
there was the alternative, a summary line or another short description
of a killing. These are examples of the units from which Homer
constructed his poems. Anticipation of possibilities and choice
from among such alternatives are essential to the method of the
oral poet.


This method is equally apparent in the placing of similes. In the
course of singing a scene, the poet knew the alternatives for continuing
his narrative, and it is still possible to determine those
junctures in the narrative where the tradition suggested the simile
as an alternative. The investigation of a number of such junctures
will aid in defining those guidelines handed down in the oral
tradition which influenced the location of similes.

Most of the occurrences of the simile accompany the normal
themes which are used by the poet in composing his epic. Albert
Lord has defined themes as: "the groups of ideas regularly used
in a telling a tale in the formulaic style of traditional song". 1 For
example, there are enough journeys of gods and descriptions of
armies in the Homeric poems to establish these two scenes as
themes which the poet employed in advancing his story. When the
simile occurs as a normal extension or element of such a theme,
the standard junctures in the narrative at which similes can occur
become limited and admit of definition within the existing categories
of the oral poet's thought.

To define these themes, it is necessary to impose a momentary
restriction upon the reading of the poems: the content of the simile
must be neglected. The search is for the scenes where a simile—long
or short, fish or fowl—seems natural and, perhaps, expected.
Context is essential for such a study while content is momentarily

In addition, there is a second type of passage in which the
poet will often sing a simile which does not accompany a theme but
rather reinforces the effects which the poet makes through his
narrative. The simile lengthens and colors the passage and, thereby,
gives emphasis to a scene which the poet feels is important for his


story. Many dead heroes are carried away from the battle with
little elaboration; but when the battle is drawn over the slain
Patroclus, there is a need to impress the passage upon the minds
of the audience so that the poet can return later to that same scene.
In this case a series of similes is effective in making noteworthy
and memorable a situation which is otherwise without particular
distinction. One of a countless number of available alternatives
is the simile. Because the context is not an identifiable narrative
theme, there is little reason to define a list of alternatives; rather
parallels must be established which show that the simile accompanies
a patterned method of composition.


The simile is suggested to the oral singer by certain contexts
of these two types which will be analyzed in the first two sections
of this chapter. First, there are nine thematic contexts where
Homer has the option of choosing a simile from among several
traditional alternatives. The placement of the simile can be explained
in terms of traditional alternatives about sixty-two percent
of the time. In the second section the repeated use of the simile in
a scene which cannot be isolated as a narrative theme will be

Of course, the license which is granted to any poet can never
be forgotten and Homer was certainly capable of improvising in
utter disdain of pattern or tradition. Scholars may search for
solid foundations for their ideas, but the oral poet can always
deceive them. Therefore the principles which are discovered by
this study should not be expected to be absolute. Tradition is
almost always a matter of percentages, and it will be sufficient
to show that Homer to a significant degree confined his similes
to a limited number of narrative situations.

I. Similes Joined to Themes

1.The Journeys of Gods

The appearance of immortals among men is common in the
Homeric poems. Homer, who is by no means as careful of motivating
their entrances and exits as he is in the case of mortals, often has
them appear from nowhere and for no particular reason except to
aid a hero or to confront another divinity. Apollo and Athena take
active part in the horse race but have not been previously brought
to earth by the poet (23.382 ff.). In Book 3 when Aphrodite saves


Paris by breaking the chin strap on his helmet (3.374), she is
physically present in the poem for the first time. Such omnipresence
may accord well with the idea of a powerful divinity,
but it also demonstrates that Homer was not overly scrupulous
or concerned in moving gods and goddesses neatly from this place
to that on the earth.


However, when Homer takes time describing a god's descent
from Olympus to earth or the return trip back to his divine home,
he concentrates on the details and the significance of the journey.
There is always a motive for the entrance or withdrawal of the
divinity. The journey has its causes in the narrative and is introduced
in order to achieve a specific effect. For example, in Book 1
of the Iliad Apollo, Athena, and Thetis all journey from their
divine homes (Olympus or the depths of the sea) to the battlefield
at Troy. Apollo had been invoked by Chryses because of Agamemnon's
stubborn and insolent refusal to return Chryseis. Because
of Apollo's entrance, Achilles (and Hera) have grounds for calling
a conference of the Greek leaders. Later Athena is sent by Hera
to stop Achilles from killing Agamemnon because both goddesses
love and care for the two warriors. It is Athena's entrance that
motivates Achilles to turn to another type of vengeance. Thetis
rises from the sea in answer to Achilles' prayer. She goes up to
Olympus to carry her son's wishes to Zeus, and her request is the
cause of the plan of Zeus. While gods may wander in and out of
human situations and mingle freely with mortals, Homer does not
allow them to drop down from the sky or emerge from the sea
arbitrarily. He seems to have made a distinction between these
two types of divine action. A god walking upon the earth may
have appeared strange and unusual to the Homer's audience; 2
but it was the journey of a divinity between heaven and earth
which was marked by the poet as a significant event. 3


Divine journeys are presented in a very limited number of ways.
Sometimes they are described in standard lines:
This is the simplest way to present a divine journey since it requires
only one line and immediately, with the god at his destination,
the action proceeds. This unadorned statement may be augmented
by a simile as in Book 1 Apollo comes like the night (1.47) and
Thetis comes to her son like a mist (1.359). Iris is sent to the battlefield
to order Poseidon to leave:

So he spoke and swift, wind-footed Iris did not disobey him,
but she went down from the hills of Ida to sacred Ilium. Just
as when down from the clouds snow or freezing hail flies before
the blast of the north wind which is born high in the bright air,
so rapidly did swift Iris in her eagerness descend; and standing
near she spoke to the famed Earth-shaker . . . (15.168-173)

Here the simple description of her descent is supplemented by a
simile which expresses the swiftness of her flight. Similes are
used often in the Iliad and the Odyssey in such a scene. Sometimes
the immediate comparison is to the divinity's swiftness, sometimes
to his appearance, and sometimes to the unnatural length of his
trip (cf. 15.80, 21.493, 5.864, and 5.770). In nineteen cases of a
divinity traveling between heaven and earth, a simile is present


which characterizes some aspect of the journey (13 in the Iliad ;
6 in the Odyssey). 4 It is only to be expected that there are varying
ways of attaching the simile to this type of scene since journeys of
gods must have been common in a tradition which mixed the divine
and the mortal with no embarrassment.


These are two ways of presenting the divine journey: the simple
two-line statement and the simile, but there are other alternatives.
The list of two-line descriptions above is not complete. Other words
and lines for a simple statement of travel exist, some with no parallel
in the existing remains of epic. Or the poet can list the route
taken by a divinity. When Hera darts from Olympus to Lemnos,
the poet gives her route: Pieria, Emathia, Thrace, Athos, Lemnos
(14.244 ff.). Routes, although not in such complete timetable form,
are also listed in the cases of Iris and Hermes (24.80 and Od. 5.51). 5
Finally there are divine journeys which are characterized by a
scene of preparation. Twice Athena arms and Hera harnesses the
horses before they go to Troy (5.719 ff. and 8.382 ff.). The preparation
of the chariot and the arming of the god is told before Zeus
and, later, Poseidon make trips (8.41 and 13.23). Though Poseidon
does not drive the whole way, the horses take him most of the way
to Troy. Hermes puts on his sandals twice, and Athena dons hers
once (24.340. Od. 5.44, and Od. 1.96). 6

The fact that each of these passages contains lines which are
repeated in this type of scene and no other is good evidence that
such divine preparation was traditionally sung in a scene of a god
journeying between worlds:

He spoke and
Going there he
harnassed bronze-hoofed horses to the chariot, swift horses with long golden manes; and he put gold armor about himself and took his gold whip, well-made, and climbed into his chariot.

(8.41-44 and 13.23-26)


Thus speaking she
Immediately he
bound his beautiful sandals upon his feet, immortal and golden, which bore him over the sea and endless stretches of earth with the speed of the wind.

(24.340-42, Od. 1.96-98, and Od. 5.44-46)

Such a scene of preparation could lead to little else but a journey
since these preparations would be unnecessary if the god were
going to stay at home. However, that a number of lines are repeated
exactly suggests a type scene of preparation for such a trip. When
the poet chose this alternative, such scenes were at hand in the
tradition allowing him to sing easily of harnessing, arming, dressing,
and mounting. He had only to choose among the various passages
to prepare a god to enter the narrative.

At 8.438 Zeus drives the chariot to Olympus and there Poseidon
unyokes the horses and covers the cart. This scene is a balance
to that previously prepared chariot at 8.41, since it represents care
for the chariot, but immediately after the journey instead of
immediately before. This may be another, but unparalleled, type
of traveling scene or merely a small inversion that the oral poet
arranged. He wanted to mention the vehicle, but recalling the
earlier scene he inverted the order. There is such a short distance
between the two passages that both could be embraced even in a
short song.

These four versions of one scene demonstrate the principle of
alternatives which is basic to this study. When the poet wanted
to break into the narrative to provide new motivation, to begin
a new phase of action, or to achieve some specific effect, he could
insert a brief episode which brought a god from Olympus into the
human situation. To describe the journey of a god between his
divine home and the earth, he had at least four choices. He could
state the simple fact, he could embellish the scene with a simile,
he could list the route of the god, or he could explain the divine

The choice between alternatives did not depend on the importance
of the mission to the larger plot of the whole poem; rather it
was a matter of appropriateness to the individual scene. Because
Thetis always comes on sorrowful missions, it would not be the
place for describing the yoking of the divine team or pointing out
her falcon-like swiftness which would distract the hearer when he


ought to be concentrating on the import of her mission. When
Zeus goes to Mount Ida "exulting in his glory", the simple line
would sound insufficient, especially when the audience knew that
the divine chariot and the golden armor traditionally enhanced
Zeus' glory. 7 The choice between alternative journeying scenes
depends on immediate aesthetic appropriateness rather than on
the significance of the particular scene within the larger narrative.


As an oral poet sang, he anticipated. When he wanted to describe
a divine journey, he chose from at least four methods of presenting
it the one most appropriate to the details of the surrounding
context. One of these alternatives was the simile, whose frequent
appearance at this point in the narrative indicates that its placement
was well established in the oral tradition.

2. Measurement

The Homeric poet could measure some quantities of space and
time quite precisely; the catalogue of ships has made momentary
mathematicians of all close readers. Time could be marked by set
intervals: day and night were general terms; sunrise, noon, and
sunset were fixed points of reference; days and years were totaled.
But aside from these minor precisions Homer seems uninterested
in exact measurement, a characteristic not peculiar to Homer;
many poets have the same aversion to facts and figures. From
Aeschylus, whose Clytemnestra heard of so many wounds to her
husband that he seemed "more pierced than a fishnet," to Robert
Frost's lonely traveler who has miles to go before he sleeps, poets
have invoked the same principle: use approximate measurements
when the use of precise figures does not serve a poetic purpose
and will merely bore or distract the audience.

Homer uses many approximate measures to illustrate size,
distance, time, number, speed, and degrees of loudness, of quality,
and of brightness. Often such measurements are expressed by a
simile. For example, when Patroclus charges against the Lycians
in his aristeia, they give way before him, but the distance which
they retreat is not given exactly; rather it is indicated approximately
by a simile:


As far as the flight of a long javelin which a man throws with
all his might either in a contest or in war before the murderous
enemy, so far did the Trojans retreat . . . (16.589-92)

In the two poems there are thirty-five instances of a simile used
to express measurement, both short comparisons and long similes
(Iliad 21; Odyssey 14). 8

Size is often expressed by a comparison. The approximate
height of waves is twice given by reference to mountains (Od. 3.290
and Od. 11.243). Priam's eagle of omen has a wingspread as wide
as a treasure house door (24.317).

Similes of distance are the most numerous type of approximate
measure. The horses of Menelaus are only a small bit behind those
of Antilochus, only as far as a horse is from the chariot wheel
(23.517), and in the iron-throwing contest Polypoetes throws the
iron weight as far as a shepherd can fling his crook (23.845).

Items can always be listed by exact numbers. Yet when the
poet must create for his audience the picture of the endless numbers
of the Greek army, he places three similes in a row (2.459, 468, and
469). These similes express an infinite quantity—flocks of birds,
numbers of flowers or leaves, and swarms of flies. The simile about
leaves or flowers is repeated when Odysseus describes the number
of Cicones:

μυρίοι, ὅσσά τε φύλλα καὶ ἄνθεα γίγνεται ὥρῃ …
ἦλθον ἔπειθ, ὅσα φύλλα καὶ ἄνθεα γίνεται ὥρῃ …
(2.468 and Od. 9.51)

This repeated simile is important. When the poet wanted to
indicate the size of a crowd, he could give a general number, he
could use the word for crowd, or he could sing a simile, however
twice when confronted with this situation, he chose to sing a
simile and in both cases the same simile came to mind. The repetition
of this simile in the same situation is strong evidence for the
system of alternatives which underlies the placement of the simile
in the Homeric poems.


Horses which are swift as birds and a quick divine cure by Paeëon
are examples of similes used to express relative speed (2.764 and
5.902). The cry of the wounded Ares which is like nine or ten
thousand warriors is a comparison for loudness (5.860). A point
of time is once set by a passage very much like a simile. Though it
is an independent picture within the narrative, it is introduced
by the word "when" and rejoined to the narrative by the word
"then" (11.85). Degree of quality can be indicated by a simile.
The robe which Hecuba takes to the goddess and the robe which
Helen gives to Telemachus are both the fairest of their kind and
shine like stars (6.295 and Od. 15.108). 9 Penelope washes the
shroud and it shines like the sun or the moon—a measure of its
brightness—just as pitch is a measure of blackness (Od. 24.148
and 4.277).

Closely related to similes of measurement is one which expresses
shape. Idomeneus sees a round spot like the moon on the forehead
of the leading horse (23.455).

To conclude, exact measure cannot be given by similes. But the
poet has little need for exact measure and uses the simile to give
an approximate idea of standards of quantity and quality. This
much can be determined about the placement of the simile by
looking solely at its context.

It is worth a moment's digression to comment on the context of
this particular group of similes because they contain two varieties
of measure. Compare two similes describing size: the wife of the
Laestrygonian king is as large as a mountain peak while the stake
which is plunged into the Cyclops' eye is as thick as a ship's mast
(Od. 10.113 vs. Od. 9.322). The image of the ship's mast can be
readily grasped by the mind; any listener in Homer's audience
who had seen a ship could easily imagine the approximate dimensions
of the stake. The simile of the mountain peak describing a
giant woman suggests indefinite size. The category "mountain"
knows no limit in the human imagination; it is as though Homer
said of the Laestrygonian queen, "She was so huge you could not
imagine it!"

There are places where it is appropriate for the poet to call to


mind a size which is almost inconceivable; but there are also
passages where the poet feels a need to suggest a size which is not
left to the imagination and, in fact, is very limited in its scope.
The story of Odysseus, the suddenly small man, in the cave of
Polyphemus, the giant, is an example. Odysseus' first view of the
Cyclops is terrifying and he reveals his fright by using a simile of
monstrous size and inhuman nature:


For he was a monstrous wonder, and was not like a man
who eats bread but like a wooded peak among the lofty mountains
which is seen alone apart from the others. (Od. 9.190-2)

After the initial fright at the thought of the Cyclops dies down,
the similes no longer suggest infinite extent but describe objects
which are limited in their size. To describe the stake which will
put out the Cyclops' eye, a simile of the ship's mast is actually
an approximation to a known object in Homer's world. It is important
that this simile be familiar to the audience. The stake
must be large in order to agree with the size of Polyphemus; but it
must not be so big that all sense of realism is destroyed, since
Odysseus then becomes a man wandering in a fairy tale instead
of a hero and the illusion of heroic epic is shattered. Generally,
when the Greeks entered an imaginary world, they did not give
free rein to their thought, carrying every object and quality to
its greatest possible development. Rather they insisted on a
believable, if enlarged, world. As one critic puts it:

To them [the Greeks], the imaginary supernatural adventures
of Märchen remained pointless and unattractive. The Greek
did not desire to ignore or overstep human limitations so much
as to master and control them ... Like the hybrid monsters
of eastern imagination when they came under Greek artists'
hands, the northern Märchen had to be re-formed and retold
in more natural human terms before a Greek literary audience
could accept them. 10


To Homer it was vital to preserve the "realism" of the Cyclops'
cave. The Cyclops is an overgrown man, and his possessions are
inflated objects of a normal shepherd. Although men have never
seen such a world, the poet can describe it with an air of great
reality. In creating this world similes which allow approximation
and which limit the size of objects are preferable to similes which
allow the imagination to think in general, almost limitless, dimensions.

Similes of distance are drawn mostly from everyday life. There
are no lions, tigers, or Pygmies; rather there are mule teams and
shepherds mixed with javelin-, discus-, and spear-throwers. Thus
the distances described would be meaningful to an audience which
knew the countryside and would recognize these common sights.
Yet there are also distance similes which impose no limit on the
imagination. Homer says that the horses of Hera leap as far as a
man looking over the water can see (5.770). Since no hearer could
make a meaningful approximation of such a measure, Homer merely
means that the horses bounded an unimaginable distance, an idea
well suited to divine horses.

This small digression, focused on the content of similes describing
measurement rather than on the context, shows one element
which would determine Homer's choice between similes. There
seem to be two types of similes as alternatives. He can choose a
simile which suggests a meaningful approximation or one which
conveys an idea of infinite extent, and the choice between alternatives
once again depends upon the intent of the poet in forming
each passage.

3. Actions of Divine Beings

Gods interact freely with men throughout the narrative of the
Iliad and the Odyssey. Often they are merely presented like any
other actor in the story, and divine actions convey their amazing
quality directly. When Apollo cries out to Patroclus that he is
not fated to take Troy and hurls him back from the city wall,
the unnatural mixing of god with man is portrayed in factual
statements of actions. Whatever sense of amazement, wonder, or
horror is raised in the audience is created by the direct telling of
the event. Sometimes, however, the actions of divine beings are
further augmented by a simile which emphasizes their unnatural


qualities. An example of such a simile occurs in the one-sided battle
between Xanthus and Hephaestus:


So she spoke and Hephaestus made ready a fiercely blazing
fire. First he kindled a fire on the plain and burned the many
corpses slain by Achilles, which were there in abundance. All
the plain was parched and the shining water was stopped.
Just as when the north wind in autumn quickly dries an orchard
which has been freshly watered and delights the man who
tends it, so was the whole plain dried. . . (21.342-48)

Similes, both short and long, are used in such a position seventy-
four times in both poems (Iliad 31; Odyssey 33). 11

One extensive group of these similes depicts the appearances
of gods. Athena, Apollo, and Sleep sit among men as birds (7.59,
14.290 and Od. 22.240). Ares and Apollo shout with multi-throated
loudness (5.860 and 14.148). Xanthos roars like a bull and bubbles
like a pot (21.237 and 362). The old man of the sea is like a shepherd
among his seals (Od. 4.413). Even the possessions of the immortals
receive similes, as Poseidon's sword, Hera's glistening veil, and the
drug from Hermes—all of which are characterized by a simile
(14.386, 14.185, and Od. 10.304).

The miraculous deeds of gods for gods and gods for men are commonly
described by a simile. The divine doctor Paeëon heals Ares in
milk-curdling time, and the scene where Hephaestus attacks
Xanthus is quoted above (5.902 and 21.346). When gods mingle
with men, they have the ability to defend (4.130 and 13.564),
entrance (13.437 and Od. 10.216), inspire (15.605), glorify or
beautify (Od. 6.232 and Od. 18.193), or destroy man and man's
creations (15.362 and Od. 5.368). All these scenes of divine intermingling
contain a simile.

There is a special type of scene when a warrior challenges a god,
for such an encounter of man and god is regarded as a unified event
containing the action of a divine being. When Diomedes attacks
Apollo, a simile is formally attached to the actions of Diomedes;
yet such similes are present frequently enough in scenes of mortal
vs. god to demonstrate that the poet viewed such events as versions


of the theme of divine action (cf. 5.438 = 5.459 = 5.884). The
simile in this position occurs also when Patroclus attacks Apollo
and when Achilles attacks Apollo as he carries Hector off in a cloud
(16.705 and 20.447). In each of these five related passages the
simile is the same: "δαίμονι ίσος". At 21.252 and 257 Achilles
retreats before the advances of the river Xanthus in a scene of
mortal vs. god containing two similes. The fact that the subject of
these similes differs from the other battles of man vs. god indicates
that the placement is a traditional feature and dependent on context,
while the content of the simile can change without affecting
the tradition determining placement. Further examples occur at
Od. 12.418 = Od. 14.308, Od. 12.433, and Od. 5.371.


There are at least three alternative ways of singing passages
describing the actions of gods. The scene can be directly told with
the enhancement due to divinity contained in the words and
phrases of the narrative. The picture of Vulcan's workshop and
Calypso's isle and cave are examples of this treatment (18.410 ff.
and Od. 5.59 ff). Secondly, the reactions of men can show their
awe at a divine appearance, as when Athena holds the aegis before
the suitors, and they scatter in panic (Od. 22.299). Finally the
poet can insert a simile.

There are repeated similes in this category. Apollo and Ares
shout loudly; both shouts are described by the same simile:

ὅσσόν τ ἐννεάχιλοι ἐπίαχον ἢ δεκάχιλοι
ἀνέρες ἐν πολέμῳ ἔριδα ξυνάγοντες Ἄρηος. (5.860 and 14.149)

Odysseus is twice beautified by Athena and the simile is repeated
(Od. 6.232 and Od. 18.193). Twice Zeus sends a storm to scatter
Odysseus' ships; each time the same simile appears as part of a
repeated scene (Od. 12.418 and Od. 14.308). Because none of these
repeated similes occurs elsewhere in the Homeric poems, it seems
that they were traditional alternatives accompanying scenes of
divine action.

3A. Actions of Spirits and Monsters

Several objects and events in the Homeric poems are connected
with ghostly appearances or monsters. While these characters are


not gods, still the use of the simile to describe the actions of a being
other than human suggests that the simile is placed in this context
because of a close relation to the theme of divine action. An oral
poet probably thinks more about the objects and actions which
form the themes of his narrative than about abstract categories;
it would, therefore, be unfair to predicate a category of strange or
unusual occurrences. Most representative of the poet's thinking
is a grouping of the scenes of divine actions where a simile occurs;
separately one can construct a list of the relatively smaller number
of similes which describe the acts of other non-human beings.


There are two occasions where ghosts are described by a simile.
When Achilles tries to embrace the ghost of Patroclus, it eludes
his grasp and flees like smoke (23.100), and similarly the souls
of the suitors are like bats (Od. 24.6).

The most frequent examples of this use of the simile reinforce
the action of the giants or monsters in the Odyssey. The giant wife
of the Laestrygonian king causes horror, and the Laestrygonians
spear the Greeks from the sea like fishermen (Od. 10.113 and 124).
The Cyclops dashes out the brains of these diminutive Greeks as
though they were puppies, eats them as a lion eats its prey, and
sets a huge rock in place at his cave door as easily as a man places a
lid on a quiver (Od. 9.289, 292, and 314). When Odysseus and his
men enact their vengeance on their uncouth host, they struggle
like a man drilling a ship timber and Polyphemus' eye hisses as
loudly as a huge, hot axe-head dipped into water (Od. 9.384 and 391).

Turning again momentarily to the content, one should notice
that these similes reinforce the idea of giants as inflated men,
who live recognizably normal lives but on a monstrous scale. I have
commented previously on Homer's desire to keep descriptions
of fantasy worlds on a realistic scale, 12 an aim fully evident in the
frequent use of similes to illustrate the wondrous world of the
Cyclops. The similes describe an act that normal-sized men would
do, like putting a lid on a quiver or spearing a fish, but the narrative
event so illustrated is giant-sized. Similes from normal life enhance
the realistic and awesome massiveness of the fantasy world of the


4. Themes of Specific Emotions

It has been maintained that Homer lacked the words and, consequently,
the ability to express precisely complex phenomena
within the soul. 13 He could appreciate the feelings and could describe
the extremes of ecstasy and agony but could not analyze the subtle
psychological causes of such feelings or talk easily about simultaneous
opposing forces involved in an inner struggle. With such
linguistic studies few have found fault. To express feelings of joy,
sorrow, anger, and fear the poet has verbs. These verbs are the
poet's most common means for expressing emotion: δείδιας, ἀχνύμενος,
ἰάνθη, and ἐχάρη are easy and direct presentations of psychological
feeling. There are also nouns representing emotions: μένος, χόλος,
θάρσος, ἄχος. Finally there are adjectives like ἀσπαστὸς,
Χαίρων, and ἐχθρὸς to describe the emotion aroused in a person
when brought in contact with an object or event. Usually descriptions
of emotions which are built from such words are short statements
of fact. The poet does not look inside the person for the
cause of the disturbance or the complexity of the human response.
The situation is clear enough to justify the emotion and no secondary
feelings or inner tensions are presented.

Though the poet does not analyze emotion explicitly, he does
have varying ways of recording psychological phenomena. Through
these descriptions he portrays all the intensity of feeling that more
learned later writers were able to attain with later sophistication.
One of his methods was to emphasize various emotional states by
using a simile. 14

The distinction between content and context must be strictly
maintained. There are many similes in the two poems in which
an emotion is clearly portrayed, while the context does not deal
with emotion. In Book 15 Hector revives and returns to battle
like a horse that has broken his bonds; the animal runs over the
plain proudly with head held high. This is a picture of a supremely
exultant and self-confident stallion, though the surrounding
narrative does not talk of emotion. Hector returns to battle swiftly,


encouraging the Trojans. The listener will, of course, realize the
joy of the warrior returning to the field because of the simile;
remove the simile and the joy is gone. Yet this simile does not
belong in this category, since it provides the emotion rather than
emphasizing it explicitly. Appropriate similes occur where the
context mentions the inner feeling.


An example of such a simile is 23.598:

ἰάνθη ὡς εἴ τε περὶ σταχύεσσιν ἐέρση
ληΐου ἀλδήσκοντος, ὅτε φρίσσουσιν ἄρουραι·
ὣς ἄρα σοὶ Μενέλαε μετὰ φρεσὶ θυμὸς ἰάνθη.

But his anger was softened just as the dew on the ears of corn
when the crop is full-grown and the fields bristle with stalks.
In such a way, Menelaus, was the heart softened within you.

The joy of Menelaus is firmly grounded in the narrative, since he
has brought Antilochus to justice and received his prize. This
delight is contained in the one verb ἰάνθη. Following the verb is a
simile describing this joy, and finally a line closes the simile binding
it again to Menelaus' happiness. A simile, either short or long, so
intensifies the narrative description of emotion twenty-seven times
in the two poems (Iliad 15; Odyssey 12). Always the emotion is
mentioned in the narrative—either directly before or after the
simile, and often in both places.

Homer did not conceive of psychological activity or emotional
states in a general way. Such conceptions are the tools of the modern
scholar with which he can analyze the abstract patterns in the
Homeric poems, but one should always be aware that the poet
thought of using the simile when a man was joyful or when he was
sorrowful or angry or terrified. The oral poet would have thought
of similes as accompanying several explicit emotions in his narrative.
Odysseus is joyful to see land after the storm (Od. 5. 394), and
Penelope weeps with joy to see Odysseus (Od. 23.233). She weeps in
sorrow (Od. 19.205), and Achilles laments over Patroclus (19.366).
Agamemnon's eyes blaze angrily with fire (1.104), and Odysseus'
heart barks in anger (Od. 20.14). Both Paris and Agamemnon
quail in fear (3.33 and 10.5). Whenever the theme of the joyful
man, the sorrowful man, the angry man, or the fearful man arose,
the basic theme could be elaborated by a simile.



Perhaps the scene of anger deserves special mention:

his black heart was filled full with rage and his eyes were like
a blazing fire (1.103-4 and Od. 4.661-2)

These two lines describe Agamemnon's anger at Calchas and also
the anger of Antinous. Most probably such repeated lines were a
traditional way of expressing anger, and the simile was a customary
part of these lines. That the comparison of the eyes to fire occurs two
more times indicates that when the poet sang of wrath, one alternative
was a mention of the glowing eyes in an accompanying simile
(19.17 and 366).

There are, then, these two methods of portraying emotion: the
direct statement and the simile used to modify specific emotions.
In addition, the poet can picture the person's physical acts—tears of
joy or sorrow, groans, trembling, sleeplessness, shrieking; the list
could be endless. Good examples are the physical manifestations of
grief shown by Achilles when he hears of Patroclus' death or the
wails of Penelope (18.22 ff. and Od. 4.715 ff.). Often such physical
manifestations introduce a simile. The tears of joy shed by Odysseus
and Telemachus when they first meet are made more moving by a
simile (Od. 16.216). Finally Homer can allow a character to reveal
his emotion directly. The speeches of Agamemnon and Achilles in
Iliad I are angry; the laments of Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen
express their sorrow.

One variety of psychological activity which is not precisely an
emotion, but is a common occurrence in the poems, is perplexity.
A man is confronted with choice and pauses to consider his options. 15
The usual Homeric description is διάνδιχα μερμήριξεν, but a feeling
of indecision can also be expressed by a simile. Nestor ponders the
proper course of action:

Just as when the sea surges up high in a soundless wave and
gives warning of swift gusts of the shrill wind, but the waves
roll neither this way nor that until some settled wind comes
down from Zeus, thus the old man pondered with his mind
uncertain . . . (14.16-20)


The act of pondering is mentioned in the narrative and only reinforced
by the picture of the simile. Three other scenes are handled
in the same way. Penelope ponders the fate of her son thinking the
thoughts of a trapped lion (Od. 4.791). Later when Penelope speaks
to Odysseus disguised as a beggar, she characterizes her doubt and
sorrow with a simile about Aedon, the nightingale (Od. 19.518).
Odysseus on the night before his revenge mulls over the coming day
rolling from side to side (Od. 20.25).

These are Homer's ways of showing several specific human
feelings or emotions. In the two poems there are at least four
alternative methods. He could state the emotion directly; he could
modify the individual theme with a simile; he could describe the
character's physical movements; or he could have the character
tell his own emotions. The choice of method does not seem based on
the narrative value of the event, thus the anger of Antinous is told
in the same words as Agamemnon's anger, but the importance of the
two angers to the larger narrative is vastly different (Od. 4.622 and
1.104). Achilles' sorrow for Patroclus takes almost all forms but the
simile, and yet no other statement of the theme of the warrior
mourning for a lost comrade is so basic to the plot. It seems so
appropriate that Achilles roll on the ground and defile himself when
he is told of Patroclus' death that a simile would be too indirect.
Equally the touch of the artist has set the other passages in order;
the mark of the true poet is his ability to choose correctly among the
available alternatives.

5. Similes for Variation of Standard Themes

One of the disadvantages of being the heir to a traditional style
of epic with standard characters and type scenes is that the poet
must ever devote his attention to varying scenes which are inevitably
repetitious. A simile is often used as seasoning to lend diversity to
traditional or repeated scenes. There are thirty-one such similes,
both long and short (Iliad 28; Odyssey 3).

A mere listing of objects could be very dull: Homer, however,
introduces variety into his lists in many ways, often with a simile.
In the catalogue of Trojans a simile illustrates Nastes' folly, and
the list of the suitors' gifts to Penelope contains a gold chain with
amber beads which are as bright as the sun (2.872 and Od. 18.296).

A modified type of list is the naming of one warrior after another.


While sitting on the Scaean Gate with the Trojan elders, Priam
asks about Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Ajax. To vary his questions
he uses two similes to distinguish Odysseus (3.196 and 197). When
Agememnon inspects the troops, he comes upon Idomeneus, Ajax,
Nestor, Menestheus, and Odysseus. To help differentiate the individual
groups of soldiers, Idomeneus and Ajax are described in
similes (4.253 and 275). In the Doloneia Agamemnon goes to wake
the Greek heroes. He awakens Nestor, Odysseus, and Diomedes.
The armor of Diomedes shines like lightning (10.154), and is thus
different from the previous description of Nestor's armor, which
had more pieces but only gleamed (10.75-79). In each case there is a
series of men all of whom are doing essentially the same thing. As
Homer moves from one to the other, he inserts a simile here and
there, characterizing each man and distinguishing him from the
others, but also rescuing his audience from the tedium of a list of
utterly similar objects. 16


Finally the simile is used to give color to the most common scene
in the Iliad, the killing of an enemy. As Teucer aims at Hector
twice, missing his target both times, he does strike a lesser hero
(8.300 ff.). The first time he kills Gorgythion who bows his head to
the side like a poppy, heavy with its blossoms and the rains of
spring, while the second man, Archeptolemus, merely falls from the
chariot. But the two short passages begin in the same way. Compare
lines 8.300-1 and 309-10:

Ἦ ῥα καὶ ἄλλον ὀϊστὸν ἀπὸ νευρῆφιν ἴαλλεν
Ἕκτορος ἀντικρύ, βαλέειν δέ ἑ ἵετο θυμός·

Τεῦκρος δ ἄλλον ὀϊστὸν ἀπὸ νευρῆφιν ἴαλλεν
Ἕκτορος ἀντικρύ, βαλέειν δέ ἑ ἵετο θυμός.

The lines are almost the same; the action is almost the same, and
yet the scenes are different. The first contains a simile, and the
second introduces and motivates a small episode featuring Hector,
Teucer, and Ajax. Because scenes of warrior killing enemy are so
common, there is no need each time for a close balance with similar
opening lines to demonstrate the demand for variation. Almost all
scenes of wounding must be supplemented in some way. The dullness


of unaugmented lists of the slaughtered demonstrates the
need for diversity (5.677 ff. and 705 ft.).


There are many alternative methods of varying such repeated
scenes, as a passage at the beginning of Book 5 demonstrates, 5.144-
166. In order, there is an unadorned killing of a pair, a killing of a
pair whose father is mentioned, a killing of another pair with a
mention of the father's future sorrow, and a killing of a pair accompanied
by a simile. The alternatives are too numerous to list. But
the poet always had at hand and often used the simile.

In general the many types of lists which appear throughout
the Iliad and the Odyssey do not in themselves constitute a theme
but rather a technique of composition, a technique deeply rooted
in the paratactic mentality of the oral singer. 17 The poet probably
never had a general concern about the amount of variety in his
poems. Whenever he found himself singing a list, he must have
seen in the eyes of his audience and felt almost instinctively that
he could not merely repeat item after item without some relief.
Such variation is evident in the lists of Yugoslav bards. Salih
Ugljanin in The Song of Bagdad introduces separately six warriors.
The listing technique is evident when he marks the entrance of
each hero by singing that the plain thundered, however each time
there follows a highly varied description of each warrior. 18

Yet it is clear that the repetitious killing of a series of warriors
one by one occurs often enough in the Homeric poems to be identified
as a theme. At moments such as these when the oral poet sang
a type of list which was, in addition, a theme of composition, he
employed several standard means of variation, among which was the
simile. To define the precise motivation for the simile is impossible;
it is sufficient to demonstrate that in such passages the simile
accompanies either the theme or the technique.

6.General Scenes of the Armies

Homer's narrative moves like a series of waves. One short scene
comes after another, with a slight pause in between when all
individual action fades away and the poet scans the battlefield


quickly. 19 He looks at the Trojan army, then at the Greek army,
and then moves to another part of the battlefield for a new scene
with new characters. The course of the fighting after Hector's
healing is a clear example.


15. 262-270 Hector returns to battle (simile 20 )
  271-280 General scene: the Greek army is afraid (simile)
  281-305 Thoas speaks and encourages the Greek heroes to stand
  306-311 General scene: Trojan army, Hector, and Apollo
  312-327 General scene: Greek army stands until frightened by Apollo (simile)
  328-342 List of individual Trojan killings
  343-366 General scene: Greek army, Hector, Trojan army, Apollo (two similes)
  367-389 General scene: Greek army, Nestor, Zeus, Trojan army (simile), Greek army
  390-404 Patroclus and Eurypylus
  405-414 General scene: Greek army, Trojan army (simile)
  415-— Hector and Ajax—individual battles

Between the scenes of individual heroes and individual actions
fall general scenes of both armies. The men mentioned by name in
these general scenes are agents of the army not engaged in a scene
of individual combat. The picture of the Trojan army with Hector
and Apollo in the lead is a general picture of the Trojan army and
its movement, as it is the scene in which Nestor prays for the Greek
army. These thematic scenes may be easily distinguished from the
later scenes where Hector and Ajax individually engage in combat
killing enemy men one by one. This type of alternation, where a
general scene alternates with a scene of individual achievement, is


common in the war books of the Iliad. Very often a simile accompanies
the general description of the army with its heroes. There are
four examples of such a simile in the lines cited above; there are
eighty-six such similes both long and short in the two poems
(Iliad 82; Odyssey4).


Often the general scene will be a picture of one army fighting
a single enemy hero. In the battle over Patroclus' body Menelaus
fends off the Trojan army; later Ajax does the same. One is likened
to a lion confronting dogs and herdsmen; the other, to a boar
scattering the hunters and their dogs (17.61 and 281). At other
times the one hero terrifies the enemy army into ineffectiveness,
as when Agamemnon rushes through the Trojan ranks at will like
a forest fire (11.155) or when the Trojans cower before Achilles
like defenseless fish before a dolphin (21.22).

Sometimes such a general picture does not contain a description
of each army, rather it is a wide view of the battle, when neither
side has the advantage (12.421, 15.410, and 17.389). 21

The army as a whole is not always merely the background against
which the heroes perform their feats. Often it has the additional
role of main actor as in Book 2 when the movements of the hordes
of Greeks are an essential part of the story. Each time the army as a
body acts in this book, there is a simile (2.87, 144 and 147, 209,
394). 22 Later the army sits as do the gods and heroes, and here as
an actor it is again described by a simile (7.63).

Although the Odyssey is more a poem of single men, there are
scenes with mobs of people. 23 As might be expected, these groups
are pictured in similes. The suitors flee before Athena like cattle
driven by a horse-fly and the herdsmen charge them like vultures
(Od. 22.299 and 302). Odysseus comes upon the slain suitors who
are fallen in a heap like fish which have been drawn from the ocean


in a net; he, their enemy, sits among them like a bloodstained lion
(Od. 22.384 and 402).


There are so many different situations where a mob of people
is depicted with a simile; indeed, this is the most common use of
the simile. There seems to be no precisely definable alternative.
Fortunately the various situations in which such a scene is sung
offer such variation in themselves that the lack of a limited list of
precise alternatives is not a loss deeply felt.

7. Summary Scenes before Battle

There are places in the Homeric poems where an overall view
or summary of the various elements in a complicated situation
occurs consistently enough to be called a theme of composition.
Before a battle the poet often sings a type of review or catalogue.
In Books 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 and 16 of the Iliad there is a listing of warriors
on one side or the other before the main fighting begins, as in Book 5
there is a preliminary list of the Greek leaders, each of whom kills
one man before Diomedes begins his aristeia. In Book 3 it is the
series of questions from Priam about the various warriors on the
field. In Book 2 stand the catalogues of ships, both Greek and
Trojan. One can only speculate on the origin of the catalogue and
its inclusion in Greek narrative, yet it is significant that even in
the small episodes of past battles which Nestor and Agamemnon
relate there is a list of warriors; for example:

Never have I seen nor shall I see again men like Perithous or
Dryas, the shepherd of the people, Caeneus and Exadius and
godlike Polyphemus and Theseus, the son of Aegeus, a man like
the gods; these were raised as the strongest men on the earth.
They were the strongest and they fought with the strongest,
the wild beast men who lived in the mountains; and they
destroyed them terribly. And I went along with them coming
from Pylos . . . (1.262 ff.)

Agamemnon, in shaming Diomedes by recalling the exploits of
his father Tydeus among the Cadmeians, lists briefly the names of
the individual warriors before the battle even though these names
are not very significant in his story (4.391 ff.). It seems that there
was a tradition of listing the participants before beginning to


narrate an event like a battle scene, which contained little opportunity
for introducing each character as he appeared on the scene. 24
These passages, both long and short, offer a summary view of the
army and its leaders before the battle commences. Often Homer
adds similes to these scenes. There are twenty-six examples of
this use of the simile in the Iliad) one in the Odyssey.


This striking difference in usage of summary scenes is related to
the difference in story-telling between the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The basic story of each poem requires its own style of narration.
The Odyssey is the story of one man and his family. Once the focus
is set on Odysseus, he continues as the main character for many
books as he confronts a series of challenges. When the action moves
to the palace in Ithaca, the characters work out the reinstatement
of Odysseus and the punishment of the Suitors in a single setting.
The plot of the Odyssey depends on single men, each dominating
their own sections of the narrative. The Iliad contains many
characters who cooperate throughout a series of sporadic appearances
to advance the story of men and armies. Summary scenes
before the beginning of a major action in the Iliad aid the audience
in fixing the general outlines of the situation in their minds as

Perhaps the most detailed example of this theme is the catalogue
of ships. From the time that the army of the Greeks is marshaled
until the two forces march to battle, there is almost no advance
of the plot. The intervening four hundred lines contain an overall
picture of the two armies. Within this section of narrative there
are no fewer than eleven similes describing the Greek army (2.455,
459, 468, 469, 780, and 781), the Greek leaders as a group (2.474),
Agamemnon (2.478 and 480), the Trojan army (3.2), and the
appearance of both armies (3.10). This is the proper place to have
the most extensive catalogue—the first meeting of the armies in
the epic. To make the shorter lists as detailed or to load them
so heavily with similes would merely retard the story. Thus when
Agamemnon arms, there is a short view of the Greek army and one
of the Trojan army with three short similes (11.60, 62, and 66);
then the action begins. Or when Patroclus arms, there are only the
necessary ceremonies and warnings, three views of the Myrmidons,


each with a simile (16.156, 212, and 259), and a short mustering
of army and generals, then the action commences immediately.
In Book 4 the catalogue is not so short. As Agamemnon goes
through the army from hero to hero, similes describe his meetings
with Idomeneus and the Ajaxes. Then comes the advance of the
endless Greek army and a simile (4.422) followed by the polyglot
clamor of the Trojans illustrated by a simile (4.433). In the Teichoscopia
there are two similes for Odysseus as Priam reviews the
Greek heroes.


8. Entrance of the Hero

A character's first entrance into the epic narrative can be
dramatic and significant like Agamemnon's or Andromache's; or
it can be treated as though he were expected to be there and needed
no introduction like Patroclus' and Apollo's entrances in Book 1.
In later poets the first appearance of a character often reveals
character and key imagery, 25 but Homer is not as conscious of this
device. As an oral poet he begins his story from a certain point and
assumes that all necessary characters are present and functioning
even though he has not formally brought them to the scene himself.
His attention is focused on the entrance of a character within the
story. If a man must be built up for a demanding task or an important
role, Homer singles him out from the omnipresent group of
available characters and speaks about his ability, his armor, his
present activity, or some other detail. But if an unnoticed entrance
is aesthetically proper, Homer can introduce a character without
fanfare. For example, Priam appears at Achilles' feet unseen by
those in the tent and almost unmentioned by the poet as he enters
(24.471 ff.). This is not the entrance of a king; and in view of the
coming scene with its emphasis on the common bonds of humanity,
it should not be.

Homer is highly sensitive to such entrances; one of his common
methods of introducing a character into an episode is the simile.
When Sarpedon is roused by Zeus to start the breaking of the
Greek wall, Homer says that the wall would not have been broken
if Sarpedon had not been given strength. To introduce the warrior
for this short scene, the poet uses two similes:


Never would the Trojans and glorious Hector have broken the
gates and long door-bar of the wall if Zeus the counselor had
not roused his son Sarpedon against the Argives, like a lion
against the cattle with curved horns. . .

Holding his shield in front of him and shaking two spears he
went like a lion raised in the mountains. . . (12.290-293 and 298 ff.)

Entrances of characters into the narrative are described with a
simile sixty-nine times in the two poems (Iliad 52; Odyssey 17)
by both long and short similes. 26

The most common entrance is that of the hero before his aristeia.
Diomedes briefly enters the battle three times before he finally
begins his aristeia. Athena gives him strength and courage, and
his helmet shines like a star (5.5). Then there is a small scene during
which Diomedes kills a minor hero Phegeus and takes his horses.
Two gods converse, and other Greek leaders kill one man each.
Then Diomedes comes into battle again—not forgotten, merely
left aside for a flurry of Greek victories to prepare his way, and
sweeps across the plain like a flood (5.87). Then he is wounded,
cured, and receives instructions from Athena before he finally
enters battle for a third time like a lion in his rage (5.136). This
passage is a carefully arranged prelude to an aristeia: Greek
victories, favor of the goddess with divine instructions pointing
ahead in the action, and similes to glorify the hero. Before his
aristeia Agamemnon is also ennobled by the magnificence of his
armor with a simile in the midst of this description (11.27). But
the most elaborate introduction is the lengthy preparation of
Achilles. Within the twenty-five lines of his arming four similes
describe the gleam of Achilles' shield, helmet, and full armor
(19.374, 375, 381, and 398).

Such introductions are also used for lesser events than an aristeia.
As Ajax goes to single combat with Hector, his fearsomeness is
emphasized by two similes stressing his bigness and might (7.208
and 219). Teucer, who enjoys a minor profusion of successful shots,


is brought to the audience's attention by a simile (8.271). Not always
are the trials of war involved. Telemachus is magnified by a
simile as he goes to address the council and before he undertakes his
trip to Menelaus (Od. 2.5 and Od. 3.468). Menelaus is introduced
with a simile before he begins the narrative of his troubles and
sufferings in returning from Troy (Od. 4.310). These scenes all
portray men who are momentarily set apart from the rest of the
army and heroes because they are going to draw the spotlight of
the narrative to themselves in undertaking a new and perhaps
difficult task. A simile can produce a momentary pre-eminence.


The hero, however need not always have a specific task ahead of
him. A simile is employed to bring heroes into prominence on the
battlefield, even if they have been there but were unnoticed during
a previous scene. In Book 16 of the Iliad Patroclus dominates all
other characters. When he dies, the fight is reformed about his
body and several great heroes re-enter the battle, many with a
simile. Menelaus stands over Patroclus like a mother cow, and later
Ajax drives Hector away like a lion (17.4 and 17.133). Like a flame
Hector, who has stood aside after killing Patroclus, is fired into
battle rage and shouts to his comrades (17.88). In the same fashion
Paris enters battle with Hector after the peaceful scene with
Andromache (6.506, 513, and 7.4).

Figures who have no real effect on the story but are introduced
into the narrative and play a role for a single scene often receive a
simile. The elders of Troy are important only for the Teichoscopia.
Astyanax has a part in the Hector-Andromache scene, and the
rather housewifely Helen of the Odyssey is an interesting addition
for the listener who knew the full epic cycle, but beyond their own
scenes these characters do not enter the plot. A simile introduces
them in these scenes (3.151, 6.401, and Od. 4.122). Even characters
in a short narration can be made momentarily larger by a simile,
as Iphitus, who gave the bow to Odysseus, and Theseus, a fellow
warrior of Nestor, are both like gods (Od. 21.14, Od. 21.37, and
1.265). 27


Finally similes appear with people who have been absent from
the narrative, because hindered, and now return. Hector is kept
away from Agamemnon by Zeus' command in Book 11 and wounded
in Book 14. Each time he is described by a simile as he re-enters
battle (11.292, 295, and 15.263). Briseis has been taken by Agamemnon,
and when she returns, her reappearance is modified by two
similes (19.282 and 286). Menelaus in Book 3 disappears from the
narrative when Aphrodite removes his opponent. When he re-enters
the narrative, he is described by a simile (3.449).

These examples all show characters coming into the narrative.
To introduce them, sometimes to glorify them and sometimes
merely to call attention to them, the poet uses a simile. The choice
between short or long seems aesthetic. Achilles attracts both
before his aristeia, while Diomedes is described only by long
similes. Patroclus has none in his preparations. 28

9. Withdrawal of the Hero

Complementary to the theme of the entrance of the hero is the
theme of the withdrawal of the hero. Since such retreats usually
mark a reversal in the action, the similes which accompany this
theme are an attempt by the poet to call attention to an act common
in every war story, but with extra significance in the particular
context. For example, Zeus tells Hector to withdraw from the
battle until Agamemnon retreats. As soon as the pains grow too
severe for Agamemnon and he must leave the battlefield, there is
a simile (11.269). Immediately Hector re-enters the fight for his
fatal day of glory—until the sun goes down. When Hector is wounded
by Ajax, the Greeks are free to advance and to drive the
Trojans back over the wall and the ditch. They are successful
until Hector's return. To emphasize this pivotal loss to the Trojans
Homer describes Hector's withdrawal with two similes (14.413 and
414). When Pandarus wounds Menelaus, the treaty is broken and
the war continues; a simile is used to describe the wound (4.141). In
the battle for Patroclus' body Menelaus makes two significant


retreats, both described by similes: Hector takes the arms of
Achilles when Menelaus is forced to fall back like an overawed lion
and later Menelaus withdraws to start the ominous message of
Patroclus' death on its way to Achilles (17.109, 657 and 674).


II. Similes as poetic Technique

1. Emphasis on Anticipated Meetings

One of the basic concerns of the oral poet is the proper telling
of certain facts, but not all types of facts. The various shields which
one warrior can bear in the course of one scene have long since been
noted as glaring inconsistencies, yet there are few inconsistencies
in the building of the basic plot. Events which are necessary or will
later be important are not forgotten. Since the poet must continually
guide his audience's sense of his story, he must anticipate
and arrange the important meetings. The final battle between
Hector and Achilles is foreshadowed throughout the Iliad ; the
regaining of home and family by Odysseus is consistently the goal
of the endless toil of the Odyssey. Since the poet knew that certain
confrontations would take place, he could prepare his audience
for them by introducing similes describing the participants as the
actual meeting approached. The similes allowed the poet to dwell
a little longer on the important characters and, thereby, to heighten
the tension by making the audience realize that the critical
moment, which they had expected, was near. Athena sends Nausicaa
to the beach when Odysseus is sleeping. When all other work is
done and she begins to play ball with her handmaids, either the
meeting will come before the game is finished or not at all. Nausicaa
at the start of this game is set apart from her servants by a simile
(Od. 6.102). Then one of the maidens throws the ball into the
water; their cry wakes Odysseus who comes out of the bush to
this prearranged meeting like a lion (Od. 6.130). Such preluding
and emphasizing of anticipated confrontations is accomplished by
means of short or long similes thirty-six times in the two poems
(Iliad, 25; Odyssey 11).

When Telemachus returns to Ithaca and goes to Eumaeus' hut,
the audience knows that his father is sitting before him. This is a
meeting which Odysseus has long desired—his first reacquaintance
with family—and Telemachus' entrance is marked by a simile
(Od. 16.17). When they embrace one another, there is also a simile


(Od. 16.216). When Penelope meets the beggar and hears his tale,
this is the long awaited first meeting; only later does the true recognition
take place. But this first meeting contains three similes
(Od. 19.54, 205, and 211). This is a type of unfulfilled or unsuccessful
meeting, when the awaited confrontation occurs, but there is no
decisive outcome. There are other examples of such meetings.
Every hearer who knew the causes of the Trojan War must have
anticipated the battle between Menelaus and Paris, but when these
two meet at the beginning of the third book of the Iliad, Paris
shrinks back into the army from fear. However since it is a meeting
much anticipated by the audience, both heroes are characterized
with a simile (3.23 and 33).


The simile can be used in widely separated passages to emphasize
and maintain interest in an impending meeting. That Hector and
Achilles, each as the great champion of the warring armies, must
fight becomes more inevitable as the Iliad progresses: first it is
rivalry; then it is duty. A confrontation, marked with a simile
(20.423), occurs in Book 20, but Hector is saved for the moment by
Apollo. Later as Hector stands alone before the walls of Troy and
Achilles rushes towards him for their fatal encounter, there are no
fewer than eleven similes describing Hector, Achilles, or the appearance
of the two. First there are five similes—three for Achilles and
two for Hector. Then four similes describing the chase. Finally a
simile for Hector's fruitless lunge and one for the fateful spear
point which will kill Hector. Exclusive of content the position of
the similes alone emphasizes this expected confrontation (22.22, 26,
93, 132, 134, 139, 162, 189, 199, 308, 317).

In the Patrokleia a similar meeting occurs. A simile describes
the mares of Troy bearing Hector away from Patroclus (16.384).
Later Hector and Patroclus fight over the body of Hector's charioteer,
Cebriones, which Patroclus stands over like a lion. Hector
and Patroclus then fight like two lions in an inconclusive battle
which leads back to a scene of general battle (16.752 and 756).
Later when Hector delivers the death blow, as expected a simile
describes it (16.823).

The battle between Sarpedon and Patroclus contains three similes
(16.428, 482, and 487). To what extent this was a rivalry in the
heroic tradition is unknown. The poet has presented their meeting
as decisive and predicted its outcome in a scene on Olympus, so
that the audience would at least anticipate Sarpedon's death


(15.67). 29 Evidence is, however, lacking to state firmly that this
was an essential and expected conflict. 30 The battle between
Achilles and Aeneas seems to have been a part of the tradition.
They had met once before on Mount Ida, where apparently Aeneas
fled with no fight. This story is told at 20.187 ff., and because this
story is known, there is reason for using a simile at their meeting in
Book 20 (164). The battle between Aeneas and Diomedes in Book 5
is built up to such a point that a simile describes Aeneas' movement
as he takes his stand before Diomedes (5.299).


In these last three examples it must be remembered that the
battle could be in the tradition, anticipated by the audience and
the poet, and given poetic color by the addition of similes. 31 Or
it could be merely in the poet's mind to make two men the center of
interest for a minute, since all men treated with this technique
are heroes, not little men who are expendable. The battle is, therefore,
an object of interest because of its participants. The addition
of a simile could be one alternative method of pairing two well-
known heroes and making them focal points for the immediate

Meetings and confrontations occur throughout both poems, and
the alternative means of stressing such meetings are infinitely
varied. There are several scenes in which the poet uses a simile or
a series of similes to emphasize the coming confrontation of two
major figures. Perhaps these meetings were well known from the
tradition of epic song, or perhaps the poet wanted to use such
figures to center his narrative momentarily. In either case similes
make the two characters distinct from other figures in the background
and give their meeting importance. The oral poet need only
anticipate well-known confrontations before beginning the episode
and then plan his alternatives.


2. The Joining of two Scenes

Because oral narrative is inevitably episodic, the poet must tell
one episode separately from another while attempting to introduce
reminiscences here and there which will not permit the audience
to forget the first episode while hearing the second. At this type
of juncture in the narrative the poet must impress firmly upon his
listeners' mind the picture to which he wishes to refer later; if the
scene is sufficiently emphasized, the audience can be expected to
remember it. Later the poet is able to return in his song to that
scene, and, by joining the present and the previous scenes, present
a single unified event. This is one of the few methods an oral poet
possesses to present two simultaneous actions. While Antilochus
bears his fateful message to Achilles, the battle over Patroclus'
body continues. Finally the Greeks under Ajax's command have
some success and begin to carry the body back toward the ships,
but the Trojans resist firmly, and there is a chance that Patroclus
will fall again into their hands. At the end of Book 17 the poet
summarizes this scene treating individually Menelaus and Meriones
who are carrying the body, the two Ajaxes who are holding off the
Trojans, Hector and Aeneas, the Trojan army, and the Greek army.
Then the narrative shifts to Achilles' tent for Antilochus' report.
Since only one hundred and fifty lines later the poet will wish to
return to the battlefield where affairs have not changed substantially,
he makes the summary picture at the end of Book 17 a
colorful and, therefore, notable scene—one which will be remembered
easily by his audience. Thus he can lead back to it after an intervening
section of the narrative. Often Homer fills such scenes with
similes which permit the poet to dwell upon the scene a bit longer
and to call attention to its subsequently important details one by
one. There are twelve examples of this use of the simile in the Iliad;
one in the Odyssey.

The scene at the end of Book 17 contains five similes. Almost
every item in it except Hector and Aeneas provides a point of
comparison upon which a simile is built (17.725, 737, 742, 747, and
755). When the poet returns to this scene, the two protagonists,
Hector and Ajax, each are described in a simile (18.154 and 161),
a type of small summary to recall the previous situation for the
audience. A parallel pattern of summary and recall occurs at the
end of Book 15 when the scene is about to switch to Achilles' camp.


The signal for Patroclus' entrance into battle is to be the smoke
from a burning ship. The poet describes Ajax' attempts to hold
Hector away from the ship, describes each hero with a simile to
emphasize the scene, and then returns to it some lines later in
Book 16 when Achilles sees the fire from the ships (15.679, 690,
and 16.114 ff.). In Book 11 the grudging retreat of Ajax serves to
summarize the battle situation before the scene shifts to Achilles
standing alone by his ship watching his chances for glory disappear.
The fatal weakness of the Greeks will be the subject of the rest of
the book and is background for the futile battle around the wall
in Book 12. Later when Nestor appeals to Patroclus and tells of
the Greek defeat, his words have heightened meaning for an
audience which remembers the weakness of the Greeks as symbolized
by the picture of the hero Ajax in retreat. Ajax' stubborn withdrawal
is described in three similes (11.546, 548, and 558). 32 As
the final example, Odysseus, when he falls asleep on the Phaeacian
shore, is compared to a coal among embers (Od. 5.488). Then the
scene shifts to the palace. Later Homer joins the two scenes when
Nausicaa comes to the beach.


3. Emphasis in Short Episodes

The poet not only concentrates on the larger story; he must also
sustain his audience's interest by singing the smaller scenes well,
and essential to this process is proper emphasis on important
constituent elements. If all events are sung as though they were
of the same significance, the poem would seem repetitiously monotonous,
but by shifting emphasis in individual scenes the poet


maintains a story which is not only well structured but also entertaining.
One means of achieving this variation is highlighting: the
thoughtful presentation of a scene with a center of interest around
which the minor events arrange themselves. I am speaking here
only of shorter scenes in which the audience could appreciate the
technique within a single section of narrative. One method of
achieving such emphasis is the simile.


The first example is Iliad 13.198. This is an outline of the scene
which surrounds these lines (169-205):

169 General line
170-181 Teucer kills Imbrius and simile 33
182-185 Teucer rushes to strip him but Hector stops him
185-187 Hector slays Amphimachus
188-194 Hector rushes to strip Amphimachus but Ajax prevents him
and the Greeks take the bodies
195-205 Amphimachus is taken away with his armor and the Ajaxes strip
and defile body of Imbrius and simile 34
206-— Start of aristeia of Idomeneus

This small scene of battle is prelude to the aristeia of Idomeneus;
as the aristeia of Diomedes is introduced by a scene of Greek victories,
so here a scene which shows total, albeit momentary, Greek
superiority precedes the hero's entrance. The key to this victory
is the stripping of a warrior. Teucer tries to strip the man whom
he has killed but fails. Then Hector tries to strip a man he has killed
and also fails. After the Greeks take both bodies, the Ajaxes despoil
the Trojan. The simile here emphasizes the Greek victory, a proper
prelude to a Greek hero's aristeia. To make the insult clear the poet
has Ajax Oileus throw the head at Hector's feet.


While threat of stripping a warrior of his armor is a standard
part of the slaying of men as is seen frequently in the Iliad (13.641,
15.545 and 583, 22.258, the beginning of Book 17, and others),
in this small scene Homer has caused one element to stand out
from the background in order to give direction to his narrative.
It is important to note that Homer by his double use of the stripping
motif has provided meaning to the telling of this otherwise traditional
scene. The simile only aids in stressing elements which are
independently significant within the narrative.

The second example of this use of the simile occurs in the long
scene 15.552-590. Hector rekindles the Trojans' spirit while Ajax
urges the Greeks. But since Zeus favors the Trojans, there is a
small scene to show their might at the moment (568 ff.). Antilochus
kills Melanippus and springs upon him to strip off his armor; this
spring forward is accompanied by a simile. When Hector rushes
up and Antilochus flees without a fight, the retreat is also described
with a simile. The scene is closed with another reference to Zeus'
insuperable aid to the Trojans. The quick movement forward to
gain the glory and prizes of victory and the immediate retreat bear
ample witness to the Greeks' helplessness. Again Homer underlines
the point of this traditional scene by his similes.

In like fashion the sleeping dogs of Eumaeus are as savage as
wild beasts (Od. 14.21), a simile which draws the listeners' attention
to them momentarily. In a few lines these dogs will receive Odysseus
and gain him the instant sympathy and protection of the swineherd.
Eumaeus immediately tells the old beggar of his loyalty to his
former master: his master's loss is a sorrow equal to that which
he would have experienced if Odysseus had been harmed by the
dogs. The poet knows that these dogs are important to the immediate
narrative and consequently spotlights them with a simile. 35
In the same way Odysseus emphasizes the garment that Penelope
herself gave to him and now recognizes (Od. 19.233 and 234).

I have found only six examples of this usage of the simile, a
surprising infrequency when one considers the innumerable times
that Homer emphasizes an object by discussing it at length, e.g.,
the bow of Pandarus, which undergoes a detailing of its ancestry,


and the staff of the Achaeans, which is taken back to treehood.
That the simile is not used frequently in this way suggests that it
usually had a more limited function, namely in accompanying a
traditional scene or theme and that the poet generally did not
consider the simile outside of the rather circumscribed type of
events in which it most often occurred.


4. Emphasis on Continuing Motifs throughout the Larger Narrative

In the course of the narrative there are certain pivotal events
which have far reaching connections within the larger narrative.
These may be occurrences which mark a turn in the development
of the plot, or events which must be made prominent because they
explain later developments, or themes which provide motivation
for the narrative. When the poet sang these scenes, he was careful
to provide sufficient detail so that his audience would realize their
significance. Often he uses a simile to aid in emphasizing such a

For example, Book 12 opens with a digression on the history of
the Greek wall and the goal of the fighting throughout Book 12 is
the breaching of this wall. When Hector picks up the huge stone
and dashes down the gates of the wall, the fight is won, and the
Greeks have only their ships as defense. Homer marks the final
breakthrough with two similes (12.451 and 463). One of the most
important proofs of Odysseus' identity in Ithaca and a key to his
recognition is the bow of Iphitus. When Penelope opens the doors
of the storeroom to get the bow, a simile describes their groaning
(Od. 21.48). When Odysseus strings the bow and plucks the string
to test its firmness, there are two similes (Od. 21.406 and 411).

The simile can also give added stress to an underlying theme
which the audience must keep in mind. Achilles' actions in the last
part of the Iliad are motivated by his debt to his dead companion
Patroclus. Homer's audience must not forget the source of Achilles'
unquenchable fury. When the twelve Trojan youths are sent back
to the ships as the blood price for Patroclus, they are dazed like
fawns (21.29). 36 Later Achilles laments the whole night long as


Patroclus' body burns just as a father laments the death of a newly-
wed son (23.222). The excess of battle rage which Achilles shows
during his aristeia and which he will renounce at the end of the
poem would be a type of meaningless madness unless the friendship
of the two men were kept in view. Therefore, Homer emphasizes
this theme often in the final books of the Iliad,twice with similes.


The story of Agamemnon is introduced as a countermotif throughout
the Odyssey. To stress it, the poet describes the murder of
Agamemnon twice and the slaying of his companions once with
similes (Od. 4.535, Od. 11.411, and Od. 11.413). The fact that the
similes at 4.535 and 11.411 are identical suggests that this simile
traditionally accompanied this scene, and yet Homer chose to
include the simile in order to call attention to the parallel motif
of a family awaiting the return of its father and king.

To spotlight these events and motifs—all of which are closely
implicated in the later development of the larger story—Homer
uses a simile.

III. Similes in Speeches

In the previous classification of similes, a narrative context has
been the determining factor. Some Homeric speeches contain
narrative, though most offer personal comment upon a scene.
The action does not usually advance in a speech; rather one can
learn feelings, reactions, and opinions. There are seventy-three
similes both long and short contained in speeches (Iliad 42; Odyssey

Several of these similes are placed in contexts similar to the
ones in which they are found in the narrative. Men who talk about
the whole army often use a simile (2.289, 4.243, 5.476, 11.383,
and passim). Similes are used to illustrate infinite number or speed
(2.800 and Od. 7.36). A speaker can express the sense of wonder
at something strange with a simile (10.547). But for the most part
similes in speeches are comparisons drawn for immediate effect
rather than satisfaction of a traditional form; the message of the
speaker is clearer with the simile. A comparison can occur in speeches
in almost any context. Thetis twice calls Achilles a shoot or a


tree on an orchard slope (18.56, 57, 437, and 438); Aeneas tells
Achilles that he is tired of having them bicker like two women
in the street (20.252). Telemachus tells Athena-Mentes that he is
as kind to him as a father to a son (Od. 1.308). Instead of being
placed traditionally, these similes concisely and pictorially convey
the speaker's thoughts and emotions.


For this reason I have not been able to place most of the similes
within direct speeches into the previous categories. Those that do
fall into a category have been discussed and included in the appropriate
group, and those that do not, offer evidence that the simile
was always available and often used in a direct speech as an illustrative
parallel. The difficulty in categorizing these similes arises from
the nature of the Homeric speech—comment rather than action. 37

Notable exceptions where the placement of similes should
correspond to traditional usage are speeches with narrative qualities
—the Apologue, Menelaus' story of his return, and Odysseus' tales
of his fictional adventures. In such speeches similes are located at
the same junctures as in the narrative proper. The principles
presented in this study seem to have guided their placement.

Conclusion: The Placement of the Similes

Since the oral poet depends on traditions: a traditional story,
traditional diction, traditional scenes, it is only to be expected
that one aspect of the oral inheritance concerns the placing of the
similes within the narrative. In several locations the simile was a
customary alternate method of continuing the tale. For some
junctures in the narrative there are sufficient parallels to construct a
fairly neat set of alternates, as when a god descends or the action
of a divinity is described, there are only three or four ways of
singing the scene in the preserved text. Because these junctures
coincide with several of the standard themes by which the poet
tells his story, the placement of the simile can be described in
thematic terms which would be meaningful to the oral poet himself.
There are, in addition, four large groups of similes which are joined


to poetic techniques employed repeatedly by the poet. These
similes allow the poet to emphasize certain details of a traditional
scene which might, without the addition of the simile, go unnoticed
by the Homeric audience. When the simile is used with certain
traditional poetic procedures, it is difficult to isolate alternatives
because the placement of the simile is involved far more with the
larger movement of the total passage than with the immediately
surrounding context. Since patterned situations and poetic needs
recur, parallel procedures can still be defined even if the definition
is not as precise as the identification of narrative themes.


The choice between alternatives depended mostly on the poet's
desires within the individual episode and calculations of importance
to the major plot of either epic were usually passed by. The poet
chose an alternative because he found it an effective way of composing
the immediate scene. When the poet reached one of several
types of junctures in composing a theme or developing a traditional
passage where he had to make a choice in order to continue his
narrative, the simile ran through his mind. Why the simile only
accompanied certain themes and poetic procedures and not others,
is unknown—possibly unknowable. Similes are not used to emphasize
hysteron-proteron structures or the preparation and serving
of dinner, and yet the first is a common technique while the second
is a standard theme in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Yet when the
poet came to certain limited groups of junctures; he knew that the
simile could be effectively employed provided that the scene would
permit the momentary distraction and elaboration of a simile.

An important piece of corroborative evidence for this method
of composition is offered by the seven sets of repeated long similes.
These occur in the following locations: 5.782 = 7.256, 5.860 =
14.148, 6.506 = 15.263, 11.548 = 17.657, 13.389 = 16.482, Od.
4-335 = Od. 17.126, Od. 6.232 = Od. 23.159. The similes at
11.548 = 17.657 are identical but for the initial two lines; the
remaining similes range from two to six lines and are duplicates.
Such sets of similes are significant in two ways. 38 First, the repeated
simile is an alternative that was used twice, rather than once. If


more oral epic remained, there might be similes found which were
repeated three times or even ten times. Though there are, in fact, no
similes repeated more than once, those similes that are repeated
offer evidence that at least some were units which could be placed
freely here and there by the poet without affecting their content.
This statement supports the initial insistence on the separation
of context and content which underlies this study. Perhaps even
more significant is the fact that without exception repeated similes
occur within the same context group. Not only is the simile in
general a structural unit, but also the tradition suggested one
specific simile unit at certain repeated junctures. For example,
Paris and Hector are likened to the same proud stallion, and in
each case the simile accompanies the entrance of the warrior to
the battlefield. As the poet pondered the alternative ways of
continuing his song, he chose this particular horse simile twice.
The pattern of seven repeated similes each in a limited context
is evidence that some similes were alternatives in certain very
specific scenes. In each of these scenes there was a very limited
and defined number of alternatives given by the tradition, so limited
that there are several occasions preserved in the text where the
poet chose the same alternative. Repeated passages are far from
peculiar to the similes. There are similar repetitions in numerous
other types of scenes; for example, scenes where a warrior dies or


There are two conceptions about similes which should be re-
examined in the light of the tradition which guides their placement.
Fränkel has criticised his predecessors for insisting on the distinction
between narrative and simile. He produces examples where the
two combine into a unit which cannot be separated without damage
to the story. 39 However, if Homer's method of composition is
based on a choice between alternates, the simile must be independent
from the narrative at least in conception. The poet can make
whatever connections he chooses to the story, but he is not bound
to do so. Perhaps when he has finished singing the simile, he realizes
that it has in itself carried the action into the future, making the
bald repetition of the original point of connection unnecessary,
though this was probably not in the poet's mind when he chose to
sing the simile. His choice was between a simile to illustrate the


scene which he has just finished or narrative to continue with the
story. The simile as a unit was distinguished sharply from the
narrative. 40


There is also a tendency to identify two quite different types of
similes: the short comparisons and the long descriptive similes.
If the simile is a traditional element in certain scenes or is one of
the normal alternatives, this distinction is probably deceptive.
The poet's urge to include a simile would be satisfied equally by a
long simile or by a short comparison. 41 In either case the simile
would have been formally introduced. For aesthetic reasons the
poet may extend it or may check it after a few words; essentially
the poet chose to include a simile and this desire was fulfilled by
the simile unit, be it long or short. In fact, the long simile was often
constructed merely by the addition of extra clauses to a shorter
simile. Long similes do not seem different in nature from short
similes, only in the method and the length of extension.

Some similes in this study fall into two groups. Though often it
is impossible to distinguish exactly the context which suggested
the use of the simile to the poet, it is only necessary that one
context give the simile its roots in order to show the traditional
nature of the simile's location. In an actual performance both could
have occurred to a singer. There are only a few similes which do not
fall easily into categories, which is to be expected. In the Iliad
five per cent do not; in the Odyssey, six per cent, low figures
considering that there are 476 similes considered in this study.


Traditions in the ancient world are hard to define even when the
evidence is largely present. Given that the remains of early Greek
epic are so small, it is a testimony to the strength and consistency
of the tradition that it can be defined at all. That the simile should
come into the poet's mind at a limited number of contexts can
only be explained as the result of singing song after song for many
years. His practices and customary associations were developed
at least partly by the poet himself but, I imagine, came mostly
from the oral phrases and techniques of story-telling which had
been developed by generations of oral poets through a method
which must have been close to trial-and-error. It is in this sense
that the placement of the simile is highly dependent on the inherited
tradition which the poet had acquired from his earliest
years as a listener, an apprentice, and finally a performer.


The singers must ever ponder alternatives. Tradition is a pathway
already taken by many, and the common vistas and familiar structures
on the way have been seen by all travelers before. The oral
artist walks where he can find the best view of the finest familiar
sights with imagination and choice as his constant companions.
A selection from the old and the new, from the great and the small,
from the sophisticated and the plain makes a satisfying and stimulating
journey. The route remains the same for all and the sights
do not change; selection and emphasis are the keys to the artist's
ability. 42

Notes — Chapter Two

1. A. B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge 1960), p. 68.

2. Often this strangeness was marked by a simile; see infra, 24 ff.

3. The significance of the event need not always be quite as great as it is
in Book 1, as for example, when Apollo descends at the command of Zeus to
carry the body of Sarpedon away for burial (16.676 ff.), the journey from
Olympus is motivated, but it does not have the wide-ranging importance of
the four journeys in Book 1. In a case like this the significance of the god's
entrance must be measured in terms which are fitting both to oral poetry
and the particular episode. Sarpedon is the last hero Patroclus meets who
offers any resistance, and after Apollo comes for the body of Sarpedon,
Patroclus succumbs to the dangerous infatuation of attempting to take
Troy. Thus it is not merely the entrance of the god from Olympus which makes
this scene significant, but the poet himself in lines 685 ff. calls attention to
the new direction of the narrative. Since one of the most imperative demands
on an oral poet is the appropriate variation of pace, pauses like this one
allow the poet to separate one episode from the other and make a new
beginning without becoming entangled in the details of a subtle modulation.
This entrance of the god may not be as significant as the appeal by Thetis
to Zeus in Book 1, but in terms of the story of Book 16 the entrance of
Apollo is important. The same could be said of the frequent entrances and
exits of gods and goddesses in Book 5, which mark the turning points in the
development of that particular section of the narrative and are, consequently,
significant within the framework and perspective of Book 5.

4. This placement of the simile has been noted by deVelsen, p. 7 and
Coffey, p. 119 f.

5. Probably the trip of Athena from the suburbs of Phaeacia to her temple
at Athens is based on a similar technique; however she is not travelling
between worlds (Od. 7.78).

6. This alternative may explain the dark blue veil which Thetis takes with
her to go to Zeus at 24.93 ff. It is a minor preparation.

7. This chariot and armor seem to be traditional heavenly equipment, since
when Poseidon travels to Troy, the same lines are used (8.41-44 = 13.23-26).

8. This use of the simile was cited by deVelsen, p. 19, Hampe, p. 17 f., and
Coffey, p. 124-5.

9. 6.294-5 = Od. 15.107-8. This short simile may have been traditionally
connected with these lines which comment on the quality of the robe. The
similarities between the two passages extend even further; 6.293 is similar
to Od. 15.106 while 6.296 is similar to Od. 15.109.

10. R. Carpenter, Folk Tale, Fiction and Saga in the Homeric Epics (Berkeley
1946), p. 70.

11. Cf. Fränkel, pp. 29 f., 46 f., 56 f., and 99 and Müller, p. 179.

12. See supra, p. 20 ff.

13. Hampe, p. 21, Snell's Chapter One: "Homer's View of Man," and Ε. Α.
Havelock, Preface to Plato (Cambridge, Mass. 1963), pp. 197-201.

14. This has often been noted; cf. deVelsen, p. 7, Müller, p. 179, and Coffey,
pp. 128-132. Most often the simile in such a scene is justified as the poet's
means of expressing what cannot be told in any other available way.

15. W. Arend, Die Typischen Scenen bei Homer (Berlin 1933), pp. 106-115
analyzes scenes where men must make decisions.

16. See Arend op. cit. (supra, n. 15), p. 22 and 29 ff. for a discussion of
variation within these two last scenes.

17. See the general discussion of parataxis in J. A. Notopoulos, "Parataxis
in Homer: A New Approach to Homeric Literary Criticism," TAPhA 80
(1949), pp. 1-23.

18. M. Parry and A. B. Lord, Serbocroatian Heroic Songs (Cambridge, Mass.
1954) I, p. 74 ff.

19. Cf. Β. Fenik, Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad (Wiesbaden 1968), p. 19.

20. There are three similes in this section which do not describe groups of
men, but they are not the object of interest in this category.

263—The scene opens with the impressive re-entrance of Hector to the
battle. Such entrances are often marked with a long simile; see infra,
p. 38 ff.
358—The length of the pathway is given by a simile. Similes expressing
measurement are common; see supra, p. 20 ff.
362—Apollo scatters the wall as easily as a child scatters sand. Divine
action in the human world is usually described with a simile; see supra,
p. 24 ff.


21. Fenik op. cit. (supra, n. 19), p. 55 f. points to two similes describing
groups in a pattern which is repeated within 35 lines (5.493 ff.). He finds
the appearance of such doublets in close proximity common in the Iliad.

22. Hampe, p. 9 ff., analyzes the function of the similes characterizing the
army in Book 2. He notes the compactness and increased force of the description
in a simile: "Hier galt es, ein im einzelnen nicht mehr erfassbares,
unübersehbares, in tausendfaltiger Vielheit sich gleichzeitig abspielendes
Geschehen festzuhalten" (p. 13). Cf. deVelsen, p. 7, Müller, p. 179, and
Coffey, p. 121.

23. It is noteworthy that these similes occur only in Book 22 where the
story is closest to the war scenes of the Iliad.

24. For a more precise discussion of the position of catalogues in the
narrative see Fenik op. cit. (supra, n. 19), pp. 80, 153, 167, and 225.

25. Cf. Oedipus in Oedipus Tyrannus ι ff. and Oedipus Coloneus, p. ι ff.
The difference in the same man is immediately striking.

26. Cf. Hampe, pp. 21-2: "Schliesslich können Gleichnisse dazu dienen, eine
übergewöhnliche Steigerung des Formates auszudrücken, nicht nur bei
Göttern, sondern auch bei Helden, vor allem bei dem Haupthelden Achill.
Dabei sind äussere Grösse und überragende Bedeutung voneinander nicht
zu trennen."

27. The serving woman in Nestor's tent receives a very complimentary
phrase: "like the goddesses" (11.638). This woman plays no significant role
in this scene nor in the rest of the Iliad. Homer is, however, consciously
attempting to stretch out the description of the meal in order to allow time
for Patroclus to appear at Nestor's tent and to modulate the pace of the
narrative after the battle description (11.613-644). When he introduces a
minor character, he may have realized that he had come to a perfectly
traditional place for a simile—and, indeed, this small simile would be one
other way of lengthening the description of the meal.

28. Patroclus is in many ways marked as a lesser warrior. Cf. infra Cpt. 4,
n. 18.

29. For a discussion of the technique of battle description in this scene see
Fenik op. cit. (supra, n. 19), p. 204 f.

30. Sarpedon's background in the Iliad is vague. For two contrasting views
of his place in the epic tradition see W. Kullmann, Die Quellen der Ilias
(Wiesbaden 1960), p. 175, n. 4 and W. Friedrich, Verwundung und Tod in der
(Göttingen 1956), pp. 103-112.

31. Evidence for a tradition underlying the battles of Aeneas with Achilles
and Aeneas with Diomedes is gathered by Kullmann op. cit. (supra, n. 30),
pp. 281 f., 301, 326, 342, 368. There seems to be no evidence for such a
tradition regarding the Aeneas-Idomeneus confrontation. Cf. also H. Erbse,
"Über die sogennante Aeneis im 20. Buch der Ilias," RhM 110 (1967), pp. 1-25.

32. It could be objected that fighting does follow the retreat of Ajax
(11.575 ff.) and that, when the poet returns to the battlefield, there is no
mention of Ajax nor the details of the battle situation (12.2 ff.). Consequently
there may be no reason to emphasize the particular retreat of Ajax. However
the dangerous weakness of the Greeks does underlie the appeal of Nestor,
and this weakness is represented in a summary scene by Ajax—a scene made
memorable by similes. In addition, the fighting after Ajax' retreat tells of the
wounding of Eurypylus. Patroclus' pity is to be aroused by this man (cf.
11.804 ff. and 15.390 ff.), and such pity eventually drives Patroclus to ask
Achilles to relent. The similes do fix the thought of Greek defeat. Only against
such thoughts do Nestor's appeal and Patroclus' mercy to Eurypylus have
full effect. Cf. W. Schadewaldt, Iliasstudien (3rd ed.; Darmstadt 1966),
pp. 17 ff. and 76 ff. Schadewaldt has noted two other examples of this
"Klammertechnik" in Books 16 and 18 in "Homerische Szenen," Die Antike
12 (1936) 173-201 on p. 181 f. See also infra Cpt. 4, n. 13.

33. This is a simile used for variation in a common scene; see supra, p. 31 ff.
Similes are very usual in this position. In this passage the simile is accompanied
by a description of Imbrius' ancestry and previous life. These are both
customary variations in repeated scenes that do not distract from the effect
of the simile at 198. That is in an unusual spot and at the obvious end of a

34. See Fenik op. cit. (supra, n. 19), pp. 126 ff. and 137 ff. for a discussion
of the typical elements in this scene. At 13.195 Homer has underlined the
capture of the body to make this scene a meaningful introduction to the
aristeia; parallel scenes which mention the capture of the body do not
contain the simile.

35. Arend op. cit. (supra, n. 15), p. 44 f. comments on the various changes
which the introduction of the untypical dogs cause in the typical scene, and
Whitman 292 mentions the importance of these dogs in delineating the
character of Eumaeus.

36. This may seem a forced interpretation ; however, the simile does focus
the audience's attention for a moment on the debt to Patroclus (cf. 18.336 f.)
and the bloodthirsty rage displayed by Achilles in revenging the death, both
vital themes in this section of the narrative. Because these twelve young men are not forgotten but are brought forth to be slaughtered on the pyre (23.175),
I feel that Homer purposely introduced them in Book 21 with a simile.

37. W. Moog, "Die homerischen Gleichnisse," Zeitschrift für Aesthetik und
allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 7
(1912), pp. 266-302 and 353-371: "Wenn in
den Reden weniger Gleichnisse sind, so ist das dadurch bedingt, dass sie
wenig aüssere Handlung bieten, an die sich Gleichnisse anknüpfen lassen
könnten" (278).

38. In drawing conclusions from the phenomenon of repeated long similes,
I am momentarily assuming that they were sung as blocks of lines which
were somehow retained as units or partial units in the poet's mind. See
Chapter 5 for discussion of the repeated similes and the various theories
which have been advanced to explain them; infra, pp. 127-140.

39. Fränkel, p. 5 ff.

40. Further proof for this point can be found in places where the simile goes
on beyond the action of the narrative. At 16.156 the Myrmidons are compared
to wolves. By the time the simile is developed, the wolves have slain, eaten,
and are now gorged, while the Myrmidons are still merely eager to begin
battle. The simile has been developed as an individual picture to show the
hungry, bloodthirsty, animal-like desire of the Myrmidons for war. Once the
poet began the picture, it became in itself the immediate concern—rather
than the establishment of a neat balance with the narrative events or a
continuation of the story. The simile was an independent picture. Cf. Fränkel,
p. 73 ff.

41. Such an attitude is fully in accord with the practice of oral singers as
reported by A. B. Lord, op. cit. (supra, n. 1), p. 98: "We are apparently
dealing here with a strong force that keeps certain themes together. It is
deeply imbedded in the tradition; the singer probably imbibes it intuitively
at a very early stage in his career. . . He avoids violating the group of themes
by omitting any of its members. . . we shall see that he will even go so far as
to substitute something similar if he finds that for one reason or another he
cannot use one of the elements in its usual form."

42. The results of this chapter are summarized in Column One of the table
in the Appendix.



Once the singer has chosen to sing a simile, he must find a subject.
Within the contexts where a simile is customarily used the subject
matter is diverse. The journeys of gods are variously described by
night, mist, snow, birds, and thought with similar diversity in
the other contexts. How did an oral poet decide to sing about night
in one place and about hawks and doves in another? The subject
was not determined in the initial choice to sing a simile but most
probably by the immediate narrative situation.

Such a conclusion would not do violence to our basic
understanding of the oral tradition as it was handed down to Homer;
rather it would enhance our knowledge. There seem to have been
large families of simile subjects from which an oral poet could
draw various images. These were not absolutely fixed but were
basic scenes which could be adapted to different narrative contexts.
The test of the good poet was the proper selection of subject and
his facility at adaptation.

An examination of the similes of the Iliad and the Odyssey is
then in order to see whether certain narrative situations did not
suggest specific subjects for similes, or at least restrict the poet's
choice. As in the preceding chapter a temporary limitation must
be placed upon the beauty, unity and variety of the individual
similes. Such a momentary restriction will focus attention on the
precise object of inquiry, the choice of the subject matter. The
snarling lion who unflinchingly feeds on a cow while dogs and men
crowd about him, the slinking lion who creeps wounded through
the farm buildings panicking the sheep, and the starving lion who
greedily devours a stag's carcass—these three lions are highly
individual creations. They sit admirably in the narrative; they
lend it life and color. But for the analysis proposed in this study it
is necessary to separate sharply the developed simile from the
subject matter. All three of these very distinctive beasts are essentially
lions and must for the moment be deprived of their individual


personalities, since interest must be unswervingly directed at
the context and the subject which it suggested to the poet.


The evidence of the poems themselves is the only source for this
study. There are at least two obstacles against reaching unshakeable
conclusions on such limited testimony:

  1. First is the natural bias of the poems toward scenes of
    war. Similes are far more numerous in the Iliad than in the
    Odyssey and seem to cluster in the war books. This may have
    been true of the whole epic tradition, but that cannot be
    substantiated. In any case most similes must be judged in contexts
    of warrior and army when they might apply equally well to
    one man and his friends in a scene of peace. Such flexibility
    can be demonstrated when the same subject occurs in both the
    Iliad and the Odyssey. But when it cannot be shown so neatly,
    any conclusions will inevitably have more application to war
    contexts. For the most part only the simile as applied to a war
    scene can be examined in any depth.
  2. Second, certain subjects which may be quite frequent in
    the tradition may not fit into a war context. A subject which
    was common in the epic repertoire but which was represented
    only once in the Odyssey could seem a unique, new and perhaps
    baffling item.

The remarks made by H. Fränkel on the point of contact between
narrative and simile should not be forgotten. Since the simile
as a whole is inserted into the narrative, no one narrative item is
being compared to one particular item in the simile; but other
characters, movements, sounds, setting, and tone—all of these
may enter into the comparison. There may be only a few elements
mentioned in any single simile, but the oral poet sees the full background:
landscape, buildings, and other people, while he emphasizes
those details of the picture which are most appropriate for telling
his story. Fränkel takes an example from the similes of shepherds
and their herds. When the poet startles the modern reader by
jumping from the herd to the shepherd within one simile, he is
making a very natural connection, because when the Homeric
poet thought of a herd, the shepherd was in this mental image as
a standard component of a familiar picture. The Homeric audience
would also have visualized this figure; the leap felt by modern


critics would be no leap at all for the man practiced in the techniques
of oral poetry, be he performer or listener. Consequently a
simile which is classified as a member of the lion-boar family can
begin with a phrase other than: "just as a boar comes from a
thicket. . ."; a simile which starts, "just as dogs and eager boys
rush around a boar who comes from a thicket. . .," would be in
the same family. The basic picture is the same; the connecting
phrase merely introduces the picture. In ascertaining subject
matter the formal method of joining simile to narrative is not a
trustworthy guide. 1


The procedure followed in this chapter requires grouping the
members of a simile family together and listing the contexts in
which such similes occur. There is evidence for at least sixteen
families in the Homeric poems.

I. Lion Similes

Lions and boars, which are the subject of the most extensive
family of similes in both Homeric poems, describe warriors almost
exclusively. The Iliad is a story of warriors, but the hero of the
Odyssey must also fight the suitors to win back his wife, his home,
and his kingdom. Probably lion and boar similes are so numerous
because they fit the extensive war narrative so well, though there
were almost certainly other families which cannot be traced with
equal ease because they simply are not suitable descriptions of
battle scenes.

In this family of similes lions are freely interchanged with boars.
Both Hector, who in returning to battle frightens the Greek army,
and Ajax, who strides to the front of the battle line to rally the
Achaeans, cause fear in the enemy:

Just as when dogs and men who live in the country chase
after a horned stag or a wild goat, and a high rock and a shadowy
forest have saved him and it is not their lot to find him, but
at their clamoring a bearded lion appears in the road and
suddenly turns them all back in spite of their eagerness; thus
the Greeks for a while followed all together in a crowd, jabbing
with their swords and two-edged spears, but when they saw


Hector ranging the ranks of men, they were afraid, and all
their spirit sank down to their feet. (15.271-80)


He (Ajax) strode through the front fighters like a wild boar
in his bravery who easily scatters dogs and vigorous young
men, turning upon them in the valley. (17.281-83)

Hector is compared to a lion who terrifies the hounds and hunters;
Ajax, to a boar who swiftly scatters the pursuing hounds and
hunters wherever he turns. The action within the simile is the same:
a lion or boar drives away dogs and men, and the situation in the
narrative is the same: a single hero confronts and terrifies the
warriors massed against him. The animals, the lion and the boar,
could be switched, and the scene inside the simile would remain
unaltered. These are merely two examples of the interchangeable
qualities of lions and boars; in almost every case there is a boar
simile which presents the same picture as each lion simile except
for the animal involved. In addition, there are five similes in
which the animal is stated to be either a lion or a boar; for example:

As when a boar or a lion exulting in his strength wheels about
among dogs and hunters, and closing themselves into a wall
they stand against him and hurl many javelins; but his proud
heart does not fear nor does he flee and it is his boldness which
kills him; and often he turns about testing the lines of the men;
wherever he charges, the men give way—thus Hector going
through the crowd rallied his companions . . . (12.41-49)

Such passages suggest that groups of similes centered about a
single subject, one group describing lions and one, boars, are equal
in poetic value and contribution to the story. Since the characters
in various similes can be transposed, and since similes presenting
both subjects as alternatives exist, the poet does not seem to have
made a sharp distinction between the two. The two groups are, in
fact, one family named after their most common member, the lion

There is one scene in which the two beasts cannot be transposed.
Both lions and boars can scare their opponents, stand steadfastly,


fight and die; but lions kill and stalk other animals, while boars do
not. When a hero kills and is described by a simile of the lion-boar
family in which an animal kills, the simile is about a lion (5.161,
10.485, 11.113, 11.172, and passim). At 11.324 a boar is most like
a warrior who kills, but he never actually does kill. The slaughter
performed by the lion is an added note of gruesomeness which can
color a scene with heroic might and ferocity. The lion can even
kill when the man does not. Diomedes has the rage of a lion that
strews dead sheep throughout the farmyard, but Diomedes is only
returning to the battle (5.136). Hector is like a lion who slaughters
many cattle and yet Hector himself slays only one man (15.630).
Killing makes these scenes more bloody, and in the narrative there
is justification for a strong simile since Diomedes is about to
embark on the main part of his aristeia. Hector is about to overcome
the fixed Greek battle lines with the intent of burning the
ships; though a few lines earlier the Greeks were like firm-fixed
crags against the waves (15.618), in this simile they have become
defenseless and dying cattle. Because the slaughtering lion is the
strongest simile of the family, it is used when there is need of an
especially impressive or bloody tone to a scene.


Because the subject of lions and boars is so extensive and so
flexible in the similes, it probably had a long ancestry, perhaps
back to Mycenaean times. 2 The lion's way of life as a stalker of
food and a menace pursued by farmers is the subject. His ferocity
in attack, tenacity in pursuit, and swiftness in escape, his hunger
and fury—all these activities and qualities are in the similes. In
addition, he is shown with various opponents—cattle, sheep, stags,
goats, dogs, and men. In one simile a lion and boar struggle against
one another. Varied actions against so many varied opponents
create a highly flexible system, yet the situations are simple and
repetitive: the lion as hunter or hunted. 3 The stress is easily shifted
to fit the conditions of the surrounding narrative.


The lion similes occur, naturally enough, in war contexts usually
describing one warrior against a hostile group. Whether the lion
is pursued or pursuer depends on the hero's situation in the battle.
One context contains similes of lions eager for attack and plunder,
as when a warrior arms or attacks in battle rage, he may be compared
to a hungering lion craving prey. Idomeneus arming for
battle, Diomedes returning to fight, and Sarpedon roused by Zeus
against the wall—all rush eagerly to attack; all are likened to lions
(4.253, 5.136, and 12.299). A development of this type of simile
in the picture of Achilles sorrowing over the dead Patroclus like a
lion deprived of his young (18.318). The lion grieves and then tracks
the hunter for revenge; in parallel fashion Achilles promises to
avenge Patroclus' death immediately after the simile. This is the
birth of a new wrath which does not die until the return of the body
to Priam; consequently the lion comparisons are used even as he
is accepting ransom from Priam (24.41 and 572). When one man
stands out in battle ready to fight, he is like a lion in his confidence;
in such a way Idomeneus awaits Aeneas and Ajax stands
over Patroclus' body (13.471 and 17.133). The lion's behavior
can describe the warrior's emotion. He may rage (20.164); he
may be confident (5.299 and 12.41); 4 he may take joy in the
thought of battle (3.23); or he may retreat reluctantly (11.548 and


17.657). The warrior does the same. Twice physical appearance is
given. Automedon and Odysseus, the warrior victorious over the
suitors, are like blood-spattered lions (17.542 and Od. 22.402).


There are also eight lion similes in passages where two or more
warriors fight or are prepared to fight (5.554, 5.782, 10.297, and

I am neglecting for the moment the similes at Od. 4.791 and
Od. 6.130 because they do not seem a part of this traditional
usage except in the broadest way; they can be more appropriately
explained in the next chapter where the use of certain similes as
motifs is discussed. 5

When one warrior stands out, either in the thick of the battle
or ready to fight or manifesting the emotions of a warrior, Homer
often compared him to a lion. The context suggested the subject
matter. Warriors—fighting or ready to fight—occur so frequently
in the Iliad that the poet undoubtedly knew many ways to describe
them and develop their actions within a scene. It is noteworthy
that books which do not describe war generally have no lion
similes, since these are the contexts in which a lion simile would
be inappropriate. Much of the Iliad describes war, and in these
passages a lion simile can be aptly used.

2. Wind and Sea Similes

The wind and the sea seem natural images for the people of
the Aegean sea basin. Perhaps tales about the return of the Greek
heroes from Troy introduced such images into the epic tradition:
Poseidon, as king of the sea, hindered Odysseus by stirring up a
storm of wind and waves which splintered his raft and threatened
to drown him, and Menelaus tells Telemachus of many men's
adventures at sea. These two elements of nature are the subject
of a series of similes in the Iliad and the Odyssey. In this series
both need not be present. Some similes describe only the wind or a
storm and some tell of the wind on dry land while others speak only
of waves rolling on the sea. But the connection between the behavior
of the waves and the gusts which blow over them would have
been only too clear to a race of men who often turned to the sea;
indeed, several similes join wind and wave into one picture. In


addition, each type of simile occurs in the same context. The noise
of a mob can be like a large wave breaking on a beach, the wind
shrieking amid the tree tops, or a wave driven by the stormy blast
of the north wind (2.209, 14.398, and 14.394). In the last passages
the similes are offered as alternatives in a ''neither-nor" sequence:
"not so loud is the wave . . ., not so loud is the fire . . ., nor so loud
is the wind . . ., as is the cry of the Trojans and Achaeans." Finally
wave and wind are equal alternatives in Book Two:


And the assembly was stirred like the huge waves of the Icarian
sea which the east wind or the south wind has raised rushing
down from the clouds of father Zeus. As when the west wind in
swift gusts moves through a deep corn field, and the ears of
corn are bent down, thus was the whole assembly moved…. (2.144-149)

Both tests for a family grouping are satisfied: wind similes can be
used in the same context as wave similes, and they are used as
equal alternatives in a pair of similes.

In the case of the lion similes such substitution was more precise
because a boar can frequently fill exactly the same role as a lion.
However the sea acts in a thoroughly different fashion from the
air. A simile which begins, "just as the wind or the wave . . ." is
impossible because these two subjects cannot be well presented as
interchangeable forces within the same simile. Two separate
similes placed side by side modifying the same scene are the closest
possible example of substituting wind for wave as a subject.

The occasion for wind and sea similes usually involves groups
of people. The Trojans follow Hector like a tempest blast, the two
armies clash as two winds clash, and the Trojans pour over the wall
as a wave which pours over the rail of a ship (13.39, 13.334, and
15.381). 6 The similes can emphasize the movement of a group,


chaotic and indecisive as the wind whips ears of corn in a cornfield
in bobbing disorder, or disciplined and purposeful like the endless
lines of waves which break against the coast (2.144 and 4.422).
On the other hand a stubborn resistance to movement is described
when the wind stops blowing or a rock stands against the waves
(5.522 and 15.618). The basic picture has probably been sung many
times before, and therefore the poet needs only to focus on the
element which matches his narrative. The noise of groups can be
set forth in the simile (2.209, 2,394, and 14.394). Confusion and
distress are made visual in the wave that casts seaweed along the
beach, and terror is shown by the sailors who scarcely survive in a
sea storm (9.4 and 15.624). Joy and relief fill the hearts of exhausted
rowers when fair winds finally blow just as the Trojans are bolstered
by Hector and Paris (7.4).


When a wind simile describes a single warrior, it emphasizes
the force of his attack. Hector returns to battle after Agamemnon's
wounding like a wind storm (11.297 and 11.305). Nestor describes
his youthful ability in battle as like a whirlwind (11.747). When
Nestor is confused by the rout of the Greeks, he is like a rolling
sea before the storm breaks (14.16), a simile which may have
occurred to the poet by analogy to scenes where the whole army is
confused or terrified (9.4 and 15.624).

There are similes which contain a reference to wind and yet
cannot be considered wind similes. Ares is a darkness which arises
after heat when a wind begins to blow (5.864). Surely the poet is
thinking of Ares as that darkness, and the wind is a natural part
of the developed picture. This could well have been a short simile:
like a black darkness, but the poet chose to carry his description
further with other elements which usually and quite naturally
accompany such a darkness. Similar is 4.275.

There are also similes where the wind sheds mist over a mountain
peak or scatters chaff (3.10 and 5.499), and in both cases a troop
of warriors is raising a cloud of dust. The simile does appear with
the mention of a group; however, because the dust cloud is in the
narrative, I am inclined to think that the visual image in the
narrative suggested the subject for the simile. The same is true of
23.366. One can compare 13.334 where the dust cloud is not in the
narrative but is one element in a developed picture of gusty winds.
When an object, movement, or sound in the narrative reminds the
poet of a simile subject, the tradition plays a smaller role since


more immediate features of the narrative dominate the singer's
thoughts. There is a whole class of similes related to their contexts
in this way which will be discussed later. 7


Comparisons to wind and sea often occur when the poet describes
groups of warriors. As he develops the simile, he is able to vary the
components of the picture to characterize the noise or the movement
or the specific emotions of this group. The uses of this family
for the single warrior, however, seem restricted; they describe only
the forceful attack of the fighter. Perhaps because the lion similes
had been at hand for so long, they were the most adequate and,
therefore, customary means of presenting the warrior's varied
movements and moods, while wind similes are the most fully
developed set of similes for describing the army as a whole.

Since general scenes of the army provide one of the traditional
locations for placing a simile, it is understandable that wind similes
often appear in this position. The theme of general scenes of the
army should suggest not only the placement but also the subject
matter of the simile. A brief scanning of the chart in the Appendix
will support this expectation (for example, 2.144, 147, 209, 394,
5.499, 5.522, 7.63, and many others). Yet this coincidence of placement
and subject is not consistent, since the choice of the placement
and the choice of the subject matter were two distinct choices.
There are several similes describing the activities of the army
whose subjects are lions or fire. These subjects belong to their own
simile families appearing in defined contexts. When the poet found
himself singing about the army and decided that the simile—which
was one of his standard alternate methods of continuing his song—
was the appropriate next step, he then made a second decision
concerning subject matter which was utterly independent of the
first decision on placement. As he had been guided by his inherited
tradition in deciding what the normal ways of continuing his
narrative were, so also he was often guided by the tradition in
choosing subject matter. If he wanted to talk about the movement
of the army (its retreat, advance, or steadfastness), its specific
emotions (confusion or relief), or the din of battle, he would often
use a wind simile. If he wanted to say that the army was confronting
one warrior and giving way before him, he would choose a simile
about a lion or a fire. If he were telling his audience that the army's


fighting was fierce and furious, he would again use a simile of a fire.
It is important to note that the poet did have two separate choices
to make, placement and subject. Throughout the various simile
families there are further examples which demonstrate the need
for two separate choices on the part of the oral poet, even though
the two choices may often have been made simultaneously. In
these passages there are several sets of alternatives for each choice
but no ascertainable conjunction of any one alternative placement
with any one alternative subject.


The traditional connection of wind similes to specific contexts
is evident in two sets of lines following a simile and joining it back
to the narrative:

ὣς ἐδαΐζετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσιν Ἀχαιῶν (9.8 and 15.629)

ὣς Δαναοὶ Τρῶας μένον ἔμπεδον οὐδὲ φέβοντο (5.527 and 15.622)

Each time a wind simile is joined to the narrative with identical
words. In the first set of lines the Greeks are confused and distressed,
while in the second, the Greeks stand against the Trojans. Each
context, identical in words but located too far apart to be a conscious
reminiscence, individually suggested a wind simile to the poet. 8

3. Fire Similes

Of the four or five large families of similes, those depicting fire
and fiery bodies—stars, moon, sun, and lightning—occur frequently
in both poems. Earthly fire is never directly joined in one simile
with the fire of a star or a lightning bolt where one is an alternative
for the other; there is no simile beginning, "as a star or a forest
fire . . ." Achilles' armor gleams like shining Hyperion, the sun,
while the armor of the marching Greek forces blazes like a fire on a
mountain peak (19.398 and 2.455). That similar narrative moments
can suggest to the poet both fire and stars images, though, indicates
that such similes were interchangeable in the poet's mind. When a
helmet or shield gleamed, ready comparisons to fire or a star were
at hand.

There is a reasonable limitation on interchanging fire and star


similes. The destructive might of a forest fire can exemplify the
rage of the warrior, while a star is a distant fire which does not
destroy but rather shines night after night in its cold beauty.
Star similes would be senseless comparisons for the warrior in his
bloody sweep across the battlefield, but in all other cases these
two subjects are interchangeable.


Fire similes occur in three basic contexts—gleaming objects,
warriors in battle, and anger. The examples of shining armor
—helmets, shields, spears, breast plates—run throughout the Iliad,
but other items have a fiery gleam as well. The palace of Alcinous
is built of bronze walls with golden doors and silver doorposts;
gold and silver dogs guard the doors. The whole palace shines like
the sun or the moon (Od. 7.84). Menelaus' palace at Sparta possesses
the same glow (Od. 4.45). Four robes shine like stars—Hecuba's
peplos and Helen's, Odysseus' cloak, and Penelope's shroud for
Laertes (6.295, Od. 15.108, Od. 19.234, and Od. 24.148). Similar is
Hera's veil (14.185). The chain of Eurymachus is gold and amber
—bright as the sun—and the spot on a horse's head is round and
white like the moon (Od. 18.296 and 23.455).

Second, warriors in battle are compared to fire. Hector makes the
connection most directly when he says that he will fight Achilles
even if Achilles' hands are as fire and his fury as iron (20.371).
Such images, ranging from short phrases to developed similes of
fire, whirling wind, and flaming forests, are restricted to the pre-
dominant heroes. Agamemnon and Achilles burn across the field
of battle during their aristeiai (11.155; Achilles, 20.490, 21.12,
and often). Idomeneus in his momentary burst of glory and Hector
as the general of the Trojan army both fight like flames (13.330;
Hector, 11.62, 15.605, and often). Similes of destructive fire seem
most apt when applied to the triumphant warrior in his unconquerable
might. They describe the general appearance of the
warrior on the battlefield (i.e., "his rage was like a fire ..." or
"his might was like a fire . . .") or the continuing battle success of
the warrior (i.e., "he followed after them like a fire" or "he led them
like a fire").

Whole armies are likened to fires most often when they are
moving into battle. After the Catalogue of Ships the land is swept
with fire as the Greeks march forth (2.780). They follow after
Hector and join battle like destructive fires (13.39, 14.396, and 17.737).


Finally, the inner fire of anger glares in the eyes. Agamemnon's
eyes are like blazing fire when he upbraids Calchas for his tactless
but true advice (1.104). Antinous with fire in his eyes chafes under
Telemachus' newly-won independence (Od. 4.662). Achilles glares
as he sees the arms of Hephaestus, and again as he prepares for
battle (19.17 and 366). By analogy Achilles says that anger swells
in the hearts of men like smoke (18.110).

If a simile family and its usual context were well known to the
audience and were firm parts of the previous tradition, it was
possible for the poet to extend the comparison to new contexts.
An example is the simile describing Odysseus on the beach. Previously
Odysseus was described in a lion simile from the warrior
world (Od. 4.335). On the beach he is like a fire; but this is not
the bright and violent blaze which levels the forest, and Odysseus
is not the rampaging warrior who terrifies the enemy. He is an
exhausted homeless wanderer; and as he sleeps, he is that small
seed of fire which can only glow to reveal its weakened power. The
destructive potential is there but ebbs for the moment (Od. 5.488).

Once Astyanax is "like a fair star" (6.401). The comparison
is unique in the Homeric corpus. It seems to be a mark of quality. 9
Nestor is astounded at the beautiful horses of Rhesus and calls
them rays of the sun (10.547). The cloaks, jewels, and palaces
which gleam like celestial bodies are all very fine. This simile is a
common comparison and could have easily come to the poet while
composing as a means of directing attention to Hector's son in this
tender scene.

Not all fire similes fall neatly into these three categories. For
example, the groans of Agamemnon which come as often as Zeus'
lightning have long defied commentators (10.5). Yet with few
exceptions the similes whose subject matter is fire, stars, sun,
moon, and lightning appear in these three basic situations.

4. Gods and Goddesses

In the Homeric poems men are compared to gods in conjunction
with two basic themes: warriors preparing to attack or attacking
and characters entering or reentering the narrative. When a warrior
is preparing to do battle, he often strides forth like a god. The most


impressive is Agamemnon as the leader of the Greeks when they
have drawn up into ranks for the Catalogue of Ships. He is compared
to Zeus, Ares, and Poseidon (2.478). Ajax, when he readies
himself to fight Hector, and Achilles reentering the war and later
approaching his single combat with Hector are both likened to
Ares (7.208, 20.46, and 22.132). Probably because of the extensive
war narrative Ares is the god most often paired with men. In the
poem within the poem Demodocus sings the tale of the Trojan
War, and in it Odysseus enters the house of Deiphobus like Ares
(Od. 8.518).


When one warrior attacks, he is often said to be like a god.
Patroclus attacks twice and Achilles leaps at the Trojans—both
like gods (16.705, 16.786, and 21.227).

The closest analogue in the Odyssey to the warrior who goes to
battle is the character who reenters the narrative to undertake a
new and significant task. Telemachus is godlike twice. When he
goes to the council to confront the suitors and plan for his trip, he
is described by a simile (Od. 2.5). At the end of his stay in Pylos he
comes forth from the bath—again godlike—to journey to Sparta
(Od. 3.468). Each time Telemachus reenters the narrative to
guide the action. When Menelaus prepares to tell Telemachus of
his wandering trip home, he is compared to a god (Od. 4.310).
The Odyssey can come even closer to the entrance of a warrior
into a major scene. The appearance of Nausicaa on the beach is a
peaceful introduction. She has been sent to the river to meet
Odysseus and implement his return to Ithaca, her task in the poem.
As she prepares to fulfill this role, she is like Artemis (Od. 6.102).
When Penelope comes from her chamber to meet her disguised
husband, she enters decisively into the chain of events leading to
the recognition and vengeance of Odysseus. She appears as Artemis
or Aphrodite (Od. 19.54).

Finally, there is a group of minor characters who make their
first entrance or their reentrance into the narrative with a simile
comparing them to a god. Cassandra, who enters the Iliad only
briefly in its final lines, is like Aphrodite (24.699). In the Odyssey
Helen and Alcinous are compared to gods on their first appearance
(Od. 4.122 and Od. 6.309), and Nausicaa is like a goddess when she
is first mentioned (Od. 6.16). Briseis, when she is finally returned
to the Myrmidon camp, is like Aphrodite or a goddess (19.282 and
19.286). Through this device the poet calls attention to a minor


character who will have a small part in the narrative. In the
Iliad Helen needs no such introduction since it is her war. In the
Odyssey she is a minor character. At her first entrance the poet
characterizes her with a simile and a description of her silver basket.


A simile traditionally occurs at the entrance of a character into
the narrative, and quite often, but not always, the subject of the
simile in this place is a god or goddess (Iliad 13; Odyssey 16). 10 This
frequent coincidence of traditional placement and repeated subject
suggests that the use of the subject of gods in these similes was as
traditional as wind similes are in describing the movements of the
army. The choice of the particular god depends strictly on the
narrative. Warriors have similes with Ares as the main character;
Achilles is once joined with the sun god Hyperion, though this
simile describes his shining bronze armor and probably has more
affinity to the group of fire similes. Women are either like Artemis
or Aphrodite. The general words "immortal" or "god" can describe
both men and women who are not involved in war.

These, then, are the two themes which suggest similes of gods to
the poet: when a warrior attacked the enemy and when a character
entered the narrative.

5. Tree Similes

In the Iliad and the Odyssey there are fourteen similes of trees,
three of these concerning young saplings, and in every case they are
used in contexts describing a hero. As trees either stand solidly or
are cut down, so also there are warriors who remain unmoving or
who fall dead on the battlefield. Leonteus and Polypoetes, who
stand unflinching before the wall, are like two firm oak trees
(12.132). Alcathous, who is enchanted by Poseidon and remains
fixed, unable to flee or dodge the spear of Idomeneus, is compared
to a tree (13.437). Simoesius, Crethus, Orsilochus, Imbrius, Asius,
and Sarpedon drop like chopped trees (4.482, 5.560, 13.178, 13.389,
and 16.482). When Hector falls wounded by Ajax, he is likened to
an uprooted oak. Because his presence is so decisive for the Trojan
success and because it is a violation of divine command on this day
of Hector's glory, a special fear is generated by his wounding. 11 This


fear is suggested in the simile: the oak hit by a lightning bolt—a
scene which strikes terror into all men (14.414). Finally Achilles is
described as a sapling and a tree in the orchard (18.56, 57, 437, and
438). Achilles' death does not occur in the Iliad, though it is imminent.
Thetis knows that he will never return to Phthia, that he is
the young tree which will not escape destruction. The description of
the slaying of Euphorbus provides the fullest picture: a man
nurtures an olive shoot which is suddenly plucked from the earth by
a storm wind (17.53). The use of the simile in the case of Achilles is
based on analogy to similes describing the young warrior who dies.
Similarly Eumaeus tells a gloomy tale of Telemachus who grew like
a tree, but who is now awaited by the suitors in ambush (Od. 14.175). 12


There are two contexts which can be followed by a tree simile: a
warrior who dies or a man who stands inflexible and unmoving in
battle. By association with the warrior who dies, the tree simile
developed into a description of young men about to die.

6. Wolf Similes

There are four wolf similes, all of which occur in the Iliad since
there is seldom a suitable context for such similes in the Odyssey.
They describe groups of men in battle fury. In four of the scenes
the men are engaged in battle. Trojan and Greek rush on one another
like wolves; later the Greeks attack with a wolf like fury (4.471,
11.72 and 16.352). In one scene in which the Myrmidons arm for
battle their eagerness is like that of ravening, insatiable wolves
(16.156). In such scenes of groups inspired with desire for battle and
rushing against the enemy, wolf similes can be used.

7. Deer Similes

There are four passages with deer similes and each characterizes a
frightened, dazed, and cringing group of men. Agamemnon upbraids
the cowards in the Greek army by calling them fawns, and Poseidon


compares the previous fear of the Trojans to the panic of deer
(4.243 and 13.101). When Achilles takes twelve young Trojans for
Patroclus' pyre, they are bewildered like fawns, and the Trojans
huddle in their city in the same way (21.29 and 22.1). Fawns, a
symbol of timid fragility, appear in scenes of hunting and preying,
scenes which are well suited to a war context where man stalks man
and earns glory only by killing. But there is also one example of
fawns who merely exhaust themselves scampering over a plain
(4.243); this simile has no direct connection to hunt scenes. It is
surprising that there are no such deer similes in the Odyssey since
they do not seem to require a war context. In any case the four passages
in the Iliadoccur consistently in scenes of frightened groups.


8. Stele Similes

Two similes are of stele. Perhaps these are not enough to prove
that a certain type of context suggested a set subject, and yet they
both illustrate exactly the same idea. What is lacking in numbers is
gained in consistency. Poseidon casts a spell over Alcathous' eyes;
and while he is unable to move, Idomeneus slays him. His immobility
is compared to that of a stele (13.437). The horses of Aeacus refuse
to enter battle or to return to the ships no matter how often Automedon
beats them. They, like Alcathous, stand as stationary as a stone
slab (17.434). Complete lack of motion is thus twice compared to
a stele.

9. Diver Similes

Similes of divers occur three times in scenes of men falling—once
from a ship (Od. 12.413), once from a battlement (12.385), and once
from a chariot (16.742). This is a small group but so consistent that
it is almost surely a traditional category.

10. Hunting Similes

A hunter and his hounds are the main actors in some similes. In
the group of lion similes hunters and their dogs were mentioned, but
there the lion who confronted them was the most prominent actor
who remained throughout the family as he confronted various
opponents. Of a different sort are similes where dogs and hunters


are the actors throughout, and they confront a series of changing
opponents. Because stalking and killing are the subjects, war
contexts alone contain such similes. In four cases a hunting dog
chases and attacks his prey, while in the narrative a hero is attacking
either a specific opponent or the enemy army. Diomedes and Odysseus
pursue Dolon like hounds after a hare or deer, and Antilochus
springs on Melanippus as a dog jumps on a fawn (10.360 and 15.579).
Hector follows the groups of Achaeans similar to a dog after a boar
or lion (8.338). 13 He encourages the Trojans against the Achaeans
like hunting dogs (11.292). The similes 11.414 and 12.41 could be
hunting scenes or lion similes since both existed in the tradition,
and Homer could easily have combined them. They are here treated
as lion similes because they are placed in contexts paralleled by the
other similes of that group.


11. Similes of Children

Perhaps the most famous comparison to a child occurs in Achilles'
question to Patroclus:


Why then are you crying, Patroclus, like some little girl who
running alongside her mother demands to be picked up, clings
to her dress and holds her back as she hurries along, and tearfully
looks up at her until she is picked up? (16.7-10)

Several times in Homer a warrior is said to be like a child. One
leader from Asia Minor came to Troy decked in gold like a girl, but
he was foolish since the gold could not save his life (2.872). Aeneas
advances to fight Idomeneus, who does not flee or grow panicky
but stands firm. If he had been shaken, he would have been like
a pampered boy (13.470). There are seven such similes in Homer,
and in each case a character is doing something which is odd, inept,
or unbefitting the person. Sometimes the comparison is a rebuke.
Odysseus and Nestor both ridicule the Greeks for their eagerness to
return home, both calling them foolish children (2.289 and 2.337).
When Eteoneus asks Menelaus if he should invite Telemachus for the
evening, Menelaus upbraids him for such a nonsensical question by
saying that he talks like a child (Od. 4.32). When Achilles is struggling
with the river Scamandar, he rebukes Zeus and Thetis for leading
him to such an ignoble end since Zeus had promised so much more
glorious a death. Now Achilles thinks that he will drown like a
swineherd boy who is swept away by a river (21.282).

Two times a simile of child and mother is used to indicate a
warrior's relation to his protector, each time of a notable but somewhat
secondary warrior. Athena shields Menelaus from Pandarus'
arrow as a mother brushes a fly away from her child (4.130). Teucer
hides safely behind Ajax like a child protected by its mother (8.271).

In one passage the simile describes the ease with which Apollo
pushes down the Achaean wall: like a boy scattering sand castles
on the beach (15.362). The visual connection—scattering a dirt
structure—may have suggested such a subject to the poet. With this
exception the similes of children are used consistently in two
narrative situations: to describe a character who is acting strangely
or foolishly and to illustrate the protection given by a strong ally.

12. Swarms of Insects

Wasps, bees, and flies are the subjects of five similes. They are all
used with groups of lesser warriors, usually with a whole troop,


though in one case, with two men. When the Greeks gather for the
assembly, they resemble swarms of bees and later swarms of flies
(2.87 and 2.469). In the Patrocleia the battle centers for a while over
the fallen Sarpedon around whom men gather so thickly that they
are like flies around a milk pail (16.641) 14 Two similes of wasps
emphasize the warlike spirit which drives the warriors. The Myrmidons
stream from the ships like wasps (16.259), while Polypoetes
and Leonteus are as fierce as wasps or bees that guard their homes
and young (12.167).


All the insect similes are used in contexts of groups of warriors.
Sometimes the simile focuses on the mere number of men; at other
times on their waspish spirit.

13. Fish Similes

The whole scene of fishing, an occupation well known to the
Greek people, is the basis of a group of similes. As in the case of the
lion similes there are a number of actors involved in a brief story
which ends in death for the pursued. The fisherman or a predatory
fish is the killer; the fish caught are the killed. Patroclus drags a
man from his chariot like a fisherman and Scylla draws up six of
Odysseus' men in similar fashion (16.406 and Od. 12.251). Achilles
chases the terrified Trojan youths as a gluttonous dolphin scatters
smaller fish (21.22). The slain suitors lying in the court and the men
of Odysseus speared by the Laestrygonians are like caught fish
(Od. 22.384 and Od. 10.124). Sarpedon warns Hector not to allow
the Trojans to be taken like fish in a net (5.487).

In these cases the fish similes occur in two basic narrative
situations: men killed or going to be killed and a warrior or enemy
killing. In one passage at 23.692 Euryalus leaps like a fish in shallow
water when he is hit, a simile which does not fit the pattern. In this
case the motion in the narrative is reflected in the simile and is
probably the reason for choosing it.


14. River Similes

There are six similes of rivers, all of them in the Iliad. Homer
pictures rushing, swelling, violent rivers rather than more lyrical,
placid streams. Such images are suited to war with its active and
vigorous panorama and its struggles of powerful men. The Odyssey
contains few suitable occasions for these similes.

For the most part river similes fall at two places in the narrative.
Three times the heroic warrior is likened to a river. Diomedes
rushes across the plain like the flow of a winter torrent. Hector is a
foaming river which causes a man to halt in dismay, and Ajax is
compared to a flood which washes away oak and pine trees in its
course (5.87, 5.597, 15 and 11.492). 16 Twice fighting armies are
compared to rivers. When the battle is joined after Pandarus has
broken the truce, the armies meet with the noise of two racing
rivers merging in a valley (4.452). The Ajaxes stand similar to a
wooded ridge to break the force of the Trojans who stream about
them (17.747).

When Hector turns his chariot away from the Greek ships under
Patroclus' victorious attack, the poet sings of the roar of many
rivers swollen with rain which sweep across a plain destroying
farmlands (16.384). The point of comparison given by the poet is
noise. In the rest of Homer there is no direct parallel with a simile
in the context of a rumbling chariot, and it does not fit into either
group of parallel usages for river similes. Probably this simile is


related to the simile which describes the two armies joined in battle
but which also stresses the noise of their conflict (4.452). There are
other similes which were suggested to the poet by a resemblance of
sound which will be considered later. 17


15. Bird Similes

There are a considerable number of bird similes in the Homeric
corpus, but they are not used with the consistency which has
characterized previous simile groups. There do, however, seem to be
two basic positions for these similes, that is, two narrative situations
where the poet would feel an inclination to use a bird simile.

Gods and goddesses may appear to men or remain invisible.
When gods assume a visible disguise, they have seemingly unlimited
choice. The elusive Proteus is a master of such mutations;
Athena is a meteor and a rainbow. Often they masquerade as men,
but they can also be birds. Such appearances occur often as similes,
but in many cases the line between simile and narrative is quite
thin. When Athena-Mentes leaves the megaron of Telemachus, she
flies upward like a bird, and thus Telemachus realizes that she is a
goddess (Od. 1.320). When Athena-Mentor departs from Telemachus
and Nestor in Pylos, she is like a sea eagle and all the men
are amazed (Od. 3.372). 18 In these two cases there is a remembrance
of the bird as an epiphany of the god, a religious tradition which is
as old as Middle Minoan art objects. 19 Statues of birds alighting on
shrines or birds sitting on the heads or shoulders of gods are early
epiphanies of the deity. These have been found in Crete at Knossos
and Hagia Triada and at Mycenae in the shaft graves. The two
divine transformations in the Odyssey and several similes seem to
recall this earlier religious belief.


There are fourteen passages in which a bird simile describes a god.
The gods are varied—Athena, Poseidon, Apollo, Sleep, Thetis,
Hermes, and Leucothea—as are the varieties of birds. There is no
one bird representing one god, which also accords with the early
divine epiphany. It was only necessary to represent the presence of
the god with the general shape of a bird. Specific birds were not
attached to individual gods until later. The connection of bird to
god in the similes is, therefore, very old; it was a part of the oral
poet's inheritance from the Mycenaean-Minoan world. When he
sang of gods, similes of birds were at hand and easily adaptable to
the actions of divine figures.

Birds, especially birds of prey, also appear in similes which
accompany attacking warriors. When the warrior is charging against
a group of the enemy, the bird—eagle, falcon, or vulture—is driving
smaller birds or animals. Automedon rushes on the Trojans like a
vulture after geese; Patroclus attacks the Lycians like a falcon
scattering daws and starlings (17.460 and 16.582). Odysseus swoops
on the relatives of the suitors like an eagle (Od. 24.538). Possibly
developed from this usage is Achilles' simile of the starving mother
bird which illustrates his loyal, but unrewarded, service to Agamemnon (9.323).

Groups of fighting men are also compared to birds. Odysseus and
his men attack the suitors like vultures (Od. 22.302). The Greeks
are as numerous as flocks of birds and the Trojans sound like birds,
when both sides are marching to an encounter (2.459 and 3.2)

Outside of these two fairly consistent patterns of usage, the bird
similes occur in eleven other contexts which seem unrelated. They


2.764— the horses of Eumelus are as swift as birds
17.674— Menelaus looks about like an eagle
21.252— Achilles darts back like an eagle
Od. 7.36— the boats of Phaeacians are as swift as birds
Od. 11.605— the noise of the dead rises about Heracles like terrified birds
Od. 12.418— the companions of Odysseus float in the waves like sea-crows
Od. 14.308— the same
Od. 15.479— the Phoenician woman falls into the ship's hold like a sea gull
Od. 16.216— Odysseus and Telemachos weep like birds
Od. 21.411— the twang of Odysseus' bow is like a swallow's song
Od. 22.468— the women hold their heads to be hung like thrushes or doves.

There is insufficient evidence to prove that these similes of birds
are in their contexts because they were normally sung in such places.
In fact, one might reasonably speculate that the number of women
who fall into ships' holds in the epic cycle is fairly small. Probably
these examples show contexts where the poet chose to sing a simile
and then picked a bird simile because of a parallel of sound, motion,
or posture. When Odysseus and Telemachus weep like birds robbed
of their young, the sound suggested is vivid; at the same time this
simile focuses on the unnatural destruction of the home which is so
basic a theme in the Odyssey. The bird similes are in the poet's
mind. Though often they are used to describe gods or attacking
warriors, the poet can draw on them whenever they suit a situation,
especially when the situation has no traditional similes of its own.

16. Farm Animal Similes

Of the large families of similes there are two basic animal groups:
wild beasts engaged in continual search for means of survival and
domesticated farm animals. The former are represented by lions,
jackals, leopards, and boars; the latter, by horses, cows, mules, and
sheep. In general the two groups represent the life of the wild as
opposed to the calm, if toilsome, life of protected peace with mankind.
There are many more similes of wild animals; but, of course,
the life of the wild is a more natural accompaniment to the battlefield
than life on the farm.

Comparisons to farm animals almost always depict either heroes
or armies. Agamemnon is at various places in the poems like a bull
when he leads the Greek forces and an ox when he is slaughtered
(2.480, Od. 4.535, and Od. 11.411). These similes can emphasize
different aspects of a scene. The helplessness of a dying warrior
is portrayed by the similes of bulls bound and dragged, one brought
from the mountains and the other pulled around the altar of Poseidon

(13.571 and 20.403). The concern for the fallen Patroclus is
well expressed in the simile of Menelaus as a mother cow over her
calf (17.4). Odysseus' anger is well described by a comparison to a


growling bitch (Od. 20.14). The freshness of a warrior going to fight
is three times portrayed by a horse simile: Paris, Hector, and Achilles
all run easily and eagerly into battle (6.506, 15.263, and 22.22).
Heroes who work as a team can be described by a team of animals,
as when the Ajaxes coordinate their efforts like a yoked pair of
oxen (13.703) or when Menelaus and Meriones carry the body of
Patroclus like a team of mules (17.742). Similes of farm animals can
also be sung in scenes of groups. Thus the comrades of Odysseus are
compared to hounds, puppies, and calves (Od. 9.289, Od. 10.216,
and Od. 10.410), and the Trojan army is likened to bleating sheep
(4.433 and 13.492). The Phaeacian ship which carries Odysseus to
Ithaca starts with the drive of four yoked stallions (Od. 13.81),
a comparison which is probably visual; as the ship heaves forward
into the sea, so the four horses jump forth. But leaving this one
exception aside, this group of farm animal similes occurs in two
contexts, individual characters or groups of people who are prominent
for the moment.


This is to say that such similes can occur in almost any context,
peace or war, modifying men. They are not firmly tied to one or two
confined usages like the tree or stele similes, and they have a far
greater and more flexible range than the lion similes. It may be
that this group of images was newer to the tradition and that poets
were using it in and adapting it to many contexts. This would be
similar to Parry's conclusion that the more fixed, unchanging
epithets were old and firmly entrenched in the tradition, while
newer epithets were being shifted and developed by the game of
analogy. 20 In the flexibility of this group of similes there may be
an indication of the continual adaptation and renewal of the oral

17. Fragments of Evidence for the Tradition

There are small groups of similar subjects which are not used
with total consistency in describing any one context. Yet because
there are a number of such groups, it is tempting to see a series
of traditional families centered on these subjects even though
context does not seem to define their employment with any
rigidity. There are six snow similes, two of which are used to


illustrate flying missiles (12.156 and 12.278). The others accompany
the words of Odysseus, the descent of Iris, the gleam of Myrmidon
helmets, and the weeping of Penelope (3.222, 15.170, 19.357, and
Od. 19.205). Three times mountain similes emphasize hugeness
(Od. 3.290, Od. 10.113, and Od. 11.243). In other places they
describe Hector in battle and the Cyclops (13.754 and Od. 9.191).
Ajax' shield is like a tower three times (7.219, 11.485, and 17.128).
A man falls like a tower (4.462). Leaves, sand, and flowers in various
combinations are used to represent an infinite or unimaginable
number of men (2.468, 2.800, and Od. 9.51).


None of these groups of similes is used consistently enough to
establish a system of basic traditional contexts known to the poet.
That they are not more numerous may be mere chance, or it may be
that there was really no consistent or frequent usage of them at all
in oral singing. However, if the previous classifications have validity
and isolate organized systems of simile families used in repeated
contexts, then it is probable that the meager evidence here presented
points to traditional simile families which are only slightly represented
in the two epics that survive.

18. Similes from Outside the Tradition

In the fifteen examples of simile families discussed in this chapter
there is evidence that the poet from his long experience knew set
subjects to sing in various contexts, that there was a strong tradition
guiding this choice. Yet some similes cannot be easily accommodated
to such an explanation. At times the poet's reasons for singing
certain similes which do not seem a part of the tradition may be
discovered, but many will remain mysterious. There are a number of
similes which are very closely tied to the narrative, so closely that
the reason for the choice of subject is evident to even the casual

First the poet can draw the simile from the surrounding narrative.
Ares flies up from the battlefield crying as loudly as nine or ten
thousand warriors (5.860); Poseidon's war cry is the same (14.148);
the Trojans pull back as far as a spear is cast in war (16.589). These
battlefield subjects are taken from the war scene in which the simile

A simile which repeats exactly a physical motion made in the
narrative is used often enough to be regarded as a rule of composition.
For example:


8.306—  a dead man bows his head in the way a poppy bows its head
11.147— a head rolls on the battlefield as a round stone rolls
14.413— Hector hit by a rock spins around as a top spins
15.679— Ajax jumps from ship to ship in the way a fancy rider
jumps from horse to horse
20.495— Achilles' horses tread bodies as bulls tread grain on
a threshing floor.

In these similes there is an exact repetition of an action which a
character performs in the narrative.

Likewise the poet can repeat in a detached simile scene an object
taken from the narrative. The cloud of dust kicked up by the
Trojan army as it marches to battle is likened to a thick mist (3.10).
The general clash raises such a cloud of dust that the warriors'
armor grows white as piles of chaff grow white (5.499). In the gusty
sea storm of the Odyssey the wind of the narrative is the wind of the
simile (Od. 5.328). In this case the poet had used a wind simile, a
subject with a traditional context, to illustrate a storm in the narrative
which is fully in accord with the practice of a poet steeped in
the oral tradition—whether he sang or wrote. The stock of subjects
was in his memory. Though he often chose a subject familiar to him
in a fixed context, he had many subjects in mind from which to
choose the one which fit his narrative by recalling the motion or
object in the story. Critics may charge him with lack of imagination,
especially when he presents similar characters and objects in simile
and narrative; but once the poet's process of selection and his
dependence upon a tradition is understood, such critics must
appreciate his unwillingness to resort to such obvious parallels too
often. Analogous to these similes are those bound tightly to the
story by a parallel of sound. The Scamander bellows like a bull, and
the Cyclops' eye hisses like hot iron thrown into water (21.237 and
Od. 9.391). There are many aural similes, some taken from the
tradition and some not. 21

The frequent similes of measurement which suggest a fairly
specific distance are often common scenes of every-day farm or
athletic life. Two examples will exemplify the type: Odysseus runs
as close behind Ajax Oileus as a woman holds a weaving rod to her


breast (23.760), and Dolon runs as far past Odysseus and Diomedes
as mules go when plowing a furrow (10.351).


Conclusion: Tradition and Subject Matter

Through the process of grouping the similes by subject matter
and then comparing the contexts in which certain subjects characteristically
appear, the colorful variety of the simile world is wrapped
into small and immensely useful packages. Such small units were in
the poet's mind, gleaned from the decades or centuries in which the
epic style was developed and refined. The basic group "lion"
contained a limited group of the lion's activities in combination
with his various friends and foes; but even if the number of actions
is small, each act could be developed in different ways and given
different emphases. From his years of experience in listening to
other poets and fitting similes into his tale, the poet had grown
accustomed to joining certain subjects with fixed contexts. By a
process which must have been close to trial and error generations of
oral poets came to know that some subjects were suited to certain
moments in the narrative and could be adapted easily to fit all
situations in this particular scene. For example, the lion similes in
their diversity are suited to most of the actions of men on the
battlefield, and at the same time they vividly depict the varied
emotions of characters in such actions.

Such a collection of simile subjects confined to special contexts
seems from its extent and relative consistency to be deeply imbedded
in the heritage of the oral poet. However, while the antiquity of
some elements of this system is evident in the bird and in the lion
similes, the development and emphasis of the simile was the task
of the individual poet. The infrequency of exactly repeated similes
and the balances and correspondences between simile and narrative
point to a more individual style in extending the simile. At the very
least the basic subject was the legacy of the tradition.

Consequently in this study it has been essential and proper to
neglect the details of the fully developed simile. It seems that the
poet thought formally in terms of "lion similes" regardless of the
extending details in each simile concerning the individual situation
of each lion. He chose his broad subject on the basis of the general
context reserving the consideration of precise balances between
simile and narrative as a later—and more independent—option.

There are two points which are corollaries to this conclusion.


First, the point of comparison (Vergleichungspunkt), so hallowed
in the history of comment on the similes, does not seems to have
been particularly important to the poet. He was concentrating
more on choosing a subject which could be developed to fit his
context. Second, Fränkel's contention that the simile was conceived
by the poet as a unit with its full cast of characters—sheep, shepherd,
dogs, and wolves—seems fully justified. Context suggested a basic
subject which could be developed to suit the immediate details of
the narrative. But along with the subject came the full apparatus of
that simile family to be used as the poet willed.


It is also significant that many of the contexts describe a character
who is attacking or about to attack, entering the narrative or
about to enter the narrative, in general, a man who is doing something
or about to do it. These contexts are seen as the same by the
poet in choosing his simile subjects. As Homer sang of the Myrmidons
arming in Iliad 16, he knew that they were about to attack,
and he described them in a simile which is commonly used of men
who are actually attacking. The poet always anticipated the future
direction of his tale and could be expected to motivate the actions of
his characters. The warrior who was attacking or who was about to
attack seemed the same to him as he looked ahead in his story.

These are broad statements made on evidence which is far from
the uniformity of the traditional epithets. For similes the evidence is
not as great, is limited to certain contexts, and is far less dominated
by the rigorous metrical demands which determine the shape and
position of the formulae. In spite of these obstacles there are two
qualities which are indispensable in defining, even in a vague way,
the tradition: numerous repetitions and consistent usage. Where
there are a large number of similes on a particular subject, they do
fall with surprising consistency at places in the narrative where the
action is repeated.

Inconsistency takes on a new meaning in this theory. It is a word
of despair. A simile so designated may be without parallel in the
two poems, but it could be amply paralleled in lost works, or it may
be an innovation or unique usage. Since this is the case, it is far
safer to proceed making use of subjects which are paralleled enough
times in equivalent contexts in the Iliad and the Odyssey to establish
them as traditional families. Let us freely admit that with flawed
evidence a modern critic can discover only a percentage of the


Because the greatest number of scenes in the Homeric poems
occur on the battlefield, warriors and armies offer the most numerous
opportunities for similes. Consequently, further statements drawn
from this analysis of subject matter are based only on the similes
which accompany war scenes. The necessity of restricting conclusions
to such scenes becomes clear when a few comparisons are made
between the similes in battle scenes and those in peaceful episodes.
In the fighting on the first three days (Book 4.422 through Book 8)
and in the fighting on the next day (Books 11 through 17) the subjects
of most similes seem to be chosen in accord with the method
which has been presented in this chapter. In the fighting on the
first days only fourteen per cent of the similes (6 out of 44) do not
fit this theory; on the next day nineteen per cent do not fit exactly
(30 out of 155). Since these figures are based on a system which
can be only partially restored, such percentages show an impressive
consistency in the choice of subject matter.

And yet in the books which do not describe the actions of warriors
the percentages of disagreement are significantly higher. In Book 1
fifty per cent (2 out of 4) of the similes do not have a subject which
can be paralleled in a similar situation. Book 9 contains seventy-five
per cent unparalleled usage (3 out of 4). In Book 23, which describes
men striving with one another but not on the battlefield, eighty-two
per cent of the similes do not fit the theory (9 out of 11); in Book 24,
fifty per cent (3 out of 6). Such startling percentages do not necessarily
mean that the theory here proposed is wrong, but rather
indicate that there are not enough parallel situations to unwarlike
contexts to establish a traditional subject matter with any certainty.

Even when the few books which contain a large percentage of
disagreement are included, the theory set forth in this chapter
accounts for seventy-four per cent of the similes in the Iliad (253
out of 343). In this percentage are included only similes whose
subjects are suggested several times by a repeated context. Those
similes whose subject was chosen because there was a close tie in
subject, action, or event with the surrounding narrative have not
been counted within this seventy-four per cent; such similes
probably depend more upon an impromptu connection made in
each individual case than upon an established tradition.

The similes from traditional families are repeated often enough
to reveal the range of contexts in which such a subject was used.
The following chart groups the contexts in which a simile occurs


under the subject matter of the simile. Because some subjects
modify exclusively either a single hero or else a group of warriors,
there are separate entries for singular and plural in each context.
The numbers in parenthesis indicate the number of similes in each
category found in the Iliad and the Odyssey.


Chart One
Contexts grouped by the Subject Matter of the Similes

  Singular Plural
Lion Fighting warrior (42) Fighting warriors (10)
   More specifically:  
    Physical appearance (2)  
    Emotions of warrior:  
     joy (1)  
     stubbornness (3)  
     warlike spirit (5)  
Wind Attack (4) Movement of a group (14)
  Confusion (1) Noise of a group (6)
    Emotion: Relief (1)
    Confusion and distress (2)
Fire Gleaming (24) Gleaming (2)
  Fighting warrior (14) Fighting warriors (9)
    More specifically: Noise (4)
  Anger (5)  
God Attack (10)  
  Enter narrative (25)  
Tree Dead or wounded (11) Dead (1)
  Motionless (1) Motionless (1)
Wolf   Attack (4)
Deer   Fear and cowardice (4)
Stele Motionless (1) Motionless (1)
Diver Falling man (3)  
Hunt Pursuit and attack (3) Pursuit and attack (2)
Children Unwarlike (10) Unwarlike (2)
  Protection (2)  
Insects   Number (3)
    Ferocity (2)
Fish Kill (3) Dead (3)
River Destructive sweep (3) Fighting army (2)
Bird God (12) Gods (2)
  Attack (6) Attack (5)
Domestic Animal Many contexts singular and  
plural; for example:  
  Enter battle (3) Enter battle (2)
  Dead warrior (4)  


This chart provides an analysis of the poems as they stand, but
Homer probably would not have been able to produce such a chart
since it is doubtful that he was ever asked, "In what contexts do you
sing a lion simile?" The more probable question, which he must
have asked himself as he composed, was, "What kind of simile will
best suit the scene of the fighting warrior?" To answer such a
question Chart One would have to be reversed; the various subjects
available to the poet would have to be listed under the contexts in
which they usually occur. The first chart is useful for modern
critics as an analysis of the finished poem; the second chart shows,
albeit vaguely, the traditional connections between subject and
context which were in the poet's mind.

Chart Two:
Subject Matter Grouped by Simile Contexts

  Singular Plural
Fighting Warrior Lion-Fire Lion-Fire-River
Attack Lion-Bird-God-(Wind) 22 Lion-Wolf-Bird
Entering Battle or Narrative God-Animal Animal
Dead or Wounded Tree-Animal Fish
Kill Fish  
Physical appearance of Warrior Lion  
Movement   Wind
Motionless Tree-Stele Wind-Tree-Stele
Destructive Sweep River  
Pursuit and Attack Hunt Hunt
Gleaming Fire Fire
Unwarlike Children Children
Protection Children  
God Fire-Bird Bird
Noise   Wind-Fire
Number   Insect
Ferocity   Insect
  Joy in Battle Lion  
  Stubbornness Lion  
  Warlike Spirit Lion  
  Confusion Wind Wind
  Anger Fire  
  Relief   Wind
  Fear   Deer


The organized tradition suggested in this chart is consistent with
Parry's conclusions in which he identifies simplicity and extension
as the marks of a traditional system. 23 Simplicity is the lack of
overlapping forms for one specific position; the similes which
correspond (i.e., the lion family, the wind family, etc.) have more or
less defined contexts in which they appear. Probably the most
difficult line to draw lies between the fighting warrior and
the attacking warrior. There is some confusion between these
two contexts, as might be expected; however similes listed as
depicting only the attack of a warrior do not describe the more
general picture of the fighting warrior. With minor exceptions there
is surprisingly little overlapping of uses. Extension is demonstrated
by the wide-spread, restricted, and consistent usage of each simile
family throughout both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Whether Homer himself was a singer or not, the pressure imposed
by impromptu composition was definitely a force in shaping the
tradition which Homer inherited and which appears throughout the
Homeric poems. The tradition which underlies the similes is not as
neat as the system of traditional epithets; however, in his desire to
keep the poem moving the singer shunned a simile that might not
be easily adapted to the narrative or one which simply could not be
developed properly in such a situation. Signs of strain or gross
inappropriateness would ruin the whole effect of the simile. Because
an oral singer could not think out these balances fully beforehand,
but rather had to take a subject and develop it as he sang, he customarily
resorted to a set subject or subjects which had previously
served him well in similar situations. The compelling forces which
created the tradition were ease and familiarity. The poet could
think of only so much while composing. If the subject matter were
more or less given to him by the tradition, he could devote his
attention to shaping the elements of the expanded simile.

Another aspect of the traditional diction which is pointed out by
Parry is the growth and development of the oral diction. 24 Even
though the poet's language is based on a tradition, it is not static or


frozen, but by various means, most notably by the game of analogy,
the tradition is continually fed with new combinations. The diverse
applications of the similes of domestic farm animals may show an
emerging or fluid element which has not become firmly attached to
any one specific situation, since these similes are used to describe
many different facets of the narrative. Either there are not enough
examples to allow the construction of a meaningful system of
contexts or these similes were not yet prescribed in their usage.
Such freedom is also evident in the bird similes which appear in
repeated situations, but are also used with flexibility in scenes
which were probably unique in the epic world.


There are two tests which can be applied to verify these conclusions:
first, a listing of alternate subjects used in the same context
whenever such alternates can be found; and second, an examination
of the simile subjects in an extended section of narrative.

1. On the basis of Chart Two we can see that lion similes and fire
similes are the alternate ways of describing the general picture of
the fighting warrior. In the discussion of both families it was
pointed out how often each subject occurred in this context; a
listing of examples was at that point adequate proof for the existence
and the limited usage of each individual subject group.

There is further evidence that a particular context suggested
two or three subjects as alternatives. Compare three passages:

(Ajax advances against the Trojans)
ἴθυσεν δὲ διὰ προμάχων συῒ εἴκελος ἀλκὴν (17.281)

(Hector fights over the body of Patroclus)
Ἕκτωρ τε Πριάμοιο πάϊς φλογὶ εἴκελος ἀλκήν (18.154)

(Idomeneus begins to fight the Trojans)
Οἳ δ ὡς Ἰδομενῆα ἴδον φλογὶ εἴκελον ἀλκὴν (13.330)

In each case the poet describes a fighting warrior, each time in
different words. Twice the context suggests an image of fire, but
once, of a boar. The change is small in these metrically equivalent
units, and there seems no reason to choose one in such a context to


the exclusion of the other. Chart Two was constructed on the
assumption that Chart One could be reversed to indicate alternate
subjects which the poet would consider as he sang, an assumption
substantiated by this small example. Seldom can such precise
parallels be found, but there are a few and these give validity to
the system of alternatives represented on the second chart.


A second set of parallel verses will illustrate the difference between
the various contexts:

(Sarpedon goes to attack the wall)
βῆ ῥ ἴμεν ὥς τε λέων ὀρεσίτροφος, ὅς τ ἐπιδευὴς (12.299)

(Diomedes and Odysseus go to spy on the Trojans)
βάν ῥ ἴμεν ὥς τε λέοντε δύω διὰ νύκτα μέλαιναν (10.297)

(Telemachus goes to the assembly and Menelaus begins to tell
the story of his trip home)
βῆ δ ἴμεν ἐκ θαλάμοιο θεῷ ἐναλίγκιος ἄντην (Od. 2.5 and Od. 4.310)

In all four examples the poet begins the line with a formulaic
phrase: βῆ/βάν ῥ/δ ἴμεν. In the first two passages Homer describes
warriors prepared to fight entering a hostile situation; lions are
suitable subjects. But when a character is entering a situation
where he will play a dominant role, Homer chooses a god to be the
subject of the simile. This is in accord with Chart Two, in which we
see that lions are customarily used to describe warriors while gods
describe men entering the narrative. The introductory phrase
remains the same, but context determines the subject.

Homer's sensitivity to context is clear when he describes the
beaten and briny Odysseus who is about to enter the gentle world
of the princess Nausicaa:

βῆ δ ἴμεν ὥς τε λέων ὀρεσίτροφος, ἀλκὶ πεποιθώς
And he went like a lion raised in the mountain trusting in his
strength (Od. 6.130)

The introductory phrase is familiar. The warrior is likened to a
lion—but to a lion who has been pounded by rain and blown by the
wind. Odysseus, who comes to Phaeacia as a warrior against the


forces which have tried to block his return home, does not fit into
the peaceful group of Nausicaa and her companions. 25 Homer
appropriately uses a simile of a lion rather than a god to describe
the entrance of this hero.


There are other examples of alternatives in scenes which are
closely parallel: 13.39 and 14.394 ff. where wind or fire are
alternate descriptions of the noise of a group; 13.437, where a stele
or a tree describes a man who cannot move; 11.155 and 11.172
where fire and lion similes accompany Agamemnon's slaughter of
the Trojans.

All these passages represent a small amount of evidence for the
traditional employment of alternate categories of simile subjects.
The reason that the number of passages is so small is that all have
verbal parallels tying the contexts closely together. Many more
examples could be found if such a limitation were not imposed;
the point is strengthened by including only contexts which are
both parallel in subject and also sung in identical words.

Of equal interest are passages where there are violations of the
theory presented on Chart Two. At 15.605 Homer describes the
rage of Hector:

μαίνετο δ ὡς ὅτ Ἄρης ἐγχέσπαλος ἢ ὀλοὸν πῦρ
And he raged as when spear-shaking Ares or a destructive fire . . .

Nowhere else do fire and god similes appear as alternatives to describe
the fighting warrior. In fact, similes of gods customarily
depict the warrior who is attacking. In larger perspective Hector is
attacking throughout Book 15; but in the immediately surrounding
passage his battle rage is specifically described without mention of
his actions. It is such a small step for the poet to break away from
the immediate context and to view the whole progress of Hector in
Book 15 as an attacking warrior that it would be hard to imagine
that an oral poet would scrupulously avoid such a larger view. The
discovery of such an inconsistency does not vitiate the conclusions
of Chart Two but rather humanizes them. Rigorous application of
patterns reveals much about the poet when he follows the tradition
closely in a limited passage, but such an analysis will inevitably
fail when concerns of the larger narrative exert their influence.


Similar is the series 11.747, 22.139, and 15.579. In the first two
passages wind and bird similes describe the attack of the warrior,
but at 15.579 a hunting scene illustrates the same context.

In those few passages where close verbal parallels can be found
there is strong evidence that Homer conceived of the subjects as
they are listed by context on Chart Two. It also seems that he saw
the same two or three alternate subjects for several contexts.


2. The first half of Book 2 of the Iliad (1-483) contains a sufficient
number of similes to examine the choice of subject in an extended
section of narrative. When Agamemnon calls the army together to
hear his plan, a large group must be portrayed. By the time this
gathering has ended and the men have scattered to their tents to
prepare themselves for the coming muster, five similes have
characterized them. Twice the poet describes the noise which such
a mob makes. According to Chart Two there are two predominant
subjects by which Homer represents the noise of a group of warriors
in a simile: wind or fire. In both similes in Book 2 he chooses wind
(2.209 and 394). This subject is probably more suited to the situation
because the poet wishes to describe the deep reverberant roar of a
crowd which is not engaged in destruction. Twice in this book the
poet presents the motion of this huge body of men through similes.
Mass motion is described by only one subject, wind. Both times the
simile is wind stirring the sea or a cornfield (2.144 and 147). Once
the mob streams forward to the meeting in numbers as great as the
countless swarms of bees which spread across the fields in springtime
(2.87). The size of a group is several times indicated by insect
similes. Three aspects of a group of warriors are described in this
section of Book Two: noise, movement, and number, and in each
case the choice of the subject is in accord with the practice of the
poet as derived from the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Immediately following this section a massing of men for the
catalogue of ships is described by four similes. Two similes—leaves
and flowers, 26 and insects—present the number of warriors (2.469
and 468). The gleam from their shields is like a fire, the poet's only
simile to picture brightness (2.455). And the image of flocks of birds
shows the army moving to battle (2.459). All these similes are
consistent with the conclusions presented on Chart Two.


There are similes which have had to be excluded from this discussion.
The evidence to organize these similes into significant categories
is so slight that one plays with conjecture in attempting to make
them fit a theory. Though they do not disprove the ideas which
have been stated here, they offer no substantiation either. Concerning
those similes which do fall into large families it seems that the
poet because of the demands of oral composition often resorted to a
familiar and, consequently, safer method of using the same subject
in similar scenes.

There remains the question of the connection between the choice
of placement and the choice of subject matter which seem to be two
individual choices made on the basis of different factors. The combination
of these two choices in the finished performance reflects a
system which appears complex and varied because of its many
possible combinations and mutations, but in fact, the traditional
connections are quite small in number and completely manageable
by an oral poet. An understanding of this poetic process depends on
separating the major themes of composition from the specific
details which form the context of the simile. Such definition is not
neat, and often one is reduced to drawing a very thin line; yet this
is a useful distinction which will aid in explaining the double
choice of the poet: essentially he made each choice by looking at his
story in different ways.

The theme is a broad outline of an action in terms of which the
poet regularly builds his narrative. 27 It is not attached to any
particular name or type character, rather it is a general unit within
which the poet organizes the details of his story; e.g., the theme of the
council or the aristeia of the single warrior. The headings listed in
the first part of Chapter Two are examples of this type of broader
theme: the actions of a divine being, the journey of a god, the
entrance or the withdrawal of a hero.

Context is a particular version of the theme. It is attached to a
specific character and must be sung or be imbedded in formulaic
phrases in order to exist; A. B. Lord describes the existence of the
theme in this way:


The theme in oral poetry exists at one and the same time in
and for itself and for the whole song. This can be said both for
the theme in general and also for any individual singer's forms
of it. His task is to adapt and adjust it to the particular song that
he is re-creating. It does not have a single "pure" form either
for the individual singer or for the tradition as a whole. Its form
is ever changing in the singer's mind, because the theme is in
reality protean; in the singer's mind it has many shapes, all the
forms in which he has ever sung it, although his latest rendering
of it will naturally be freshest in his mind. It is not a static
entity, but a living, changing, adaptable artistic creation. 28


It is clear that the relation between context and theme is intimate.
Yet the simile cannot be hopelessly divorced in fact, spirit, and tone
from the detailed description in the surrounding context, since it is
to the more specific rendering of the theme that the oral poet looks
in choosing an appropriate subject for his simile.

For example, the warrior enters battle; this is a theme which is
amply exemplified in the Homeric poems as a traditional location
for a simile. The immediate context, however, explains whether he
enters fighting, refulgent in his armor, inspiring his troops, attacking
another warrior, or in some other way. If the singer introduces a
warrior who is rushing to battle, he might use a simile of a lion. If he
is gleaming in his armor, then the poet could employ a fire simile.
If he is driving the army of the enemy before him and creating utter
havoc in a destructive sweep across the battlefield, then the poet
might choose a river simile. All three of these alternatives accompany
the successive entrances of Diomedes in Book 5 (5.5., 87, and
136). The theme of the entrance of the warrior offers the simile as
an alternative means of telling the story, but it is the immediate
context which determines the subject matter of each simile. Compare
also the variation of subject matter in the series of similes discussed
above: 12.299, 10.297, Od. 2.5, Od.4.310, and Od. 6.130. 29

Behind this system of choices and connections lies the great mass
of the oral epic tradition as it had developed in Greece, and to
separate the poet from his tradition is impossible. In a real sense
Homer was the tradition. Generations of poets had sung songs and


by trying new types of phrasing and devices of story-telling had
developed various ways of presenting a unified tale. Homer listened
to singers who had taken various techniques from the tradition and
had made these techniques a standard part of their repertoire; then,
as he grew to be a singer and gained confidence, he picked those
phrases, formulae, connections, and narrative techniques which
suited his particular desires and capabilities. 30 In examining the
"tradition" underlying the similes, we are inevitably dealing with
those elements of the tradition which Homer had selected as
appropriate to himself. While a modern critic cannot hope to delineate


Homer's idiosyncratic stylistic features, it is impossible that
his surviving narratives do not represent much that is central to
the earlier tradition. Homer and his tradition are one or at least
inextricably and harmoniously united in one man. Homer did not
surrender as a slave to a domineering mistress when he became an
oral poet; rather he embraced, embodied, developed, and carried
on the tradition. This tradition can be seen throughout the Iliad and
the Odyssey —but with special clarity in the placement and the
subject matter of the similes. 31

Notes —Chapter Three

1. Fränkel, p. 7 ff.

2. There are lions represented in Mycenaean art: cf. dagger blades and the
gold rhython, S. Marinatos and M. Hirmer, Crete and Mycenae (London 1960),
pp. 95-97 and 101 ; also Plate 146, a figured stele (No. 1427) from the shaft
graves. The subject surely existed in early artistic representations; for the
dissimilarity of treatment in the similes, however, see Shipp, p. 213 ff. The
subject could still be quite old while the Homeric formulation is more recent.
And, of course, some lion similes belong to general scenes from nature and
are, therefore, ageless and undatable.

3. The scenes are so similar and repetitive that D. Mülder, Die Ilias und Ihre
(Berlin 1910), pp. 328-333, argues that all lion similes derive from one
basic story. This is probably oversimplified. First, since the whole story
which he reconstructs is never given in full and the lion similes do not fall
neatly into a story line, he is only assuming that such a story existed. Second
such similes as 11.474 do not seem to fit Mülder's basic plot since this lion is
merely wandering in the woods. 18.318 is so far removed from the essential
story that it is better seen as a description from nature, though there is no
need to postulate an independent nature narrative.

4. Sometimes the motion of a lion is compared in the simile and sometimes
the spirit. The clearest example of almost total disregard of the narrative in
order to convey the spirit is 12.41. Murray, pp. 245-249 pointed out the
incongruity of the simile in which Hector is simply not in the same situation
as the lion. A. Shewan, "Suspected Flaws in Homeric Similes" in Homeric
(Oxford 1935), p. 224 f., states that this simile illustrates Hector's
vigor but also his helplessness. I have pointed out supra, p. 59 f. that there is
no need for even the most important facts to correspond between simile and
narrative; the lion in the simile kills when the warrior does not. At 16.156
the Myrmidons arm like wolves, then suddenly they are wolves who have
already killed and sated themselves. In both cases several facts of the simile
disagree with the narrative, though the emotion conveyed is apt. Perhaps a
better craftsman could have balanced all the factual elements and, in addition
could have effectively created an emotional tone in the simile which was like
that in the narrative. While Homer as an oral poet does surprisingly well in
matching facts, he almost never fails in matching emotions.

5. Infra, p. 120 ff. See also infra, p. 90 f.

6. The difficulty in drawing a sharp line of distinction between related
contexts is never more evident than at 13-334 ff and 16.763 ff. In each case
it is clear that there is motion involved and, consequently, a wind simile
seems appropriate; and yet the impression left by the scene is one of battle,
which would usually call for a lion simile or a fire simile. I have no intention
of arguing that the classifications of simile families will be completely rigid or
applicable without exception in an oral poem; my arguments and classifications
are based on the clearest evidence offered by a large percentage of

7. Infra, p. 81 ff.

8. Because of the oral poet's customary repetition of the same words in
similar situations, I would disagree with Jachmann's criticism of 5.527. He
feels that 5.527 is interpolated from 15.622; G. Jachmann, Der Homerische
Schiffskatalog und die Ilias
(Köln und Opladen 1958), p. 285 ff.

9. Cf. Snell, p. 196 ff.

10. Supra, p. 38 ff.

11. Cf. 11.192.

12. At Ody. 6.162 Odysseus compares Nausicaa to a palm tree (previously
he called her a θάλος at 157). Though not in its formal structure like the tree
similes, the passage is too much like them to be left unmentioned. The closest
parallel context is the warrior who dies young, but it must be admitted that
this comparison does not seem to fit the contextual categories cited for the
tree similes.

13. See introduction to this chapter. The oral poet and his audience pictured
the whole scene of a simile when it was first mentioned and then could draw
connections and relationships which seem like leaps to the critic raised on
written poetry. Thus when sheep were mentioned both performer and listener
knew that the shepherd was there to be used if desired. Thus, 8.338, in spite
of the opening reference to the dog, might be classified as a lion simile since
both a lion and a boar appear in it. If it were a lion simile, it would not fit the
previously discussed contexts for such a simile. However, when Homer is
making close connections between simile and narrative, he is usually careful
to match numbers in the lion similes. If one hero is to be described by a simile,
the simile contains one lion, while if two or three heroes or two armies are
acting, the simile contains a number of lions. There are even lion similes with
dual forms (5.554, 10.297, and 13.198). Such care in numbers can be a
criterion for determining the purpose of the poet. In this simile the poet is
concentrating on Hector's pursuit of the enemy. He takes the very natural
simile of the hunt and adds to it something from the traditional subject
matter of the simile world, a lion or boar. That the pursuit is foremost in
his mind is revealed by the connection of Hector—one warrior—to one dog
and the lack of connection between the lion or boar—one beast—and the
plural Achaeans. Cf. the inequality of numbers at 11.291 ff. and 17.722 ff. On
the other hand, the simile 15.271 is composed of a scene from the hunting
similes and one from the lion similes. Because the hunting section does not
give equal numbers (stag or goat = Trojan army), Homer is concentrating
on the lion; consequently, I have included this simile among the lion family.
Cf. 5.161, 13.471, and Od. 22.402.

14. In line 16.641 the antecedent of the pronominal subject is vague.
Though it could be the two warriors previously mentioned at 630-637, a
general subject, any man, breaks the thought from Aeneas and Meriones at
638. Consequently, the simile at 16.641 seems to refer to the crowd of
Greeks and Trojans.

15. This simile is not directly joined to Hector; its point of connection is
Diomedes who halts just as a man would halt who sees a river before him in
full spate. However lines 590-606 describe the forceful attack of Hector and
the Trojans; Homer is merely reforming the traditional scene by mentioning
a perfectly usual country character in order to attach his simile to a description
of the triumphant hero; cf. Fränkel, p. 7 f.

16. Preceding the simile describing Ajax there is a concise list of five
killings which testify to the magnitude of his sweep across the battlefield.
Such exaggeration is appropriate in its place because Ajax represents the
Greek victory of which Hector is unaware and to which he will immediately
turn his attention. Similar is the technique in Book 5, where there is a list of
killings by the various Greek heroes before Diomedes, the greatest hero of the
moment, rushes across the field in a deadly sweep. This is a splendid introduction
for the section of battle which the Greeks are to win and in which
Diomedes will be the first extended example of the heroic warrior in action.
These river similes cast the hero in an exaggerated heroic role which is
underlined by the preceding killings. Hector in Book 5 is aided by Ares and
Enyo (5.592 ff.).

17. Infra, p. 81 ff.

18. In fact, this passage is probably not a simile but rather a true transformation,
είδόμενος/η usually introduces the transformation of a god into
a specific character. The previous example (Od. 1.320) may or may not be a
true simile. In form it is a simile, but it is closely connected to the action of
the narrative. Bibliography on this problem is cited by Coffey, p. 120, n. 29.

19. This discussion is based on information and plates in M. P. Nilsson,
Geschichte der griechischen Religion (3rd ed.; Munich 1967), I, pp. 290-292.
Cf. the treatment of Webster 40 ff. and the cautionary statements of G. E.
Mylonas, Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age (Princeton 1966), pp. 139, 145
and 176.

20. Parry, p. 221 ff.

21. Noted by Hampe, p. 15 f. and Coffey, p. 123 f.

22. Cf. the similar subjects listed for this context by Coffey, p. 118 f. and
nn. 23-25. Fire is listed as a fifth subject, but at 13.53 and 20.423 the heroes
are merely described as fighting warriors. In Book 13 Poseidon is talking
about the general success of Hector. In Book 20 Hector meets Achilles and
then both exchange speeches; when one of them (Achilles) does attack, the
simile subject is, as expected, a god.

23. Parry esp., pp. 7-8.

24. Parry, pp. 85-89 and 221-227.

25. Cf. Whitman, p. 115 f.

26. There is some indication that leaves and flowers are used consistently in
similes which describe infinite numbers; supra, p. 81.

27. See the discussions of theme in oral verse by A. B. Lord, "Composition
by Theme in Homer and Southslavic Epos," TAPhA 82 (1951), pp. 71-80 and
his chapter entitled "The Theme" in The Singer of Tales (Cambridge 1960),
pp. 68-98.

28. Lord, The Singer of Tales (supra, n. 27), p. 94.

29. Supra, p. 90.

30. See Lord, The Singer of Tales (supra, n. 27), Chapter Two on "Singers;
Performance and Training".

31. A classification of individual similes in accordance with this chapter is
given in Column Two on the table in the Appendix.



Studies of oral poetry often stress the hold of the tradition on the
poet so strongly that there seems limited opportunity for flexibility,
and yet it is clear to anyone who has studied oral verse, ancient or
modern, that oral improvisation requires continual adaptation. The
poet must always think of the effect of the passage which he is
singing on the development of his song. He is constantly making
adjustments in traditional phrases, lines, and scenes in the hope of
singing a better story. It comes as no surprise that the Homeric
simile in its extension is subject to the same type of adaptation.
Even if the Homeric poems are not pure oral verse, they show how
a poet who knew the demands and techniques of oral verse-making
approached the extension of individual similes.

Once the oral poet began to sing a certain topic in his simile, he
could proceed in various ways. He could curtail the simile very
quickly mentioning only the subject and an adjective or a brief
phrase. A man falling from a wall is like a diver (12.385); Odysseus
straddling a plank on the sea is like a man riding a race horse
(Od. 5.371). Because Nastes came to the war dressed in gold
trusting that this would protect him, he is a warrior foolishly
decorated like a girl (2.872). Hecuba presented to Athena the largest
and finest robe which shone like a star (6.295). Such short comparisons
are useful in illustrating the visual motion of the narrative or
lending immediate value to a character or an object, but they do not
provide much coloring or variation to the surrounding passage.

When the poet sang a longer simile, he was acutely aware of the
poetic effectiveness of the two or three line simile in coloring his
narrative by comparing or contrasting it with other objects or
actions. In discussing such a subtle quality it is not easy to be objective.

A modern critic must admit that it is often impossible to
perceive the effect intended by an ancient poet. The similes of
snowflakes exemplify the perils of subjective judgment:

Just as thick-flying flakes of snow drift down on a winter day
when Zeus the counselor brings on a snowstorm revealing his


arrows, and calming the winds he sends down continuing drifts
of snow until he has covered the peaks of the high mountains and
the jutting rocks and the clovered fields and the prospering work
of men, and the snow falls along the harbors and beaches of the
grey sea but the waves washing on the beach keep it off—all is
covered when the snow of Zeus falls heavily upon it. (12.278-86)


This passage seems an image of peaceful calm showing the ever-
repeated working of Nature with no abruptness or hardship to
disturb the calm of a winter's day, and the other snowflake similes
describe equally placid scenes. And yet other acts of Zeus in nature
portend evil for men as at the beginning of the Doloneia the lightning
of Zeus suggests evils for men—rain, hail, snow or war (10.5). Even
when Zeus stretches a rainbow across the heavens (in modern times
a sign of good), men fear war or winter,

. . .chill winter, which stops men from their works on earth and
afflicts their flocks. (17.549-50)

This might well be the attitude of the Homeric audience toward
snow. Suddenly the fine picture of peace and permanence is tinged
with fear and suffering. In ascertaining the tone which the poet tried
to convey in his similes a modern critic is necessarily at times unsure.
Even though such admission will render any proof less precise and
will limit the number of similes which can be discussed with any
certainty, it is reasonable to handle only those similes in which
the tone is clearly indicated by the poet.

Such a limitation will often require omission of the short comparisons,
because where there is no clause or descriptive phrase
accompanying the noun, it is impossible to talk about the color or
tone which the poet had in mind. Hector spinning like a top, a spear
point bending like lead, or a man falling like a tower may have
provided some suggestive atmosphere, but this is beyond the grasp
of today's reader (14.413, 11.237, and 4.462). However there are
images which have an established value, such as short comparisons
of lions and boars which are taken as much from brutal and blood-
thirsty nature as are the longer descriptions. The poet was aware of
and exploited such tonal qualities in singing the similes.


I. The Similes of the Iliad

1. Preparing for New Action

Individual similes can set the tone for a scene. Perhaps the finest
example precedes the embassy when the Trojans sit by their camp
fires joyfully contemplating the victory which is almost within their

Just as when the stars in heaven shine clearly around the gleaming
moon when the air is still, and all the peaks and jutting
rocks and glens stand out sharply, and from heaven bright air
pours down, and all the stars are seen, and the shepherd is glad
in his heart, so many fires blazed . . . (8.555-560)

While the Greeks are stricken with panic, terror, and grief:

Just as two winds stir up the sea filled with fish, the north wind
and the west wind, which blow from Thrace, rising suddenly,
and a black wave rises into a crest and scatters much seaweed
along the coast, so was the heart torn in the breasts of the
Achaeans. (9.4-8)

The despair of the Greeks becomes all the more intense by contrast
to the Trojans' joy and the similes are for the most part responsible
for conveying the feelings of each side. Only in such a state of
despair are the sorrow of Agamemnon and the urgency of the
embassy fully intelligible. By such contrasts the similes create
atmosphere and emphasize in brief scope the motivation for a
scene. The actual causes of the Greeks' unhappiness are told in
Book 8; the factual narrative makes the feelings summarized in
the similes believable.

More common is the sense of foreboding which accompanies the
start of a battle or a risky undertaking. 1 There are two basic images


used in these similes: stars and storms. The half-simile of the
meteor when Athena plunges to the earth to break the truce sheds
anxiety over the field.


Like a star which the son of devious Cronos has sent to be a
portent to sailors or to the far-flung armies of men, a bright star
shooting many sparks, in such a way did Pallas Athena dart to
the earth and leapt into their midst. Wonder seized those who
were watching, both the Trojans, tamers of horses, and the
strong-greaved Achaeans. And a man would say looking at his
neighbor: "Again there will be evil war or terrible strife or else
Zeus, who is war's watchman among men, will bring friendship
to both sides." (4.75-84)

Fear and doubt are not contained within the simile, but men do
show an attitude of watchfulness toward such an omen. Something
is going to happen. Though a wise man could interpret such a sign,
most men must wait apprehensively to see the direction of future
events. The simile and the reaction to the comet give a sense of
foreboding. Even though the audience has heard Zeus order Athena
to make the Trojans violate the truce, such a simile puts the audience
on guard that something is imminent; someone is going to be
wounded or war is going to begin. It is notable that in such a
passage the method by which the action will commence is never
made clear. If Athena, like other messengers had merely repeated
the words of Zeus, there would be no reason to introduce a feeling
of apprehension. However, in scenes where war is near or a significant
battle is imminent, a feeling of anxiety is dramatically effective.
When the crucial battle after the futile embassy and the Doloneia
begins, the armor which Agamemnon wears is decorated with three


serpents like rainbows which Zeus has set in the heavens as a
portent for men; Hector darts amid the Trojans like a threatening
star; and his armor shines like the lightning of Zeus (11.27, 62, and
66). As Achilles runs to meet Hector before the gates of Troy, his
armor gleams like the star which is the brightest in heaven, but
which also is a sign of evil for men (22.26).


Such similes also contain descriptions of the coming storm. As
the Ajaxes arm, they are as fearsome as the dark cloud which causes
the shepherd to seek shelter (4.275). 2 The lightning of Zeus which is
twice mentioned at the opening of the Doloneia threatens to bring
rain, hail, blizzard, or war (10.5 and 154). When Nestor sees the
desperate situation of the Greeks, he vacillates like the sea which
rolls uncertainly before the storm comes (14.16). In the midst of the
battle over Patroclus' body Athena comes like a rainbow which
Zeus sets as a portent of war or storm (17.547). In each passage new
action is beginning and the outcome is unknown. It is the mark of
a good storyteller to convey the mood of his story as well as the
facts, and because the simile is not tightly involved with events
previous or foreshadowed, it speaks more immediately to the heart
than to the intellect and is thus a powerful device for creating
atmosphere. 3

2. War and Peace

Homer's nature similes are for the most part drawn from one of
two worlds. The one world is idyllic. Nature willingly pours forth its
abundance under sunny skies; creatures of nature live with one
another in harmony and accord; men rejoice; even animals are
lighthearted. The occupants and objects of this world perform their
functions in the ordered manner in which they have and will for
ages. Waterfalls rush thundering into deep basins; shepherds
delight in nature as they watch their flocks, as children lie safely


asleep in their mothers' arms. Waves break endlessly against
enduring rocks, and stars shining brightly move across the clear
dark sky. In the streets women squabble over trivialities; in homes
they weave, while pots bubble over wood fires. In the fields men
tend their flocks, plough their fields, and reap their harvests; on the
hillside woodcutters chop trees; at the farmsteads men thresh wheat
and gather their beans and peas. There is a quiet humor in this world.
A gardner tries to irrigate his plants and is outrun by the stream.
A donkey proudly ignores puny boys beating at his ribs until he has
eaten his fill. In short this is a world of peace and permanence. It is
opposed to a world of sudden and threatening events—a world
where powers are loose which force one to be on his guard. In this
violent world animals are driven by hunger to prey on other beasts,
and shepherds are ever alert for a swift attack. Vultures scoop up
smaller animals in vicious dives. Lions stalk and are in turn hunted.
Wolves' jowls are black with the clotted blood of a stag. Storms
strafe the earth breaking forests, threatening to sink ships, swelling
rivers to destructive levels. Fires level forests and lightning bolts
leave smoking ruins. Men fight in vast wars or murder fellow
citizens. If there is joy, it is the bloody joy of a lion chancing on the
carcass of a stag. The emotions are fear, stunned horror, and
restiveness. Both worlds show views of nature, and both views are
true to nature, but for a poet the atmosphere which each creates
offers a vast potential.


Homer shows his consciousness of these two worlds when he
develops a traditional subject in varied ways:

Just as when the gleam of a burning fire appears to sailors
across the water—a fire which burns high in the mountains in a
lonely farmyard, but the winds carry them across the teeming
sea away from their friends, even though they are unwilling
to go . . . (19.375-78)

Just as when a consuming fire descends on a dense forest, and
the wind whirling it about carries it in all directions, and the
bushes struck by the force of the fire fall uprooted . . . (11.155-57)

These two similes both tell of something destroyed by fire since
fire cannot exist without fuel. But the second emphasizes the


destruction of a forest while the first shows a fire seen from afar as it
symbolizes the comforts of home. If there is any hardship or pain in
the first simile, it is with the sailors. The blaze they see is a peaceful
flame which stays on the mainland where they would like to be.
The basic subject of both similes is the same; the poet has taken one
fire from scenes of peaceful nature and the other, from scenes of
destructive nature. Similes comparing the army to birds also show
this technique. When the Greeks are forming for the Catalogue they
are like birds which swarm joyfully over the meadows; but, when
they march toward the Trojan army, they resemble the cranes who
bring bloodshed and destruction to Pigmy men (2.459 and 3.2).
Often the poet describes the waves breaking on the shore or being
whipped up on the open sea in the normal course of nature. But
twice such a storm threatens to sink a ship and causes fear to the
sailors (15.381 and 624). In some similes a shepherd rejoices (8.555
and 13.492). Most of the time the atmosphere of the simile is not so
clearly stated, but the poet's extension of a simile indicates which
of the two ways of seeing nature he wants his audience to view at
that moment.


The simile can never be more than a background against which
the narrative is played, and in the Homeric poems there seem to be
two types of background, physical and poetic. Physical background
is the stage setting which the poet gives to each scene. The description
can be very traditional; for example, the shore of the loud-
roaring sea where Chryses prays to Apollo. This setting is a short
formulaic phrase, 4 and yet it serves to dramatize the isolation of
this man who has been driven away from the camp of the Greeks
without his daughter. Physical background can be merely two or
three items from a familiar scene. Though there is no detailed
description of the plain on which so much of the battle takes place,
surely no reader can be unaware of it. From time to time the poet
mentions rises in the land, the tomb of Ilus, and trees. 5 But there


were also bodies of slain warriors and heaps of discarded weapons
ever present to the actual participants. Even in scenes where two
characters predominate, crowds of men and the bustle of battle
surround them. Such a backdrop is appropriate for men who continually
fight to kill and to gain glory. There is also physical scenery
which is described in great detail like the cave of Calypso which
sets the mood of that magical island and the neat palace of Alcinous
which shows the accomplishments and ability of this courtly king.
The material objects which surround a character and form the
physical background can effectively suggest the atmosphere of a


Poetic background is the combination of fact and impression
about a character or a place. In the Doloneia warriors leave both
camps for spying missions. This is pure fact. But the Greeks send
forth two of their most distinguished heroes while the Trojans
choose a far lesser man. That might and wit are going to battle with,
and will eventually vanquish, cowardice and greed is never said by
Homer directly; but such an interpretation arises from the sum of
impressions which Homer has given in describing the characters.
Many elements can contribute to this poetic background: the poet's
descriptions of the character, the character's words, his actions, his
ancestry, the foretelling of his future, or the way in which other
men receive his deeds. The simile because of its potential for
creating atmosphere in a scene can assist in suggesting these

Most often similes will agree in tone with the surrounding narrative.
When there is peace or at least no actual hand-to-hand
combat, Homer generally uses peaceful similes. Agamemnon opens


the night conference weeping like a spring that drips dark water;
Patroclus is described in the same way when he returns to the peaceful
enclave around the tents of Achilles (9.14 and 16.3). He is also
like a little girl (16.7). When men arm for battle or are about to
enter the actual area of fighting, they are characterized by a
peaceful simile to make the change to active combat all the more
striking. Both Hector and Paris return to battle like proud and
exultant stallions. The two are a relieving wind to tired oarsmen
(15.263, 6.506, and 7.4). In Book 2 when the Greeks are going to and
from the conference which Agamemnon has called and even when
they are arming, similes of peace describe them. It is when they
begin to move to battle that the first simile of destruction in nature
occurs (2.87, 144, 147, 209, 289, 337, 394, 455, 459, 468, 469, 474,
480, and 800; warlike— 2.780 and 781). 6 This warlike tone is carried
through to the first two similes of Book 3 (3.2 and 10). When
Achilles arms for the battle, he takes his shield; the shield shines
like a fire in the mountains seen by sailors on the sea (19.375).


When a character has been in action all along but enters the narrative
spotlight after a long absence, the same technique is evident.
Polypoetes and Leonteus have presumably been active in the battle
since dawn, 7 but they have a scene of their own in which they will
fight like wild boars and fierce wasps (12.146 and 167). But before
they begin to fight, they are like two tall oaks which day after day


stand up under the wind and the rain (12.132). When the action
changes from the battlefield to the wall of Troy for the Teichoscopia,
the similes also shift. On the battlefield war similes are prevalent;
on the wall with the elders and Helen, peace is the keynote (3.151,
10,6, and 197). The most extended picture of peace is shown in the
funeral games for Patroclus; after the stormy aristeia of Achilles
the Greek camp returns to calm as Achilles fulfills his promise to the
gentle Patroclus. There is no simile in this book which does not
describe a peaceful scene.


Calm, concordant nature accompanies scenes in which fighting
plays no part; conversely, war scenes have warlike similes for their
background. Since Book 11 is an almost unmitigated story of war
from the arming and entrance of Agamemnon to the wounding of
Eurypylos, by far the majority of the descriptions of warriors in this
book contain similes of destructive nature. There are special reasons
explaining similes that are taken from nature at peace. For example,
at 11.269 Agamemnon is stopped from fighting by the pains from
his earlier wound; this warrior, who has been like a rampaging lion
or a ruinous forest fire (11.113, 172, and 155), is now appropriately
described by a simile of a woman in childbirth. Throughout the
Iliad when characters who may be at peace talk about their past
experiences on the battlefield, the image of nature at war is the apt
comparison. Achilles tells the emissaries that he used to carry all
his spoil to Agamemnon who would keep the greater share and
distribute only a small portion to his generals::

As a mother bird brings back mouthfuls of food to her un-
fledged young ones whenever she finds it, but she herself suffers,
so also I have lain awake many nights . . . (9.323-25)

The ease with which the poet moves between similes of peace and
war is evident when Apollo heals Hector (15.262-280). At one minute
Hector is racing toward battle like a prideful and playful stallion,
then two lines later he is a lion. He has almost immediate effect on
the battle situation; the Greeks draw back in fear. To make this
transition all the more swift the simile precedes the action which it
illustrates: Hector is a lion who frightens hunters; just in that way
did Hector frighten the Greeks, an effective piece of story telling
which demonstrates the sensitivity of the poet to poetic background.


For battle, only a picture of harsh, realistic nature will satisfy.
Agamemnon's aristeia contains perhaps the most severe descriptions
of the pitiless natural world. 8 However, as soon as his wound
disables him, pain—like the pain of a woman in labor—strikes him,
and he is led from the plain. This sensitivity is further evident in
Book 3. Two places are contrasted—the city of Troy and the area of
the proposed individual combat. One is the place of war; the other,
the resting place for old men, the secure haven for families, a chamber
for Helen to weave her tapestry of battle scenes which are outside
and so distant, and a bedroom where Paris can make love. The similes
emphasize this contrast. When the narrative focuses on the
field, there are pictures of murderous birds descending on Pygmy
men, mists which aid the robber and blind the shepherd, a desperately
hungry lion who stops to eat from a fallen stag even though the
hunters are racing after him, and a man whose cheeks pale with
fear as he jumps back from a snake (3.2, 10, 23, and 33). But on the
wall the old men are like cicadas who sing through the forest. To
them even the plain looks peaceful; Odysseus is like a fleecy ram
among his flock and Priam remembers his words drifting like
winter snows (3.151, 196, 197, and 222). The narrative alternates
between the town of Troy and the battlefield until the very end of
the book. At the end of the book when the two locales are contrasted,
the simile helps in setting the tone of the battlefield:


Thus he spoke and led the way to the bed, and his wife followed
after him. These two then slept upon the corded bed, but the
son of Atreus wandered through the crowds of men like a wild
beast. . .

Homer was the poet of proportion and modulation. He composed
scenes in direct and seemingly uncomplex ways but always with a
sense for emphasizing the proper item to the proper extent. As he
developed each simile, he was aware of the tone and the atmosphere
which it created, and when appropriate, he made this tone correspond
to the narrative in which the simile was imbedded. 9


3. Peace in War

Since most similes follow the traditional practice and harmonize
with their contexts, those which contrast must have been all the more
effective. However, a good craftsman elicits all possible power from
his tools; the potential which the simile of peaceful nature had in
describing a peaceful scene intensified even more powerfully by
contrast the violence of a war scene. The aim remains good story
telling and such a goal needs no further justification or apology.

While a warrior is fighting in an aristeia, after a critical action has
been successfully completed, or when the fighting moves to a new
area and becomes more intense, there is often a pause in the action
preceding a new event. 10 Very commonly during this pause the poet
pulls his audience away from the immediacy of individual combat to
see the scene of the battlefield as a whole—where the armies are
and who has the upper hand at the moment. Then the poet focuses
on action in a new area with new heroes and new situations.
Because such scenes are designed to break the action, any similes
which appear in them are similes of peace. Such similes divert the
audience from the details of the battle and allow the poet to make
a fresh start in his scene of war. The focus of the fighting in Book 12
is the Greek wall. First Sarpedon, at the instigation of Zeus, assaults
and almost takes the wall. But before the wall is finally breached,
there is a scene of equal battle (12.413-438) in which two similes
of peace occur. The Greeks and the Lycians fight across the battlements
like two men quarreling over the boundary marker in a field;
the war is balanced just as a woman holds a balance weighing her
wool (12.421 and 433). This passage falls between two scenes of
warfare. Then the battle is described as equal until finally Hector
picks up a stone and dashes down the gates. Told without the
middle scene the facts of the story would be no different, but the
action would have been repetitive. The intervening passage allows
the poet to have two heroes attack the wall with no loss of glory


to either. Each has his own tactic; instead of one movement against
the wall there are two equal thrusts. One succeeds and one fails,
but Sarpedon is not eclipsed by Hector's success. And Homer can
allow the Greeks to defend their wall stubbornly by presenting the
battle as balanced which makes the scene more realistic even though
the battle efforts of the Greeks are being here ultimately frustrated
by Zeus.


There is also a pause in the action in Book 15 when the poet looks
away to the tent of Eurypylus and starts Patroclus back toward
the camp of Achilles. War is strained like a carpenter's line (15.410).
Before the scene the Trojans have just spilled over the wall; after
the scene the battle moves toward the ships with a definite break
between the two sections of the battle. The simile of peace in a war
situation makes the pause more emphatic. At 17.366 ff. there is a
long interval in a long battle. Before the pause the subject is the
fight to save the body of Patroclus; after the pause events begin to
turn toward Achilles. Automedon driving the horses of Achilles has a
small burst of glory after which Ajax suggests that Achilles be informed
of Patroclus' death. The second part of the book leads to Book 18.
In the pause the battle is balanced as both strive to pull the corpse
toward themselves; similarly men stretch a bull's hide by pulling it
on all sides (17.389). During the aristeia of Patroclus a major stop
occurs (16.632 ff.). Before the pause Patroclus had been a relieving
force for the Greeks; after it he disobeys Achilles' injunction and
presses toward the city. The fighting sounds like the noise of wood-
cutters and the warriors gather around the body of Sarpedon like
flies around a milk pail (16.633 and 641). A moment of peace in a
scene of war, a battle in which both sides are made equal—from
such a beginning the narrative begins a new direction with new
themes. 11

A troublesome passage is 13.455-495 which marks a pause in the
action while the Trojans under Aeneas and the Greeks under
Idomeneus gather about the body of Alcathous. Idomeneus is not
like a petted boy but a bristling boar (13.470 and 471). Then as


Aeneas gathers his companions, he is a shepherd rejoicing in his
obedient flock (13.492). Two of the images in this passage are
peaceful; but in the case of Idomeneus peace is depicted in the short
simile while the hunted boar is presented at length. Homer may
simply be concerned with the consistent characterization of Idomeneus,
and because this pause takes place within a brief aisteia,
he did not want to diminish the stature of his hero. The action is
slowed in preparation for a new situation, and peace aids the
retarding and detachment, but Idomeneus must remain the warrior
whose spirit stays at the high pitch appropriate to such an aristeia.
In a longer aristeia with a warrior who was better known there would
be time for variation.


With this exception the simile is extended into a scene of nature
at peace whenever it occurs in a general passage where the poet's
attention shifts from the immediate details of the battlefield. The
pause in the narrative, which is the formal device for changing
scenes, is often employed without a simile. When the simile is
present, it only reinforces what is being done in other ways through
the normal devices of the narrative, but in many cases the simile
also strengthens the effect of the pause.

Peaceful similes precede an aristeia. By playing down a man's
warlike features during the early activity when other warriors are
fighting, the poet prepares to show the hero's strength in combat
through contrast. When this main figure finally begins his aristeia
and is the only man on the scene, then the similes of war begin as
though the first section were merely preparation for what is now to
begin. Before Idomeneus is singled out in Book 13, there is a general
scene of clashing armies which come together like winds which blow
swiftly and raise a cloud of dust (13.334). As a prelude to Agamemnon's
single eminence men are likened to reapers; the battle does not
change until the hour when the woodcutter stops for lunch (11.67
and 85). Probably the introduction to the aristeia of Diomedes is the
longest and most complex, excepting of course that of the principal
character Achilles. The Greek troops go to battle rank after rank as
the sea, wave after wave, rolls up onto the beach. The Trojans clamor
with the squealing of ewes waiting to be milked. The two armies
meet with the noise of two falling rivers which pour together into a
deep gorge. A man is killed; he falls like a poplar which a craftsman
has cut to be the wheel rim on a beautiful chariot (4.422, 433, 452,
and 482). Finally when Diomedes himself appears, his armor


shines brightly like an autumn star which has just been dipped in
the ocean (5.5). 12


When Achilles arms, the long simile is a peaceful blaze in a
mountain clearing (19.375), though the joy of arming for war is
even more explicit:

The gleam rose up to the heavens and all the earth about them
was laughing with light shining off the bronze . . . (19.362-3)

A possible exception to this use of peaceful similes occurs as the
Myrmidons arm before the aristeia of Patroclus and are likened to
wolves and wasps, both warlike creatures (16.156 and 259). Patroclus
himself, however, is described by peaceful similes until he has
actually entered the battle. This departure from common practice
may be justified on the basis of good storytelling. Throughout the
last part of Book 15 the aim has been to throw fire on the ships. The
audience knows that the first flame on a ship will be the sign for the
re-entrance of Achilles, who in Book 16 waits for the first view of
smoke from the ships. As soon as it comes, the army springs into
action. This is not an army which has been fighting day after day
but a group of men who have waited to fight and threatened to
leave when denied the chance. To describe them arming and marching
to battle with images of peace would be inappropriate. They arm
quickly and eagerly in the spirit of wolves and wasps. Patroclus,
who will have plenty of time to show his skill, is led to battle in the
usual way. Only when he begins to fight, do similes of destructive
nature describe him.

The peaceful simile which contradicts its setting also shows the
inability of a warrior, either permanent or temporary. In Book 8 the
power of Zeus is made distressingly clear to the Greeks as threatens
the other gods, casts thunderbolts to stop Greek advances, and
thunders as the Greeks waver in their thoughts of advance or
retreat. In short, the resistance of the Greeks is futile, and they are


for the moment unable to succeed. Their inability is marked by
similes of peace describing Greeks who want to be warlike. Teucer,
the bowman, hides behind Ajax to steady himself for his shots; he
is like a child hiding behind its mother (8.271). He kills one man
who bows his head like a poppy overburdened with its own fruit and
the spring rains (8.306). In the eleventh book Zeus makes very clear
that the Trojans will carry the day from the time when Agamemnon
withdraws from battle. The rest of this book is a series of Greek
woundings; again the words of Zeus have made it clear that all
resistance is vain. Does this not explain why Ajax fighting like a
wild beast and like a lion also retreats like a stubborn ass (11.546,
548, and 558)? 13 Because of the terms which Achilles sets for his
return to the battle, the plan of Zeus must include the burning of the
ships. Once Zeus awakens from the sleep into which he was deceitfully
enticed by Hera, the plan proceeds on its inexorable path, and
the Greeks are helpless. As the Trojans come close to throwing fire
on the ships, the Greeks are characterized as a rock by the sea
which has endured the ages' endless succession of waves (15.618).
Opposed to them Hector is like a fire, like a wave which threatens
to sink a ship and drown the frightened sailors, and like a lion
attacking cattle (15.623, 624, and 630). At the end of the book
Ajax is hopping from ship to ship like a man who dances on horses;
Hector is a bloodthirsty eagle preying on small birds (15.679 and
690). In similes the victors are warlike; the losers, peaceful.


Finally, as a simile of peace can mark an unwarlike act, it can also
point up an act which is not to be credited to the warrior involved.
The poet has made clear that Zeus has planned the defeat of the
Greeks. Thus when Hector picks up a stone to hurl at the Greek


wall, the poet, while admitting that the rock is huge, also says that
Zeus made it light for Hector, who is merely the agent for Zeus' plan
at the moment. The Trojans, who want to break through the wall,
did not have a chance without the helping hand of Zeus all through
this episode. The simile of peace at this point emphasizes the dependency
of Hector (12.451). The situation and the subjects of the
similes are far different when Hector is healed by Apollo but runs
to battle to fight on his own. In the former scene Zeus' hand is
directly present aiding the characters while the latter, Apollo merely
enables and encourages Hector to do his best. 14 Similarly Athena
contrives the breaking of the truce. She swats the arrow to one side
like a mother shooing a fly away from her child; the blood from the
scrape runs down Menelaus' legs like red dye staining ivory, peaceful
comparisons that emphasize the hand of the goddess in the action
which is not being presented as true warfare (4.130 and 141). 15
Seldom does Homer ask his audience to accept a palpable fake.
Warlike similes in these scenes would put them on a par with
serious struggles, which they are not, and Homer says so.


There are then three repeated uses of the simile of peace placed
in a context of war:

    1. To further divert the attention of the audience from the details
      of a particular battle before a new action begins
    2. To stress the peaceful moments before battle begins and, thereby,
      to emphasize the warlike qualities of the narrative once battle
      has been joined


  1. To comment on the abilities of a warrior or the restrictions
    placed upon him.

4. Series of Similes

Although oral poets usually concentrate on the scene which they
are singing, there are several examples of a conscious paralleling of
narrative motifs through a series of similes. When the Trojans are
fighting to break the Greek wall, Zeus sends a wind from Mount Ida
which blows dust into the eyes of the Greeks and aids the Trojans.
Aid from Zeus in the form of wind is also suggested in the similes.
Zeus is in full control of the battle in Book 12.

The Argives broken by the whip of Zeus and crowded together
were held by the hollow ships in fear of Hector, a strong man
who had caused their panic; but he, as before, fought on like a
whirlwind. (12.37-40)

Leonteus and Polypoetes are like two oaks that stand against the
wind and the rain when they resist Asios' attack (12.132). Stones
fly through the air during the battle from both sides while the
winds are momentarily asleep (12.278). Finally the Trojans attack
the wall like a black whirlwind (12.375). The image of the wind,
which represents the Trojans, coupled with the actual wind in the
narrative keeps the reader aware that Zeus is controlling the battle
and that the Trojans must eventually take the wall, that the Greek
defense is futile.

There is another sequence of similes showing the might of Hector
when he is pushing the Greeks back toward the ships. First the
Greek lines are firm like rocks which stand fixed against wind and
wave. Hector attacks, and this time the wind and wave beat against
a ship, and the hearts of the sailors shudder with fear. When
Hector attacks again, he is a lion, and the Greeks are cattle guarded
by an ineffectual herdsman (15.615-638). The progress from firmness
to flight is told more in the similes than it is in the narrative. The
Trojan becomes a stronger opponent as the Greeks weaken.

In the aristeia of Patroclus there is a sequence from clear weather
to storm which follows the development of the action. When
Patroclus puts out the fire on the ship offering relief to the Greeks,
it is as though Zeus had moved a cloud and let the heavens be seen


clearly (16.297). The Trojans retreat from the ships driven by
Patroclus as when a cloud moves over the sky; as Hector flees over
the ditch to avoid Patroclus, his horses sound like rivers which rush
to the plain swollen by the violent storm of Zeus (16.364 and 384).


5. The Aristeia of Achilles

Usually the connection from simile to simile is in the continuity
of tone rather than subject: groups of images of destructive nature
in passages about war, groups of images of tranquil nature in unwarlike
scenes. This is true only to a limited extent in the culmination
of the Iliad, the aristeia of Achilles. Since this final section is the
goal toward which action throughout the Iliad has been directed,
the poet seems to have lavished special care here in all poetic
features including the simile.

Book 18 is a book of decision; Achilles now yearns to enter the
battle, a decision reflected in the changes in the narrative elements.
Thetis appears in the beginning of the book as the consoling, troubled
mother; at the end she helps her son toward war by bringing him
new armor. Achilles, who has no armor at the beginning of the book,
is fully prepared when the book closes. The sun sets, the sign that
Hector's day of glory has come to an end, that a different type of
day will dawn. The movement of the book in its various details is
from peace to war. The similes accompany the build up of anger.
At first Achilles is called a sapling or a tree on the slope of an orchard
(18.56 and 57), an appropriately peaceful image since he promises
his mother that he will remain out of the battle until she brings him
new armor (134 ff. and 188 ff.). Hera, however, sends Iris to spur
him into the fight over Patroclus (170 ff.). As he goes to appear on
the wall, he makes his first minor entrance into battle. Athena gives
him temporary armor by flinging her aegis around his shoulders and
placing fire above his head. To accompany the rebirth of his warlike
spirit the fire from his head shines like the gleam of signal fires
within a besieged city, and his voice is that of a trumpet when a
town is being attacked (207 and 219). Then, when he weeps over the
corpse of Patroclus, his anger rises like that of a lion deprived of his
cubs (318), a subject so often applied to warriors in battle. As he
sits with the body, he gathers the fury which will take him to success
on the battlefield. Such a gradual rise of anger does not prelude the
other aristeiai in the Iliad. Usually preparations for battle are
described with similes of peace until the warrior actually enters


battle and this will be true of Achilles when his final preparation
for battle begins. But Book 18 contains a new topic—the movement
from peace to war inside the soul, and it is this movement which is
followed by similes which are consistent with the developing
atmosphere of the book.


Thetis also joins in the movement from peace to war. She plays
three roles in Book 18 symbolizing her change from inactive mother
to active helper. She is sitting with the Nereids when she hears the
groans of her son. After a lament they all come to the camp where
Thetis tries to console Achilles and tells him his fate if he kills
Hector. Up to this point Thetis tries to discourage her son from
fighting. Then she goes to the forge of Hephaestus sending the
Nereids back to the cave in the sea. The departure of her companions
in the lament is a visual way of indicating an inner change: she has
cast off her mourning and now becomes a supporter of the war
which her son will wage. Finally she appears carrying the armor
as the harbinger of war. The similes follow this change. Before she
returns with the new armor, she describes her son in peaceful
similes in the cave of the old man and in the house of Hephaestus;
she sees him as a sapling and a tree in an orchard (56, 57, 437 and
438). However, when she comes to the camp with the new arms, the
simile is no longer peace; she is a bird of prey (616). 16

The nineteenth book is the story of reconciliation and arming in
which fire is the key image in the similes. When Achilles sees the
weapons, his eyes gleam with fire (17). Athena infuses him with
divine energy for the day's work coming like a bird of prey (350).
As his men arm, his eyes shine with fire, his shield shines like the
moon or a fire on a mountain seen from the sea, his helmet gleams
like a star, and he goes to battle like brilliant Hyperion (366, 374,
375, 381, and 398). In Book 18 the similes accompanied the rise of


anger, but now since the hero is about to enter battle, the extended
simile is a peaceful one (375). 17


In the next three books, which describe the course of the fighting
until the death of Hector, three types of tonal theme are mixed in
the similes: fire, destruction, and peace. Fire, which is used throughout
the Iliad as a description of a warrior, becomes almost uniquely
the image of Achilles by the end of the Iliad. 18 It is more than an
image. Fire burns around his head when he appears on the wall, and
Hephaestus sears the river Scamander with his fire. Fire grows with
the anger of Achilles in Book 18 and shines from his weapons in
Book 19. His hands are flame, and he rages like a fire in a deep
forest (20.371 and 490). When he chases the Trojans into the river,
he is like a fire which drives locusts (21.12). He appears to Priam
like a star which brings fever to men, and his arms are bright like
fire or the sun as he approaches Hector (22.26 and 134).

Second, images of nature at war form part of the background as is
appropriate for any aristeia. Achilles threatens Aeneas like an
enraged lion and later a ruinous forest fire (20.164 and 490). Like
a ravenous dolphin after smaller fish he attacks the Trojans whom
he has driven into the river, and he leaps away from the pursuing
river like a black eagle, the hunter bird (21.22 and 252). While
Hector awaits Achilles like an angered snake (22.93), Achilles
chases him as a falcon chases a dove or a dog chases a deer (22.139
and 189). Hector rushes on Achilles the way an eagle rushes on a
lamb (22.308).

These two types of similes would be expected in an aristeia, but
Homer surprisingly describes the fighting of Achilles with many
images of peace. Achilles kills Hippodamas who bellows like a
sacrificial bull at the altar while Poseidon rejoices in the sacrifice
(20.403). As bulls tread down barley on a threshing floor, so do
Achilles' horses trample over the dead bodies and the axle is


sprinkled with blood (20.495). The river threatens to overwhelm
Achilles just as a man guiding a stream for irrigation is outdistanced
by the fast flowing water, and he may die like a swineherd boy who
is swept away by the river (21.257 and 282). 19 Achilles runs lightly
toward the city of Troy like a race horse, and in his pursuit of
Hector the two are like two horses which race around a turning
point (22.22 and 162). Finally the similes of fire and those of peace
are joined to describe the spear point which will kill Hector:


Just as one star which goes among the others in the darkness of
the night, the Evening Star, which stands as the most beautiful
star in the heavens, such was gleam from the sharp spear which
Achilles was shaking . . . (22.317-20)

These similes of peace are particularly important because they
are unusual in a scene of war. If they were the only indication of an
undercurrent of peace opposing the narrative of war, there would
probably be no point in stressing them. However the physical
background is also not that of other aristeiai. When other men fight,
the poet through general scenes of the armies or the constant
presence of comrades makes his audience aware that the warrior is
always in the midst of the battlefield; and yet Achilles fights alone.
He meets his opponents alone and so completely dominates the
action that the other heroes and the rest of the army are scarcely
mentioned. Achilles is not always in the midst of the conventional
battlefield. In Book 21 he fights at the river Scamander:

But when they came to the crossing place of the fair flowing
river, the swirling Xanthus, whose father was the immortal
Zeus. . .

Half of the men were crowded into the deep stream with its
silver whirls . . .

But the god-born Achilles left his spear there on the bank
leaning against the tamarisks . . . (21.1-2; 7-8; 17-18)


This is scarcely the background against which other heroes have
fought. The chase around the city of Troy has also a different

They ran by the watching place and the wind-blown fig tree
ever away from the wall along the wagon track, and they came
to the fair-flowing springs. There the two source springs of the
whirling Scamander spout up. The one runs with hot water and
from it steam rises as though from a burning fire; but the other
even in summer runs water like hail or cold snow or ice that
forms from water. There beside these are the magnificent stone
washing basins where the wives of the Trojans and their fair
daughters washed their clothes clean in peace time before the
sons of the Achaeans came. (22.145-56)

Once again this is a background appropriate for peacetime activity,
not for the slaughter of Hector. Beauty and peace form the physical
background and color the actions of the characters in this section of
the narrative.

The shield of Achilles in Book 18 is both physical and poetic
background. It is physical background simply by being a material
possession of a warrior. But it is poetic background because it is
decorated with so many images which are similar to the other images
which are present throughout the aristeia of Achilles. Peace and war
are both represented. One city is at peace; marriages, festivals, and
justice are its activities. Ploughmen drink honey-sweet wine as they
turn their ploughs; while reapers bind sheaves, girls and young men
whistle and sing as they gather grapes. Cattle are driven to pasture,
and sheep feed in fields. Dancers whirl in the theater. But the other
city is under siege and men wait in ambush; the goddesses Strife,
Confusion, and Death go along the battlelines. A bull is attacked
by two lions while the herdsmen set dogs against them. In the
center of the shield are the heavens dotted with constellations;
around the rim is the endless river Ocean. The shield is not a simile,
and yet many of its subjects are the same as those in the similes: a
city at war, ploughmen, reapers, lions attacking herds, and flocks of
sheep. The shield is a picture of the ordered daily life of mankind;
it is a summary of the universe in motion—both peace and war, life
and death, justice and treachery. This shield with its cluster of


images stands at the beginning of Achilles' aristeia. Homer describes
separately the detailed pictures embossed upon it; but when
Achilles picks it up, he sees only the red glow of fire (19.374 ff.). 20
In many ways—in the isolated fighting of Achilles, the inappropriateness
of the scenery in which he fights, the detail on the shield
which he bears to battle, and in many of the similes—the aristeia of
Achilles differs from the other aristeiai of the Iliad.


In Book 23 when peace is restored to the Greek camp, the similes
are all of peace. In Book 24 though Achilles is externally calm, his
anger is unabated and dies slowly. Warlike similes describe his
anger; he is a lion, and Iris goes to Thetis like a weight attached to a
fish hook which brings death to fishes (24.41, 572, and 80).

But why is there such a contrast between the acts of the hero and
the way in which they are presented? It is a poetic way of representing
the strange behavior of Achilles. He stands out from all the
other warriors of the Iliad because he is playing the role of the
vengeful warrior with uncharacteristic strictness. Though previously
Achilles had taken men like Lycaon alive and sold them for
ransom, now he will not even acknowledge the suppliant Trojan
at his knees. Hector asks him to honor his body at least when he is
dead, and Achilles not only refuses but so dishonors the corpse that
the gods are distressed. To show the inversion of nature, gods fight
gods in severe battle—although no harm can come to them—and,
against all experience, fire extinguishes water as Scamander
retreats before Hephaestus.

At the end of the poem Achilles regains the humanity which must
be a part of every heroic warrior. Diomedes can talk to Glaucus and
even exchange gifts in the midst of war; Ajax and Hector can fight
like mortal enemies, but when the single combat is over, they
exchange compliments and gifts. Such actions do not detract from
the honor of a warrior, but show these men are aware of the bonds of
humanity which unite them. To praise excellence in an enemy is no
vice, but this Achilles will not do. To him for the moment all
Trojans are enemies who are to be destroyed and desecrated after
death, a vain doctrine, and Achilles finds no satisfaction in maltreating
the body of Hector. Only the humanity of Priam shakes Achilles'
anger and pride; Priam, though a king, pays homage to the excellence
of his son's slayer by kneeling before him.


The disparity between the heroic code as exemplified by true
warriors and the gruesome semblance of it practiced by Achilles is
shown in his actions and the reactions of the gods. Achilles' sleeplessness,
weeping, and solitary wandering are symptoms of the emptiness
left by Patroclus' death. Dishonoring Hector's lifeless body
offers no relief and only outrages the gods, as when Apollo points up
Achilles' inhumanity by saying that other men suffer personal loss
and forget; the Moirai have put an enduring spirit in all men but
Achilles (24.46 ff.). This disparity is reinforced by the similes and
the physical setting, both of which create a thoroughly contrasting
tone to that of a true heroic aristeia.

The similes are small in scope, but as the poet extended them
from the basic subject, he could develop each one to emphasize or
contradict his story. If there was a contradiction, the singer was
probably commenting on some element in the narrative. The similes
in the aristeia of Achilles, though a purely secondary method by
which the poet could indicate his feelings, effectively underline the
basic themes of the great battle, the disillusionment, and the rebirth
of human sensitivity in Achilles. The aristeia of Achilles combines
many of the uses of the simile which are seen scattered throughout
the rest of the narrative. This story of a great warrior finding inner
peace is the culmination of the Iliad and reveals both in the building
of the larger tale and in the extension of the similes the hand of a
practiced and sensitive poet.

II. The Similes of the Odyssey

The simile is not as vital a poetic technique in the Odyssey as it is
in the Iliad, therefore any comment is based on a smaller amount of
significant evidence and leads to conclusions which are often
conjectural. There are two explanations for the lack of firm evidence
in the Odyssey. First, a modern critic requires many extended
similes with adequate parallels, both of which the Odyssey lacks,
the number of similes being only about one-third that of the Iliad.
Because the plots of the two poems are so different, the number of
parallel instances which can be taken from the Iliad and applied
to the Odyssey is slight. Second, sixty percent of the similes in the
Odyssey are short, and for the most part it is impossible to ascertain
the intent of the poet in singing a short simile. Waves as big as
mountains or mountain-sized people do not lend any ascertainable


atmospheric touch to the narrative but they merely express size
(3.290, 9.190,10.113, and 11.243). 21 Similes of the sun and the moon
are not drawn out but indicate the brightness of a palace or cloak
(4.45, 7.84, 18.296, 19.234, and 24.148). Without these two sources
of evidence a view of the similes in the Odyssey which approaches
our understanding of the similes in the Iliadis impossible.


There are, however, no similes in the Odyssey which are used so
differently from their counterparts in the Iliad that the hand of another
poet or the marks of another tradition can be clearly proved.
The plot of the Odyssey differs so radically from that of the Iliad
that seeming discrepancies can often be explained by reference to
the basic stories. The Odyssey is focused on one man who meets
many different creatures in many different settings; the Iliad is
about many different men who meet each other in the same place
for the same type of activity, war. If one of the functions of the
simile is to provide variation and interest, there simply is less need
for similes in the Odyssey because of the constantly shifting setting
and the varied, wondrous characters who fill the scenes. Yet those
similes which do occur in the Odyssey seem to be placed, given
subjects, and extended in the same way as the similes in the Iliad.
Subjugated to the story and the narrative demands of individual
scenes, the similes in the Odyssey are sung with due regard for their
traditional qualities and with full feeling for the tone which they
lend to the narrative.

The Odyssey contains similes of peace and of war, both of which
are used to the same effect as they were in the Iliad. For example,
the young princess, who comes with her companions to wash her
fine clothes, meets Odysseus, the unclad solitary stranger cast from
the sea. The maid is compared to Artemis running jubilantly on the
mountain slopes with her companions while Odysseus is a hungry,
weather-worn lion who yearns for food (6.102 and 130). As Odysseus
gains admittance into the royal household the simile shows the
change in him; his hair is like hyacinth, and Athena sheds grace
upon him as a craftsman overlays silver with gold (6.231 and 232).
Later when Odysseus takes his vengeance on the suitors, the alternation
between peaceful and destructive views of nature is similar to
the treatment of aristeiai in the Iliad. As Odysseus' anger swells, he
snarls like a bitch standing over her pups when she senses danger


(20.14). When the warrior is actually in the process of preparing for
battle—the fetching and stringing of the bow—the similes become
peaceful; the battle is about to begin, but for the moment there is
peace. As Penelope opens the doors of the storeroom, they bellow
like a bull grazing in the meadow. Odysseus strings the weapon of
revenge as though it were a lyre; when he plucks the string, it sings
like a swallow (21.48, 21.406 and 411). Then follows a series of
individual encounters. Odysseus and his loyalists attack like vultures
which slay defenseless birds (22.302). When Odysseus surveys the
fallen suitors, he sees them as a heap of fish who lie dying on a sandy
beach; he sits amid them like a blood-covered lion (22.384 and 402).
The women holding their heads ready for the noose are like thrushes
or doves which have fallen into a trap (22.468). However, when the
fighting is over, Odysseus is once again beautified with hyacinth
hair and a golden grace; Penelope is as happy as men who finally
reach land after their ship has been sunk (23.158, 159, and 233).


A simile of peace in a warlike setting marks the inability of
warriors in the Odyssey's battle book, Book 22, where two such
similes are placed together (22.299 and 302). The suitors are driven
like cattle while Odysseus and his men are compared to vultures.

Perhaps the most noticeable departure from the Iliad is the use
of a continuing theme in the similes. Whenever a certain subject
arises, it attracts the same type of simile. When the murder of
Agamemnon is mentioned, the simile is of a slain animal: twice of an
ox at the stall and once of swine slain for a banquet (4.535 and
11.411; 11.413). In the Iliad from Book 18 through 22 fire similes
are always applied to Achilles; but fire is a common simile describing
several warriors in the Iliad. In the Odyssey there are certain simile
subjects which run throughout the poem as secondary themes. The
lion was a traditional image for the warrior; yet similes of lions
accompany the lonely Odysseus and the delicate Penelope. Odysseus
is the man who might fight continually to win his way home and
even in his own palace must fight for his rights; in his battle from a
homeless, lonely existence to full recognition and acceptance by his
family he is often compared to a lion. This comparison arises, too,
when people talk about the revenge which Odysseus will exact from
the suitors. Menelaus tells Telemachus that his father will unleash a
cruel doom just as a lion devours two fawns, a statement Telemachus
reports word for word (4.335 and 17.126). When Odysseus
emerges from the bush in Phaeacia, he is like a lion (6.130). Penelope,


a subtle resister of the suitors and a partisan of Odysseus, fears
like a lion who is being fenced in by men (4.791). Finally Odysseus
after he has slain the suitors is:


spattered with blood and filth like a lion who departs after
feeding on an ox in the countryside—his chest and his jaws on
either side are bloody and he is a terrible sight to see (22.402-5)

From the start of the poem this revenge is foreshadowed in the
thoughts and actions of Odysseus and Penelope. Part of the fore-
shadowing is represented in the lion similes sung throughout the
poem at the mention of their names and recalled at the moment of
triumph. 22

A thematic group of similes of family relationship crowd about
Telemachus, Odysseus, and Penelope. When Telemachus speaks,
the images of the father-son relationship seem to spring to his lips.
He tells Athena-Mentes that she is as kind to him as a father is to a
son, and he reminds the townspeople that Odysseus was a fatherly
king to them (1.308 and 2.47). Eumaeus greets Telemachus as a
father greets his only son (16.17). He tells Penelope that he was
welcomed by Nestor as enthusiastically as a son is welcomed by his
father (17.111). Odysseus is also depicted by family similes. Mentor
and Athena say that he ruled as gently as a father (2.234 and 5.12).
On reaching land he rejoices as children rejoice when they learn
that their father will recover from an illness (5.394). When Demodocus
sings of the fall of Troy, Odysseus weeps like a woman who sees
her husband cut down before the gates of his city (8.523). Odysseus
and Telemachus meet in the swineherd's hut and wail like birds
bereft of their young (16.216). As Penelope tells of her vacillation
before the suitors, she is like Aedon who laments the death of her
son (19.518). Similes of family life and love surround these three
characters who are struggling to return to their peaceful existence—
an existence which they enjoyed before the family was shattered by


the Trojan War and which will only be regained when the lord of
the house once again walks as master in his halls. 23


These two motifs are developed in similes over the whole length
of the poem. Because the Iliad is not a poem which tells a story as
continuously as the Odyssey, it offers no examples of such an
extended theme. The Odyssey is a different story lending itself to a
different style; the similes aid the poet in telling this type of continuing
story more vividly. 24

Tradition seems to have suggested the placement and the subject
of the individual simile, while the poet exerted his own sense of the
story in continuing each simile beyond the basic subject. In several
repeated situations the poet chose to develop his subject in similar
ways and thus offered proof that he was fully conscious of augmenting
his own telling of the tale in extending his simile. Each simile
could be extended six or seven lines or cut off after a short half-line
phrase; thus lion similes are sometimes very long, often medium,
and sometimes short. The creation of proper atmosphere seems to
have been an important goal for the oral poet. His task was to keep
the story moving while giving each element the proper stress since,
in essence, he was striving to make the story easier to understand
and more interesting. The extension of the simile was not dictated
by the details of the surrounding story or the narrative demands of
the situation within the simile; rather the decision to stop or to
continue was made by the poet as he sang each simile and attempted
to achieve a certain effect in developing its particular details. If
the simile did not balance the narrative in all its elements—or
perhaps in almost none—no harm was done as long as the dramatic
illusion of the poem was maintained. Critics have tried often to
explain the connection between the groans of Agamenon and the
lightning of Zeus (10.5). In oral poetry no precise balance is needed;
establishing a mood of anticipation is reason enough for the simile.
If the simile continued in its own development further than the
narrative situation and thus created a confused and unfulfilled
foreshadowing of coming events, the poet was not disturbed. He and


his audience were aware that the simile did not have to match
detail with detail. The ravenous wolves are stuffed with their prey,
while the Myrmidons have not set foot on the battlefield (16.155
ff.), but there is no difficulty here for an oral poet or for his audience.
The extended simile is a kind of independent poem which lends a
tone to the whole of the narrative in which it is imbedded even
though it may not offer much information about that scene.


Notes — Chapter Four

1. The simile is not the only method of coloring a scene with apprehension.
For example, with their knowledge of destiny the gods can act directly.
When Zeus sends an omen—an eagle clutching a snake—to Troy, the snake
is in desperate straits but escapes. Polydamas interprets this sign clearly
though Hector disavows all belief in birds (12.200 ff.). Zeus ponders the
timing of Patroclus' death (16.644 ff.). Direct action of men can also be
significant. Achilles knowing Patroclus' abilities has told his comrade to
give relief but not to go further. At 16.686 Patroclus goes further:

... if he had only regarded the word of the son of Peleus, he would
have fled the evil fate of black death.

Such passages, however, distract the audience from the course of events even
though there may be an appropriate pause in the narrative for such an
insertion. A simile is probably more effective; it does not require such a
pause, it allows the narrative to proceed from the same point, and it can
more directly communicate emotion.


2. W. Moog, "Naturgliechnisse und Naturschilderungen bei Homer,"
Zeitschrift für angewandte Psychologie 6 (1912) 123-173 on p. 134, speaks of
such similes: "In ihnen sieht der Mensch das unheilvolle Wirken elementarer
Gewalten, er fürchtet ihr Kommen, er ahnt das Losbrechen des Sturms, und
er freut sich über ihr Verschwinden."

3. G. E. Duckworth, Foreshadowing and Suspense in the Epics of Homer,
Apollonius, and Vergil
(Princeton 1933), pp. 14-15 and "Proanaphonesis in
the Scholia to Homer," AJP 52 (1931), pp. 320-338 suggests that similes do
more than awake fear and doubt in the audience; they foreshadow coming

4. 2.209, 6.347, 9.182, 13.798, 23.59.

5. The physical description of the battlefield is simple. Homer keeps the
general area in mind and adheres to the plan in his scattered short references
to the battlefield. There are two tombs of fairly large size—Aesyetes and
Ilus (2.793; 10.415, 12.166 and 371, 24.349). The tomb of Aesyetes is a
watch post for the Trojans while the Tomb of Ilus seems to be far away from
the city and relatively near the Greek ships; Hector calls a conference there
when the Trojans fill the field up to the wall (10.415). There is also a rise on
the plain far from Troy (10.160 and 11.56) which may be near the tomb of
Myrine (2.814). Two trees designate location. The fig tree is toward the city
but not too near; the oak tree is at the Scaean gates. These locations are
neatly summarized as Agamemnon chases the Trojans away from the ships:

The Trojans raced by the tomb of ancient Ilus, son of Dardanus, through
the middle ground of the plain by the fig tree, as they rushed toward
the city. Agamemnon crying after them followed them close and his
invincible hands were spotted with the bloody filth. But when they
came to the Sceaean gate and the oak tree, there they took a stand. . .
(11.166 ff.)

Andromache advises Hector to fortify this spot, and the city will be safe, but
the strategic nature of this point is not mentioned again. There is another
tree at 5.693. Finally the best indications of corpses are 8.489 ff. and 10.199.
The battlefield seems a consistently drawn backdrop for war.


6. The peaceful simile of flowers and grains of sand by which Iris describes
the hordes of approaching Greeks seems to deny this statement (2.800).
However there is a larger narrative function in which this simile is involved.
The men are put in battle order before the listener during the Catalogue, and
then they immediately begin to move to battle. They move forward like the
fire that sweeps the land and are as heavy as the lightning of Zeus strafing
the earth. But now the action must be retarded. The Greeks are on their
way, but the Trojans must organize in similar fashion. Zeus sends Iris to
prepare the Trojans which guarantees that they will not be unprepared for
the attack, thus removing excitement at the thought of surprise attack and
slowing the pace of the narrative. Iris' disguise is fully described. If there
were need for rush, it would not have been mentioned or it would have been
more briefly described. For example, Athena speaks directly to Diomedes
when he must escape quickly (10.507 ff.); Iris does not pause for a disguise
when she tells Hector to stay out of battle until Agamemnon is wounded
(11.195 ff.). In Book 2 the description of Iris-Polites slows the action. The
simile of peace aids in diverting the listeners' attention from the anticipated
battle. The similes of war in Book 3 show both armies on the march (3.2 and

7. They are mentioned in the catalogue of ships at 2.740 ff. At 6.29 Polypoetes
kills Astyalus.

8. Cf. 11.113, 155, and 172.

9. Similar technique is evident in the series of similes at the end of Book 17.
The Greeks carry off Patroclus. The Trojans charge like hunting dogs after a
boar. Fighting grows about them like a fire which destroys a city. Menelaus
and Meriones take away the body like a team of mules pulling a ship timber.
The Ajaxes hold back the enemy as a ridge holds back a destructive flood.
Aeneas and Hector chase the Greeks who scatter like small birds before a
falcon (17.722-761). The only simile drawn from nature at peace—the
mules—is applied to the heroes who are unable to fight because they are
carrying the body (17.742).

10. Cf. U. Hölscher, Untersuchungen zur Form der Odyssee {Berlin 1939).
pp. 40-41.

11. Although not in a general scene, the simile at 17.4 is in the pause
following the aristeia of Patroclus. Action stops for an exchange of speeches
between the victorious Hector and the dying Patroclus and then begins again
in the battle over his body. The description of Menelaus as a cow over her
young marks the break before the battle enlarges to a greater number of

12. In both the introductions of Agamemnon's and Diomedes' aristeiai
there is a short simile of wolves (4.471 and 11.72). Although the similes are
short, it is difficult to see any tone in them other than hostility and destruction.

On the other hand they are not developed as wolf similes can be to show
extreme hostility (cf. 16.156 and 352), and they are formulaic—in fact
repeated. Since the longer and consequently stressed similes in both passages
emphasize peace, I feel that the interpretation here presented is justified.

13. If the interpretation in Chapter 2, n. 32 is correct, there is an appropriateness
to the ass simile here. Previously in Book 11 Greek heroes have been
compared to heroic beasts: Odysseus and Diomedes to boars (324), Diomedes
to a lion (383), Odysseus to an embattled boar (414), and Ajax
to a lion (474). Lines 544-574 are a summary scene which presents the last
view we shall have of the general battle for 300 lines. Following this scene
Eurypylus is wounded; later he will lend weight to Nestor's arguments by
raising Patroclus' compassion for his fellow Greeks. The rest of the book is
Nestor's attempt to persuade Achilles to save the Greeks. The valiant Ajax
fighting like a wild beast and like a lion (546 and 548), but incapable of
holding his ground and retreating stubbornly like a mule (558), is a symbol
of Greek despair. The plan of Zeus presses against the Greeks, and Zeus
himself is compelling Ajax to retreat (544). The simile of the unwarlike
mule further indicates the Greeks' helplessness.

14. The hand of Zeus dominates the battle in book 12. The wall will not
hold the Trojans back (3). Zeus whips the Greeks (37 ft.). Zeus plans to
give Hector glory, not Asius (173 f.). Zeus sends a blinding dust storm
against the Greeks (252 ff.). Zeus rouses Sarpedon; if he had not, the wall
would not have been taken (290 ff.). Zeus protects Sarpedon as he rips
away bits of battlement (402 f.). The battle is evened out until Zeus gives
Hector his glory, and he, as the first Trojan, penetrates the wall (437 ff.).
When this task is done, Zeus can look away (13.1 ff.). The warriors are given
and denied glory at the whim of Zeus. When Hector breaks down the doors,
he is in himself strong and able, but Zeus is responsible for his success. The
scholion at 12.450 explains the rejection of this line by Zenodotus, Aristophanes,
and Aristarchus as unsuitable because it diminishes Hector's power.
I feel that the power of Zeus in the battle is sufficiently demonstrated to
tolerate this line. If my interpretation of the simile at 451 is correct, the
line is most appropriate. Cf. the use of wind similes discussed in the following

15. Another example is at 15.362; Apollo pushes over the Greek wall as
easily as a child scatters sand on the beach.

16. Thetis plays three successive roles in book eighteen symbolic of her
change from inactive mother to active helper—peace to war. First, she is
sitting with the Nereids when she hears the groans of her son; they all
lament (18.35 ff.). Thetis and the Nereids come to the camp. Thetis tries to
console Achilles and tells him his fate if he kills Hector. Second, she goes to
the forge of Hephaestus but sends the Nereids back to the cave in the sea.
When the Nereids leave her, she has cast off her mourning (a psychological
change made visual in the departure of her mourning companions) and
becomes a supporter of the war which her son will wage. Finally, she appears
carrying the armor as the direct agent of battle; Achilles has said that he will
not enter war until she brings the armor.

17. Supra, p. 103 ff.

18. Whitman discusses the extent of the fire imagery in his chapter 7,
"Fire and Other Elements." It is significant that Patroclus never has a fire
simile applied to him. He is Achilles' substitute and has limitations set upon
him by Achilles. He cannot carry the large spear of Peleus (16.140 ff.). His
chariot is drawn by two immortal horses and one mortal, Pedasus (16.152 ff.).
Fire does not illuminate the heroic fighting of Patroclus. He himself receives
no similes as he arms. These poetic impediments are gone when Achilles
enters the fighting; cf. J. I. Armstrong, "The Arming Motif in the Iliad,"
AJP 79 (1958), pp. 337-354.

19. There are two similes of peace in this section—one for Hephaestus and
one for Scamander (21.346 and 362). These may contribute to the peaceful
similes describing the battle throughout the aristeia but also may describe
the presence of the gods' hands in a battle. Cf. supra, p. 110 ff.

20. For a discussion of the use of the shield see Whitman, pp. 205-206 and
K. Reinhardt, Die Ilias und Ihr Dichter (Göttingen 1961), pp. 401-411.

21. In this section all references are to the Odyssey.

22. The only other lion simile describes the Cyclops devouring two men, an
image that shows the roughness and bestiality of this savage. He is a lion
while the Greeks are puppies (9.289 and 292).

Odysseus and Penelope are each compared to lions one-sixth of the time
that they are accompanied by a simile (Odysseus: 4 out of 25; Penelope: 1 out
of 6).

23. These similes are used a significant number of times. One-quarter of
Odysseus' similes refer to the family (6 out of 25); Telemachus has one-half
family similes (4 out of 8) ; Penelope, one-sixth (1 out of 6).

24. Cf. Whitman, Chapter 12, "The Odyssey and Change" and M. van der
Valk, "The Formulaic Character of Homeric Poetry and the Relation between
the Iliad and the Odyssey," LAntiquité Classique 35 (1966), pp. 5-70.



The preceding three chapters have described the inception and
development of the individual simile from a mixture of the inherited
oral tradition and the poet's own sense of good narration. There
are certain implications in such a theory which may seem hard to
accept, especially those regarding the independent and autonomous
nature of the simile. It is natural and easy to assume that a pervasive
complementary relationship between each simile and its narrative
has been created by the unifying touch of the poet, and such an
assumption may be perceptive and valuable in regard to a written
masterpiece like the Aeneid. It is, however, largely inapplicable to
an oral poem. 1

In several basic aspects the relation between simile and narrative
in Homeric poetry is slight:

  1. The Placement of the Simile: The same type of narrative may
    have a long simile or a short one or no simile at all or even
    two similes; the simile in conception is a separate unit which can
    be added or subtracted easily from a scene.
  2. Point of Comparison: Some similes have an obvious
    connection to the narrative while others still defy commentators,
    and, in addition, there are those in which the point of comparison
    shifts while the poet is singing the simile. 2 The precision of
    balance between one object in the narrative and one in the
    simile is of secondary concern. Of major importance to the poet
    is the presence or absence of the simile; its connection to its
    passage is a formal concern and occupies the poet only briefly.
  3. Extension of the Simile: The simile is a very small atmospheric
    or tonal unit. It reinforces the direction and subtleties of
    the narrative; but it does not tell the story and can disagree


    with the details of the surrounding narrative. The length of the
    extension is determined by the poet's wishes in coloring each
    scene; which is to say that the length of the simile is controlled by
    the poetic needs of the total passage and the amount of extension
    required to create a simile of unambiguous tone.

These three conclusions, which have been derived from an examination
of individual similes and their settings, imply that the oral
tradition's regulatory force is based more upon suggestion than
dictation. When the poet chose to use a certain type of simile, his
thinking about placement and subject matter was conditioned by
the surrounding narrative and his remembrance of previous performances.
The narrative did not require that the poet follow one
and only one recommendation of the tradition; he chose between
several alternate suggestions. Similarly, when the poet extended
his simile, he could always have attempted to devise a series of
details which closely paralleled the narrative, but he seems to have
sought to match only the tone of the simile with the surrounding
narrative. The oral tradition cannot and does not, of itself, compel
the poet to choose unwillingly the length, the subject, the location,
or the tone of his simile. The poet remains free to develop each
simile as he wishes.

Thus the poet is as free in formulating the individual simile as he
is in singing any scene in the narrative. It is, therefore, to be
expected that the types of materials available to him in terms of
words, phrases, and longer blocks of lines should enable him to
compose each simile as a unit independent from the narrative.
Only if he is adequately supplied with such materials will the interpretation
of the similes offered in this study be consistent with our
knowledge of oral verse-making. Consequently it is important to
determine the kinds of formulaic or linguistic units in which the
oral poet composed. There are two topics for examination which aid
in isolating the irreducible units of oral composition found in the

  1. The repeated similes
  2. Methods of extending the simile

I. Homer's Repeated Similes

The repeated similes in the Iliad and the Odyssey are important
evidence which must be fitted into any theory concerning our


understanding of the oral poet or the composition of the poems.
One theory explains that similes are consciously repeated by a
master poet who dominated the construction of the whole Iliad or
the whole Odyssey. 3 In this theory such similes become small bits of
evidence for a strongly unitarian point of view. Alternatively,
one of the pair of repeated similes is criticised as a pale reflection or
mindless copy of the other—which then, of course, becomes vigorous
and forthright, well-set and suited to the surrounding narrative. 4
From such disagreement it is, at the very least, clear that one's
interpretation of repeated similes must somehow be consistent with
one's conception of the composition of the poems. 5


There are numerous repeated similes in the Iliad and the Odyssey.
In fact, it seems inevitable for an oral poet to repeat short similes
coming at the close of the line and filling a conventional space.
For example, the following repeated simile-phrases fall between
the Bucolic diaeresis and the end of the line:



The choice between several of these metrically equivalent phrases
depends on the context: Ajax attracts the phrase "like a tower."
However there seems little reason on the basis of immediate context
to choose "like a wild beast" over "like a whirlwind"; there are
enough examples of warriors attacking like various wild animals
—lions or boars—that there appears no reason for the poet to neglect
the phrase "θηρὶ ἐοικὼς" when speaking of Nestor's attack at
11.747. 6 It is clear that there are metrical considerations which
would suggest this list of similes to the poet often enough for him to
repeat them. The instances of the wild beast and whirlwind similes
imply that several simile units may have been interchangeable
provided that their subjects did not drastically disagree with the
surrounding narrative and were sanctioned as alternates by the oral
tradition; timid fawns and savage animals are essentially so different
that they are probably not alternatives for any one context.

More interesting are the eight repeated longer similes ranging from
two lines to eight lines; each pair is contained exclusively in only one
of the poems so that there is no necessary connection between
the Iliad and the Odyssey. The eight repeated longer similes are:

  1. 5.782=7.256: The men around Diomedes stand like lions or
    boars; the single battle of Ajax and Hector is described in the
    same words
  2. 5.860=14.148: Ares and Poseidon on separate occasions shout
    like nine or ten thousand warriors
  3. 6.506=15.263: Paris and Hector both go to battle like a stallion
  4. 11.548=17.657: Ajax and Menelaus each retreat from battle
    like a hungering lion
  5. 13.389=16.482: Asius and Sarpedon both fall like oaks
  6. Od. 4.335=Od. 17.126: Telemachus repeats the words of
    Menelaus including the simile of the mother doe
  7. Od. 6.232=Od. 23.159: Odysseus steps from his bath in Ithaca
    and also in Phaeacia covered with grace like a valuable object
    of silver overlaid with gold.


And perhaps the best known example is 9.14 which is repeated word
for word at 16.3:

. . . shedding tears like a fountain of black water which pours
its dark stream down a steep rock.

One critic with strong unitarian leanings comments: "Perhaps the
most beautiful and clearly significant repetition of a motif in the
whole Iliad is the one of the 'dark-watered spring' which occurs at
the beginning of both IX and XVI". 7 Zenodotus—with a more
analytic outlook—athetizes the first appearance of the lines in
Book 9 probably because they are copies. Clearly this discrepancy
in treating this one repeated simile is closely related to each critic's
understanding of the poem's composition.

Excision of one of the pair of similes is always a possibility; 8 there
are, however, two other theories which might explain the phenomenon
of the repeated similes. One theory would explain the second
simile as a conscious reminiscence of the first. Another theory
maintains that each pair may be a simile unit held in the mind
which happened to be used twice. 9


I have cited above one critic who feels that the simile of the
dark-watered fountain at the beginning of Book 16 is a reminiscence
of the same simile in Book 9. Numerous parallels between the two
books suggest that his interpretation of the repeated simile is not
unreasonable. The situation of the Greeks at the end of Book 15 is
again desperate—even more desperate than in Book 9. Achilles'
emotions have deepened. Now there will be another appeal to Achilles,
but this time a more effective kind of appeal. Achilles in his own
words will refer to the hollow offer made by Agamemnon in Book 9,
but in Book 16 he will yield on one point by sending Patroclus out to
aid the Greeks. There is every reason to think that Homer wanted his
audience to remember the parallel scene and appeal in Book 9 as
they heard the plea of Patroclus. The later simile which echoes the
earlier, may suggest to the audience that a scene is coming which will
have important parallels to earlier scenes, as well as significant
differences. In the same way it has been suggested that the simile of
Odysseus stepping from the bath in Ithaca at Od. 23.159 is meant to
recall the earlier simile when he came from the bath in Phaeacia at
Od. 6.232. In Phaeacia he was beginning his return to civilized life;
in Ithaca he had regained his family, his home, and his throne. 10
There may even be good cause to remember the earlier simile of
Paris racing joyfully to battle like a stallion at the point when
Hector is cured and races to battle with the identical description
(6.506=15.263). The acts and the abilities of these two men on
behalf of Troy are clearly contrasted throughout the Iliad. 11 In
these three sets of repeated longer similes there may be reason to
assert that the poet has repeated the second simile to remind the
audience of the first singing of the simile.

And yet no critic has claimed that the second simile of the
hungering lion, which accompanies the retreat of Menelaus, is
meant to recall the earlier retreat of Ajax (17.657 = 11.548). These
two similes are about the same distance apart in the narrative as
the two similes of the fountain of black water. Why is one a clear


reminiscence while the other is not? The same question could be
asked of the similes at 5.860 and 14.148: Poseidon shouts like nine
or ten thousand warriors to encourage the Greeks in Book 14;
Ares shouts in the same way when he is wounded at the end of Book
5. Even though Idomeneus kills Asius who falls like an oak, there
are no critics who have seen a reminiscence when Sarpedon falls in
exactly the same way under the attack of Patroclus (13.389=
16.482). Brave men stand around Diomedes like lions or boars; in
the same words the single battle of Ajax and Hector is described.
Where is the conscious reminiscence here (5.782 = 7.256)?


The final repeated simile occurs at Od. 4.335 and Od. 17.126 in a
speech which is repeated word for word. The repetition is quite
extensive, and it seems that the simile is merely a part of the whole
repeated speech. Since too many messengers repeat messages word
for word to call this a subtle reminiscence, it is obviously a simple
report of an earlier speech, simile and all. This pair of similes can
safely be disregarded in a discussion which focuses on similes
repeated for no reason other than to echo a previous passage.

However in the case of the other seven long repeated similes
there are three sets of parallel scenes where the narrative itself
suggests that Homer is evoking recollection of a previous passage.
In each of these sections there is a repeated simile, but even without
the simile these passages might be called consciously reminiscent, or
they would at least invite comparison because of the parallel to a
previous situation. Since in the remaining four sets there is no
parallel in the narrative, either there must be further evidence found
to insist that those particular three similes are consciously repeated,
or else there is need to look for other interpretations which will
explain all seven sets of similes consistently.

Perhaps the most instructive of the repeated similes is 11.548=
17.657 where the simile is almost repeated, but the introductory
two lines are varied:

And even as a tawny lion is driven from the cattle yard by dogs
and country folk . . . (II.548-9)

He went his way as a lion from the cattle yard where he has
tired himself harassing dogs and men . . . (17.657-8)


who do not allow him to seize the fattest of the herd, watching
through the night, but lusting for flesh he drives on, yet accomplishes
nothing. Many spears fly against him from brave hands,
and burning torches which he flees even though he is eager. At
dawn he goes away disappointed. (11.550-555 and 17.659-664)

The picture of the lion in the last six lines of both similes is the
same word for word. He is a hungering beast who is stopped from
snatching food; he waits the whole night through and then goes
away still hungry. What is different in the two similes is the initial
situation. In the simile from Book 11 the lion has been attacking the
cattle pen all night and with the coming of dawn is finally driven
away. In the simile in Book 17 the lion has exhausted himself by
making attempts throughout the night and departs because the
men have outlasted him. The first lion has been momentarily fought
off, departs still bold and vigorous, and most probably will return
to continue harassing the shepherds. The second lion has had no
more success and departs exhausted because the farmers have so
stoutly defended their holdings. The first lion must be driven away
even with the arrival of dawn; the second lion admits defeat. The
major difference in phrasing at the beginning of each simile is the
verb and the change of the lion from object in the first simile to
subject in the second. The rest of the cast of characters in this small
story remains the same, men and dogs. In Book 11, where the men
and dogs pursue the lion, the verb is ἐσσεύοντο; in Book 17 when the
lion grows tired of provoking the men and dogs, the verb is κάμῃσι
which makes these two lions seem to be different animals even
though most of the description is the same.

The change in the opening of the similes is dictated by the situation
in the narrative. In Book 11 Ajax has been successful even
though many of the Greek leaders have been wounded and have had
to be taken back to camp. Ajax is still fighting with all the strength
he can muster, but there is a stronger force working against him.
The text states that Zeus turned Ajax to flight; in spite of this
pressure upon him Ajax gave way slowly and stubbornly (544).
He gave way like the lion who retreats unwillingly and is fought off
with difficulty. In Book 17, however, Ajax asks Menelaus to
withdraw to find Antilochus. Since Menelaus is worried lest the
body of Patroclus be taken while he is gone, he is careful to give


special urging to Meriones and to the two Ajaxes. Then he withdraws
reluctantly like the lion who gives away after he has been over-
powered and leaves without the prize he hungered for.


It is clear that Homer has endeavored to make each lion suit the
narrative in which he appears. The simile from Book 11 would not
fit in Book 17 because the first two lines do not parallel the basic
outline of the situation there, and the same is true of placing the
simile from Book 17 into Book 11. And yet only two out of eight
lines were altered to suit the particular passage, while the other six
lines were repeated word for word and were very specifically not
adapted to their location.

The fact that the same simile can be used with so little change in
two quite different scenes is significant. The poet seems to have had
a block of lines about the hungering lion independent of any
particular context. Similarly the basic arming scene and the basic
scene of preparation of a meal were carried in the poet's mind
without regard to a specific narrative context. All of these scenes
could be altered to suit the needs of the immediate narrative, as
could any of the other sets of repeated similes, long or short. In the
case of the short similes there may have been some metrical necessity
which dictated their use, but they were as much units held in the
poet's mind as were the long similes which are repeated. 12

Such a conclusion does not imply that the similes in the Homeric
text are direct descendants from Mycenaean ancestors or survivals
from a far distant era. G. P. Shipp has listed the features of the
similes which are linguistically late and has, thereby, shown that the
simile as it appears in the preserved text is relatively late in composition. 13
Webster states that some similes, like those of lions or boars,
are quite old, and Shipp concurs that at the very least the short
comparisons are the older form from which the more elaborate


simile evolved. 14 The comparison as a mode of expression, the
limited number of simile families, and the repeated connection
between one specific narrative feature and the same simile subject
—all these could be very ancient without affecting the particular
formulation of the simile as it exists in the Homeric text. J. B.
Hainsworth and A. Hoekstra are convinced that the traditional
diction underwent perceptible change and that the survivals from
earlier centuries would quite naturally disappear or be replaced by
more contemporary phrasing; Hoekstra adds that the oral language
changed at a greater rate at the very end of the tradition than it had
for the preceding centuries. 15 Both scholars can maintain such a view
about the oral diction without insisting that the old stories and the
archaeological survivals would necessarily be required to disappear
at the same time. The linguistic formulation of a fact or an idea does
not affect the ancientness of that fact or idea. I suspect that the
lion comparison as a form of expression is quite old and that there
were extended lion similes in Greek hexameter verse long before
Homer's composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The extended
simile as a means of storytelling is so frequent in occurrence, so
patterned in usage, and so deeply embedded in the fabric of the
poems that it is almost impossible to think of it as the discovery of
any one man. The simile as a means of expression is at least as old
as the Gilgamish epic and other ancient Near Eastern texts. In
these examples the simile is usually of the short, embryonic type.
Only Homer regularly uses the extended simile. In addition, the
phrasing of the lion simile and of most of the other similes seems
relatively recent, perhaps within one hundred years of the composition
of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer, as a young poet, might
have heard the bard who formulated the simile of the dark-watered
fountain and might have carried it in his mind. Then this simile,
although relatively late in its phrasing, would still be one of a large
collection of anonymous similes which could be called traditional
because of the long history of the simile as a form of expression.
Perhaps Homer even composed the simile of the dark-watered
fountain himself in his youth, remembered it, and used it several
times in his recitations. In this case it would also be part of a large


collection of independent, though no longer anonymous, similes.
The method of expression would still be traditional in that young
Homer built his simile in imitation of a familiar form, but the
particular simile would show the influence of recent linguistic
developments because, in fact, it was composed by the poet himself.


It should be noted that Shipp in his study of the language of the
similes is seeking late, but not necessarily post-Homeric, forms;
he is not trying to analyze the amalgam of linguistic strata which
are present in the language of any one simile. 16 His method is
proper for his purpose, since if similes uniformly contain a large
number of late forms, then it is reasonable to assume that most of
them were composed in their particular formulation late in the
development of the oral tradition. It would, however, be a distortion
of Shipp's conclusions to state that all similes contain only late
forms; similes are composed of words borrowed from diverse ages
and dialects. For example, in the simile of the hungering lion Shipp
notes only three linguistic particularities: ἐγρήσσοντες, ἐρατίζων and
ἀγροιῶται. The remaining words are either earlier words or do not
bear a linguistic imprint which would permit any precise dating.
In addition, the line 11.549=15.272 leads an independent enough
existence in the poet's repertoire that it can be transferred from one
context to another in spite of the fact that one of these linguistically
late features is included in this line. It is, thus, a line that is marked
as late but still is carried as an improvisational unit in the poet's

The same amalgam of old and new can be found in any of the
repeated similes. Consistency in analyzing components of oral
poetry demands that the repeated similes be treated as units which
were as traditional and as autonomous, but also as adaptable, as the
basic arming and banquet scenes. 17


Such a theory about the repeated similes has important implications
for the composition of passages containing such similes, and
perhaps for the passages surrounding other similes as well. Any
critical comment on the organic unity of simile and narrative in these
passages is based upon the happy matching of two entities which
probably were separated in the traditional heritage of the poet. It
would seem more likely for a simile to have some rough edges and
not to fit too easily into its setting. The poet did not in a mood of
detached meditation create a unity of simile and narrative in which
each component complemented the other and from which one element
could not be removed without destroying the whole. 18 Rather,
as he sang, he could fit the simile, as a unit unto itself, into a passage
of coherent narrative in the hope that the two elements would
blend; but there was no guarantee. 19 Chances were against that type
of perfect match between simile and narrative which has been so
well illustrated by V. Pöschl in regard to the similes of Vergil. 20

The poet did not, however, abdicate his proper concern with the
artistic effect of the whole passage. It is evident how well the poet


has formed his material to fit the narrative in the two repeated lion
similes. As a second example, the excellence of the galloping horse
as a comparison to the proudly running Paris at the end of Book 6
has been noted by diverse critics; as a corollary this same simile at
15.263 is not acknowledged to be as well suited to its surrounding
passage, though it is by no means inapt. 21 In recognizing the
standardized quality of similes there is no slight intended to the
poetic effectiveness with which the poet employed his traditional
material. The bricks of a well-built house wall are as homely out of
context as those from a rough foundation; it is the placement of
each brick in proper relation to those around it which creates a
well-laid wall.


These comments on the repeated similes need not apply to all
similes. Speculations on oral composition would be much easier if it
could be assumed that Homer always created in a uniform way, but
there is no binding constraint which forced the poet either to choose
a simile from his previous experience or to formulate each simile
anew. Because Homer customarily used repeated lines and patterns
when a warrior armed or ate or participated in many of the usual
activities of warriors, it may be reasonable to assume that there are
more independent simile units in the text than existing evidence
will prove. 22 If other similes were drawn from a pre-existing collection
within the poet's mind, then there is support for the harsh
criticism of Gilbert Murray:

Every simile is fine, vivid, and lifelike; but a good many of them
are not apposite to the case for which they are used, and all have
the same ready-made air. 23

Many different critics have found difficulties in joining particular
similes to the narrative. The conclusions of this study of repeated
similes imply that ill-matched similes or, in fact, misfits could be
at times expected, though they probably would not be regarded as
misfits by the poet who, whenever he drew upon a store of traditional
simile subjects and scenes, was trying to achieve only a basic
match to his narrative. Since he gave little attention to pairing each
detail of such a simile to some fact in the surrounding story, it is


impressive that he so often achieved an effective balance in tone and
in individual details.


These conclusions are supported by the repeated simile of the
hungering lion. In Book 11 Ajax does depart from men who are
throwing spears at him, but there is no particular prize for which
he has been striving nor have his opponents been fighting him so
long that they could be described as watching their treasure the
whole night through. In Book 17 Menelaus does depart from a
prize which is specific and the fight has been going on over this one
prize long enough that the mention of men who have been guarding
throughout the night has point. Menelaus, however, does not leave
immediately as the lion does, but he remains for a four line speech to
the Ajaxes and Meriones before he withdraws. Each simile contains
some details which do not suit the location in which it occurs. But no
critic has said that the simile itself is unforceful or lacks color. In
both cases a warrior withdraws from battle reluctantly; as Homer
thought over his collection of similes, the image of the hungering
lion came to mind as a subject well suited to the narrative situation.
He sang the basic unit, much as he had sung arming and eating
scenes. The parallels were obvious and appropriate, even though
some details did not match the surrounding scene. 24

Such a theory concerning repeated similes implies that there was
little reminiscence by these similes. The repeated simile was merely
another repeated unit. Just as there is no particular reminiscence—or
even recollection—involved when Odysseus has three meals in one
night, so also in repeating simile units there is no reminiscence. The
poet had chosen the same lines twice in similar situations. In fact,
each set of repeated similes does occur in contexts which are enough
alike to suggest the same description.

The poet who composed in this way is familiar from other studies
of oral poetry. He was a poet who composed in terms of units:
half-lines, whole lines, and blocks of lines, a store of ready-made
phrases and passages from which he could always draw. He tried
to adapt his units of composition when he could, though his prime
goal was to keep the story moving forward. Sometimes he came to
contexts where he customarily sang a simile. Seven times in the


Iliad and in the Odyssey he chose the same simile unit for a parallel
context; though on one of these occasions he had to adapt the
opening a little, essentially it remained the same simile. While it is
impossible to identify which similes were taken with little or no alteration
from the pool of traditional oral units, the examination of the
repeated similes demonstrates that the poet did draw upon such a
source at the very least seven times. 25 It is of the utmost importance
to realize that there is evidence for the existence of this collection
of similes because such a supply enabled the poet to sing a simile as
easily as he sang any other type scene.


II. Methods of Extending the Simile

The second major question in analyzing the oral nature of the
similes concerns the methods of extending the simile. It is evident
that there are common features in long and short similes. 26 Many of
the short similes seem to be independent formulaic units which fill a
standard metrical space in the line. The simile which is constructed
from a single unit of such a nature seems more a building block
whose internal components are fixed because of the demands of the
hexameter line than an individual creation grafted neatly into that
particular spot in the narrative. It is possible to demonstrate, in
addition, that the majority of longer similes were composed by
extending the basic simile unit through the addition of separate
lines and half-lines which are not organically related to each other
or to the simile as a whole, the extended simile being as much a
product of oral composition as the narrative.

Because the poet thought in terms of the basic simile subject, it is
reasonable to assume that the short simile was the essential simile
form. There was always a part-line simile available from many of the
traditional simile families which would fit easily into the metrical
cola of the line. 27 A brief summary of the possibilities for introducing


a short lion simile within the traditional caesurae of the hexameter
line will illustrate the wide flexibility possessed by the poet:



Some of these basic units appear alone, but each is extended into
a longer simile. It is instructive to see the many different ways in
which the phrase "like a lion" or "like two lions" can be adapted to
fit into a line; in effect, with a little variation in surrounding words
the poet can sing the simile "like a lion" in any of the hexameter
line's four cola. 28 The words which are added or subtracted in each
individual occurrence are merely methods of adapting the basic
formula to suit various metrical configurations.


Whenever the poet felt that the shorter simile was inadequate for
the effect he desired, he could extend it. An example of this type of
extension is seen in a comparison of the following passages:

τοὺς ἐξῆγε θύραζε τεθηπότας ἠΰτε νεβρούς,
δῆσε δ ὀπίσσω χεῖρας ἐϋτμήτοισιν ἱμᾶσι,

These he led out of the water bewildered like fawns and he
bound their hands behind them with well-cut thongs . . . (21.29-30)

Ὣς οἳ μὲν κατὰ ἄστυ πεφυζότες ἠΰτε νεβροὶ
ἱδρῶ ἀπεψύχοντο πίον τ ἀκέοντό τε δίψαν

Throughout the town these men, who had fled like fawns,
dried off their sweat and drank and quenched their thirst. . . (22.1-2)

 Οὕς τινας αὖ μεθιέντας ἴδοι στυγεροῦ πολέμοιο,
τοὺς μάλα νεικείεσκε χολωτοῖσιν ἐπέεσσιν·
 Ἀργεῖοι ἰόμωροι ἐλεγχέες οὔ νυ σέβεσθε;
τίφθ οὕτως ἔστητε τεθηπότες ἠΰτε νεβροί,
αἵ τ ἐπεὶ οὖν ἔκαμον πολέος πεδίοιο θέουσαι
ἑστᾶσ, οὐδ ἄρα τίς σφι μετὰ φρεσὶ γίγνεται ἀλκή·
ὣς ὑμεῖς ἔστητε τεθηπότες οὐδὲ μάχεσθε.
ἦ μένετε Τρῶας σχεδὸν ἐλθέμεν ἔνθά τε νῆες
εἰρύατ εὔπρυμνοι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ὄφρα ἴδητ αἴ κ ὔμμιν ὑπέρσχῃ χεῖρα Κρονίων;

Any he might see holding back from the hateful fighting he
would reproach with angry words: "You Argives, puny bowmen,
disgraces, have you no shame? Why do you stand here bewildered
like fawns, who when they have exhausted themselves
racing over a great plain, stand still and there is no strength
left in their hearts? In such a way you stand there bewildered
and do not fight. Are you waiting for the Trojans to come close
up to the shore of the grey sea, where the well-built ships lie
protected, so that you may see if Zeus will hold his hand over
you?" (4.240-249)

In each case the poet is singing about men who are afraid, and there
is only one simile subject which is used in such scenes, deer. 29 In all


three passages the poet has chosen a simile describing deer which
fills out the line beginning at the Bucolic diaeresis. There is only one
other simile of deer at 13.101 which does not use this position in the
line or, in fact, the word νεβροί. In the similes from Books 21 and
4 the poet seems to have begun the formula at the third trochee
with the addition of the word τεθηπότες/ας, but this construction is
deceptive. The word τεθηπότες/ας with this precise metrical
configuration occurs four times in the Iliad and the Odyssey. 30 In
each case it falls exactly at this position in the line: according to
Porter's analysis, between the B1 caesura and the C1 caesura
occupying five morae. In addition Porter points out that a single
word of this configuration at this point in the line occurs more often
than any other series of syllables broken by various kinds of caesurae
(Table IVA). O'Neill's study demonstrates that words of the type
s-l-s-s occur more than ninety-five per cent of the time at this
position in the line (Table 11). Thus both essays offer evidence that
the word τεθηπότες/ας would tend to be placed in this position
regardless of the phrase following the Bucolic diaeresis; in fact, the
word τεθηπότες/ας is used in the third colon of the line independently
of the deer simile in lines 4.246 and Od. 24. 392. The short simile
ἠΰτε νεβροί/ούς seems a unit which is independent of the word
τεθηπότες/ας, although certainly the two units can be combined
whenever the poet wishes.


This analysis shows the technique of building lines in miniature:
the poet strings together words and phrases standing independently
in other passages to make a "new" scene. He does not compose as
much in individual words as he does in formulaic units of language,
often of standard length, most of which tend to fill the traditional
cola of the line. One way of introducing the word νεβροί/ούς into a
line was to wait until the last colon and then sing the phrase ήυτε
νεβροί/ούς. Since this word began at the Bucolic diaeresis there were
numerous words which could be placed before it like τεθηπότες/ας, or
πεφυζότες (22.1) or many of the other words which occur in the
third colon. But the choice of this word was a separate decision on
the part of the composing poet; the irreducible formulaic element is
the short simile which fills the fourth colon.

It is worth spending time on this example because it is in the
smaller samples of the oral style that the evidence is the clearest,


since when one turns to the longer phrases and whole lines, very
often he finds that there are not enough parallels to separate
formulaic blocks with any confidence. The greatest problem is the
variation possible within any one formula. In the above passages the
shift from τεθηπότες to τεθηπότας is easy to see. When two or three
words are involved, each of which can shift its ending, the formula
becomes harder to identify. When, in addition, the phrase is one
which is not as firmly localized in the third colon as τεθηπότες/ας,
then the difficulties in distinguishing exactly what part of the line
is formulaic mount rapidly. 31 In treating the structure of the longer
similes it is important to bear these problems in mind since because
of them, conclusions cannot be as precise as desired, and often one
must be content with identifying tendencies rather than establishing
patterns. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to arrive at a
general understanding of the poet's method in constructing his


The difficulties in defining structural units become immediately
apparent in examining the extension of the basic deer simile at

I. oἵ    τ/δ ἐπεὶ οὖν —This phrase fills the line through

Porter's A1 caesura. It is a phrase that is paralleled ample times and
seems to be an independent formulaic unit as, for example, 1.57,
3.4, 15.363, and others.

2. ἔκαμον —This verb occupies the second colon completing the
line up to the B2 caesura. There is no type of parallel use which
would establish this as a formula since the greater tendency is for
words of this configuration to end at position 5 than at position 7
in the Iliad, though not in the Odyssey, according to O'Neill's
Table Seven. 32 Most probably there is not enough information to


establish anything formulaic about the poet's choice of this word or
its position. It seems to be present in the line independently of the
words before and after it.


3. πολέος πεδίοιο θέουσαι —The phrase πολέος πεδίοιο extends
one syllable further than Porter's C2 caesura in ending at 9 1/2;
however this is not unheard of in Porter's system, and the phrase
does comply with his comments on the inner dynamics of the line by
avoiding the caesura at 7 1/2. 33 Though there is a close parallel to
the whole phrase at 23.521: πολέος πεδίοιο θέοντος·, this is the only
parallel passage which groups the two units together, πολέος πεδίοιο
is used three times in this metrical position in the Homeric poems,
and once at position 12 (4.244, 23.475, 23.521; 5.597). Because it is
associated with the participle θέουσαι/θέοντος only twice and
because this participle occurs elsewhere at the end of the line
preceded by other words, two separate units are probably involved.

4. ἑστᾶσ —This and other forms of the verb ιστημι occur
frequently at the very beginning of the sentence. The verb in this
form fills the line up to the A2 caesura, one of the more common
places in the line for a word which is a spondee according to Table
Six in O'Neill's study. Following this word in its appearances in the
Iliad there is a new beginning in the form of a relative clause or
another independent clause though no formulaic usage is involved
either preceding this word in the previous line or following it. It
does fill one of the standard cola. There seems every indication,
then, that this word is a unit in itself and is not tied to any traditional
phraseology when used in this simile.

5. οὐδ ἄρα τίς σφι — This is one of those phrases which is hard
to trace as being formulaic, οὐδ ἄρα is fixed, but the other two components
can be varied in so many ways that it is difficult to cite
exact parallels. The phrase does operate in accordance with the
traditional divisions of the line by closing out the colon which ends
at the B2 caesura.

6. μετὰ φρεσὶ —This phrase fills in the line up to the C1 caesura.
It falls in this position countless times in both poems; for example,


9.434, 14-264, and 18.463. It is a small unit unto itself in that it
seems to determine neither what goes before it nor what follows.


7. γίγνεται ἀλκή —This phrase occurs twice, here and at 15.490.
Throughout the poems the word ἀλκή occurs almost always as the
last word of the line, according to O'Neills Table Six, the favored
position for words which are spondees. Many different sorts of
words fall before ἀλκή in this position, γίγνεται is a dactyl and
falls in this line where a dactyl is expected (cf. O'Neill's Table
Eight). Since both words seem to lead a separate existence, each
obeying its own laws, there appears to be no formula here.

This analysis of a somewhat disappointing passage demonstrates
the problems inherent in studying the structure of the simile. First,
it is quite difficult and often impossible to determine clearly what is
a formulaic unit (one key word or idea determining the choice of
other words), a metrical preference (metrical configuration influencing
the placement of the word), or an individual choice (the poet's
joining of two words which might well have been separated).
αἵ τ ἐπεὶ οὖν is most probably a formulaic unit which could be
repeated in this position by the poet almost without thinking.
μετὰ φρεσὶ seems to fall in its place in the line because of metrical
habit; or, stating the same phenomenon negatively, the phrase
μετὰ φρεσὶ occurs often with many different kinds of words surrounding
it, but it occurs at no other place in the line. πολέος πεδίοιο
θέουσαι seems to be a combination which was made by the poet
from groups of words which are identifiable from their usage in
other passages as independent units; the joining of the two units is
a choice by the poet which seems determined by no formulaic or
traditional custom.

Second, it is significant that the simile seems to be as much a
product of the oral tradition as any other part of the Homeric
poems. 34 The words are by no means unusual since most have parallels
in both narrative and simile sections of the poems and often


have even been used in similar positions regardless of context. If
it is accepted that O'Neill and Porter have successfully delineated
the basic structure of the hexameter line, then it seems that the
phrasing of this simile conforms very closely to the units which they
have established on the basis of a narrative passage. The two studies
demonstrate that the hexameter line tends to fall into four fairly
standard cola in both oral and written verse; but only in oral verse
would the words which fill these cola be repeated so formulaically.
Nothing in the phrasing or construction of the individual lines of
this simile suggests a composition other than oral. 35


Finally, it seems that the study of the formulae which make up the
individual line is probably less important than an understanding of
the grammatical structure of the total simile, once it is granted that
the similes are a product of oral composition. 36 The difficulties in
defining the basic formulae in the similes are so great and the results
so imprecise that it is impractical here to delve into the language of
the similes beyond an admission that each phrase and individual
line is deeply rooted in the language of oral composition.

The work of Porter and O'Neill defines the types of phrasing
characteristic of dactylic verse and can be meaningfully applied
to the limited sample of formulaic or repeated simile language
which we possess. Parry's technique of formulaic analysis, however,
requires more repetitions of precise wording in similar positions
than the extant body of simile material can provide.

What can be determined about the formulaic quality of the
simile's language has been established in another study and is
borne out fully in the analysis of the deer simile. 37 It now remains to


examine the broader grammatical structure of the lines which extend
the part-line simile.


Twice the basic short simile ἠΰτε νεβρoί/ούς is sufficient for the
poet's purpose, but on one occasion the poet chose to extend this
basic simile. He began the extended line with a relative pronoun,
the verb of which followed in the next line. To fill out the first line
of extension he inserted a clause introduced by ἐπεί; in the second
line he added a clause beginning with ουδέ. It is clear from the
repeated adjective τεθηπότες/ας at 21.29 that the added relative
clause and the οὐδέ clause are not vital to the meaning of the simile.
As far as the meaning of the passage is concerned, the longer deer
simile could be placed in Book 21 and no one would find the
ideas unintelligible:

And when his hands had grown tired of killing, he chose twelve
young men out of the river as expiation for the dead Patroclus,
the son of Menoetius. These he led out of the water like bewildered
fawns . . .

who, when they have exhausted themselves racing over a great
plain, stand still and there is no strength left in their hearts. (21.26-29 + 4.244-45)

The poet does not become involved in complicated subordination
within a simile; the clauses are added one by one so that the poet
could stop at the end of any one clause without vitally affecting
the meaning.

It seems that the poet decided to extend the simile by considering
the needs of each individual context. In Book 4 the poet reports an
exasperated speech of Agamemnon in which the general states
again and again that the Argives holding back from battle are
cowards: "Have you no shame? Why are you standing there? You


are not fighting. Are you waiting to see if some god will protect
you?" In such a series of questions the simile illustrates graphically
the feelings of cowardice which are being emphasized in the direct
questions with a switch to the feminine gender in line 244 which is
a part of the insult that would not be conveyed by the simple short
simile. The extending lines in this simile make the taunts of the
commander all the more biting. When such a point is, however,
relatively minor in terms of the central idea of narrative or does not
need extra emphasis, as in books 21 and 22, then the poet is content
with a short simile. In both passages with short deer similes the
simile aids the poet in expressing the psychological state of the men,
but there is no need for the poet to stress these scenes. The men led
away to be sacrificed to Patroclus are sufficiently insignificant
beings in the scope of the whole poem that they probably do not
merit a lengthy simile. At 22.1 there is a general view of the two
armies before the narrative turns to the two protagonists, Hector
and Achilles. This would be the wrong place to overemphasize the
two armies which will immediately fall into the background.


All the oral features of the deer simile—the choice of words, the
formulaic phrasing, the adherence to the dynamics of the hexameter
line, and the additive nature of the individual extending members—
can be paralleled in various passages within the narrative. Thus
this simile is certainly a product of oral composition. One swallow
has yet to make a summer, and this single simile is inadequate as a
foundation for sweeping conclusions concerning the composition
of all similes. However, the close analysis of this one simile makes
evident the terms of broader investigation. To present an analysis
of all similes in such detail is impossible; more profitable is an
examination of various types of similes illustrating in special ways
the general application of the points which I have made about this
one simile.

Of primary interest again are the repeated similes, which seem to
be units that could be used at will. They were not built clause on
clause as the poet sang, but were chosen as a block with some change
allowed within the simile. Even though they were carried in the
mind as autonomous units by the poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey,
they still bear unmistakable marks of their oral origin. The simile of
the hungering lion at 11.548 (which almost equals 17.657) is again
a useful example because of the variation in the initial lines:


ὡς δ αἴθωνα λέοντα βοῶν ἀπὸ μεσσαύλοιο
ἐσσεύαντο κύνες τε καὶ ἀνέρες ἀγροιῶται,
οἵ τέ μιν οὐκ εἰῶσι βοῶν ἐκ πῖαρ ἑλέσθαι
πάννυχοι ἐγρήσσοντες· ὃ δὲ κρειῶν ἐρατίζων
ἰθύει, ἀλλ οὔ τι πρήσσει· θαμέες γὰρ ἄκοντες
ἀντίον ἀΐσσουσι θρασειάων ἀπὸ χειρῶν
καιόμεναί τε δεταί, τάς τε τρεῖ ἐσσύμενός περ·
ἠῶθεν δ ἀπὸ νόσφιν ἔβη τετιηότι θυμῷ·
ὣς Αἴας τότ ἀπὸ Τρώων τετιημένος ἦτορ

βῆ δ ἰέναι ὥς τίς τε λέων ἀπὸ μεσσαύλοιο,
ὅς τ ἐπεὶ ἄρ κε κάμῃσι κύνας τ ἄνδρας τ ἐρεθίζων,
οἵ τέ μιν οὐκ εἰῶσι βοῶν ἐκ πῖαρ ἑλέσθαι . . .

Here is an analysis of these lines broken down into grammatical

11.548— Object. Prepositional phrase. 17.657— Subject. Prepositional phrase
11.549— Verb. Subject 17.658— Relative. Subordinate clause introduced by ἐπεὶ. Participial phrase

11.550 (17.659)— Relative clause.
11.551 (17.660)— Participle. Clause introduced by δέ. Participle.
11.552 (17.661)— Verb of δέ clause. Clause introduced by ἀλλά.
Clause introduced by γάρ.
11.553 (17.662)— Verb of γάρ clause. Prepositional phrase.
11.554 (17.663)— Subject added to above γάρ clause. Relative
clause. Participle.
11.555 (17.664)— Clause introduced by δέ.

There are a number of important features to note in the construction
of this simile. First, it is composed in terms of the individual line.
There are only two places where the repeated portion of the simile
must run over into the next line, 551 and 552, and in these two lines
the enjambment is necessary because a clause has been begun which
lacks a verb. That the simile could be stopped at the end of the other
lines and joined to the narrative by a line like 556 is one indication
of the looseness of structure.


Closely related is the method by which the poet extends the simile.
It is not in form a series of lines each of which ends with a period.
There is enjambment, some necessary and some not. The basic
tools of unperiodic enjambment are the free verbal idea (dependent
clause, participal phrase, or genitive absolute), the adjectival idea,
the adverbial idea, and the coordinate clause. 38 These types of
extension avoid complicated subordination. There are numerous
subordinating conjunctions in the epic language, but they are only
infrequently used to build a more complex sentence. The only
grammatically complex connection in the lion simile is contained
in the word γάρ which introduces a clause giving the reason for the
failure of the lion. 39

In effect, this simile is built from part-line units, each bound by
strong thematic affinity but by weak grammatical ties to the
preceding unit. The pressures of adhering to the hexameter line
while creating sentences longer than the single line compel the oral
poet to rely on a proven traditional language. The method of composing

in this language, namely stringing small units together to
express full thoughts, is inherently bound to an intransigence in
regard to subordination. These two qualities of Homeric verse, the
adherence to the traditional units of diction and the dominance of
the hexameter line, reinforce each other, and both are natural
enemies of complexity in grammatical structure. 40

A further indication of the lack of organic unity within each simile
is evident at line 17.658. There the poet introduces a single subordinate


clause with two introductory subordinating words. Here is
Mr. Leaf's comment:


The Epic poet, always intolerant of long subordinate clauses,
seems to use his two relatives at the beginning to indicate the
general drift of his sentence and then does not attempt to
follow out the details. Here ὅς is the necessary copula introducing
the working out of the simile, and ἐπεὶ proclaims that the clause
headed by it is preliminary and does not contain the real
comparison. Having thus announced its subordinate character,
the clause can proceed in its . . . development as though it has
begun . . . without any parade of relatives.

Leaf and Chantraine point to parallel confusion at 8.229 ff., 18.55 f.
and 24.42 f. 41 Such examples demonstrate how insignificant subordinating
words are to the oral poet. He is, in fact, working with
a series of language units, each of which adds to the length of the
simile, and thereby, further defines the tone of the small story
which he is telling. The individual particulars of the scene are sung
for the most part as though they were an unconnected series of
incidents, and it is up to the listener to organize these items into a
coherent, organic image.

Paratactic structure is apparent in all the repeated similes. Since
these similes had been used often enough to stick in the poet's mind,
it might be expected that they would show signs of attempts to
organize and polish their somewhat loose structural form. However,
these similes, which belong to some of the most common simile
families, tend to retain their loose, additive structure in spite of
continued usage.

The majority of similes in the Homeric corpus are similar in their
structure to the deer and lion similes which have just been discussed.
Instead of multiplying examples of the same type, it is more profitable
to examine those similes which are for two reasons exceptional:
either they demonstrate examples of the additive technique which
are different from the normal type of extension as seen above, or
they are rare passages where the rules of Greek grammar are
strained or broken because of the paratactic method of composition.
These two topics will be discussed together because both phenomena


can often be well illustrated on the basis of a single simile. These few
similes, which show the unusual results or the extreme consequences
of oral composition, offer sound evidence of the poet's willing acceptance
of the advantages, but also of the dangers, of additive construction.


There is one further technique of extending the simile which is
quite common, the list which can consist of individual physical
objects or several clauses. The clearest example is 14.394:

οὔτε θαλάσσης κῦμα τόσον βοάᾳ ποτὶ χέρσον
ποντόθεν ὀρνύμενον πνοιῇ Βορέω ἀλεγεινῇ·
οὔτε πυρὸς τόσσός γε ποτὶ βρόμος αἰθομένοιο
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃς, ὅτε τ ὤρετο καιέμεν ὕλην·
οὔτ ἄνεμος τόσσόν γε περὶ δρυσὶν ὑψικόμοισι
ἠπύει, ὅς τε μάλιστα μέγα βρέμεται χαλεπαίνων,
ὅσση ἄρα Τρώων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν ἔπλετο φωνὴ …

The two sides came together with a great war cry. Not so loud
does the sea wave echo on the shore as it is driven from the open
sea by the fierce blasts of the north wind, nor so loud is the
roaring of a burning fire in the ravines of a mountain when it
rises to burn the forest, nor so loudly does the wind shriek
through the tall oaks when it roars angrily, not so loud as the
cries of the Trojans and Achaeans . . .

This long simile-like section is really three fairly short similes, each
complete in itself. Each individual simile is composed in an additive
style: the first extended by a participial phrase; the second by a
prepositional phrase and an additional clause; and the third, by a
verb carried over from the preceding line which is then followed by
a relative clause. It is clear that the poet could have stopped at the
end of each of these similes, sung a connecting line (e.g., 400), and
continued on with the narrative. Most probably the series of similes
is intended to emphasize the "mighty din" with which the armies
ran together and the "terrible shouts" that accompany their
fighting (393 and 401); a single simile was not considered sufficient.
A poet who was writing would have elaborated upon the basic
subject in one long simile, but an oral poet, who thought in terms of
added units, would feel it natural to extend his simile by the addition
of clauses of any kind as long as they reinforced the main theme of


his narrative—in this case, as long as they continued the idea of the
horrendous noise of battle. Wind and fire are two traditional subjects
for expressing the noise of groups, and rather than choosing either
one of these two images to develop, the poet decided that he would
use both. 42 In fact, he used one of them twice.


There are also numerous examples of similes extended by listing
individual objects which offer an alternative. For example:

ὥς τε λέων ἐχάρη μεγάλῳ ἐπὶ σώματι κύρσας
εὑρὼν ἢ ἔλαφον κεραὸν ἢ ἄγριον αἶγα
πεινάων· 43

he rejoiced as does a lion coming upon a large carcass, finding
either a horned stag or a wild goat in his hunger . . .

ἳ δ ὥς τ ἢ ἔλαφον κεραὸν ἢ ἄγριον αἶγα
ἐσσεύαντο κύνες τε καὶ ἀνέρες ἀγροιῶται·

just as dogs and country men have chased either a horned
stag or a wild goat . . . (15.271-72)

In each case a direct object is needed; the poet extends his simile
by giving his listeners a choice that interestingly does not seem
especially significant since the narrative situation does not specifically
require one of these two alternatives nor does the further
development of either simile. The repetition of the phrase in the
later simile renders the substance of the choice all the more questionable.
Most probably this is a metrically suitable pair of animals to
be used as prey in a hunting scene. The poet is not primarily concerned
about the true representation of nature but wants to build his
line by making his simile longer since the simile becomes, thereby,
more noticeable and more effective. The list—whether in whole
similes or clauses or in smaller part-line items—is the archetypal
unsubordinated, autonomous, paratactic unit. Further examples


may be found at 2.459, 10.5, 44 10.360, 13.389=16.482, 15.605,
15.690, 16.589, 17.547, 17.742, 22.134, 22.308, and Od. 11.413.


The simile at 16.384 illustrates the use of parataxis in the development
of a long simile. This simile is extended for nine lines and could
be stopped at the end of any of eight of these lines since only the second
line runs over into the third for its subject. The method of extension
involves prepositional phrases, relative clauses, and independent
clauses introduced by δέ. What is most notable in this simile is the
looseness in the development of the thought as the narrative within the
simile moves further and further from the initial subject. It seems that
the poet could extend his simile line by line adhering to a miniature
story or scene provided that the simile was short enough; but when he
was called upon to extend the simile beyond a few lines, the paratactic
structure began to dominate and the unconnected nature of
the poet's thinking became more and more evident. In the first
four lines of this long simile there is subordination: the earth is
hard pressed by a whirlwind when Zeus sends rain when he is angered
at men. The subordination is not as complete as it would be in a
written style, but the two "when's" do bind the three clauses
together as being simultaneous. From this point on the subordination
becomes looser. He is angered at men who give crooked judgments
—not because they give crooked judgments. Line 389 reads: "and the
rivers of these are filled with rushing floods." "The rivers of these"
is an odd phrase in itself; however in the sentence it is so abrupt
that there is some question about its antecedent. Leaf states:

τῶν must mean 'the rivers of these men,' a strange expression,
but less harsh than the alternative which regards τῶν as referring
in a collective sense to ὕδωρ above, 'these floods.'

Leaf entertains the possibility of an interpolator; in view of the
demands of oral composition it is more likely that this phrase has
its antecedent in the general subject of the previous lines, the men.
The poet added a line in a perfectly traditional and admittedly


paratactic way: " τῶν δέ τε." He knew what connection he wanted
his audience to draw, and he, therefore, extended the simile one
more line using the type of demonstrative article which he had often
used before. Such a style may bother those who read the text
searching for the tightness of a literary style, but to an oral poet
this technique is sanctioned by centuries of use. 45


The rest of the clauses in this simile are added loosely with little
attempt at subordination. There is one participle, "ῥέουσαι", which
requires a subject from the preceding clause, but this is a very
minimal connection. With the exception of this one participle each
clause in the second half of this simile stands by itself, not depending
on any reference to surrounding clauses for understanding. In the
course of the simile there is a development from some slight subordination
to a total abandonment of the attempt.

A similar dissipating of connectives is evident at 12.278; snowflakes
fall when Zeus decides to send snow to the earth. The remainder
of the simile is a list of places on which the snow falls and one
where it does not. The last five lines are joined by "καίs" with a
slight connection in the final line. 46 Further examples are 20.164 and
Od. 19.109.

At 3.2 there is an adaptation of the paratactic style:

Τρῶες μὲν κλαγγῇ τ ἐνοπῇ τ ἴσαν ὄρνιθες ὣς
ἠΰτε περ κλαγγὴ γεράνων πέλει οὐρανόθι πρό·
αἵ τ ἐπεὶ οὖν χειμῶνα φύγον καὶ ἀθέσφατον ὄμβρον

The Trojans came on with shouting and crying like birds,
just as when the cries of cranes rise up to the heavens when
they fly before the winter . . .


The poet first chooses, as a short simile to fill out the line from the
Bucolic diaeresis, a phrase which is repeated in the accusative case
one other time at 2.764 in the same position. There it is a short
simile while here the simile is extended but not by adding another
clause within the simile structure. Rather the simile is begun again.
In form this passage contains two similes repeated one after the
other, both on the subject of birds either of which could be removed
and leave the sense of the lines intact. However the poet wanted a
long simile in this place, and since neither grammatical subordination
nor verbal economy are dominant concerns, the poet chose
from among the available phrases and then strung these phrases
together to make a long simile. In an oral presentation the audience
probably did not listen closely enough to be bothered by the double
introduction; they would be more impressed by the length of the
total simile on the birds. The proper punctuation at the beginning of
this simile in a written style would probably be a dash. In an oral
style, however, the simile can be built from additive units which are
not only loosely connected but in this case, even repetitive. 47 A
further example occurs at 11.546 and 548.

Related to the simile which is double in form is the simile which is
single in form but double in content. Homer or a later interpolator
has been accused of conflating two similes at 16.259 in the simile of
the wasps who have been irritated by children and who may
attack a traveller, since there seems little connection between the
children and the traveller. 48 In the simile itself the grammatical


connection between the two sections is slight; 49 at line 263 there is a
new clause joined to the previous line by a δέ. Such connections are
common, but this one happens to be especially noticeable because
two diverse times and sets of characters are combined in the simile. 50
Admittedly there is nothing inconsistent about the description.
When this simile is judged in terms of a written style, it seems
chaotic; though in comparison with other similes, it is not unusual
in terms of structure or organization of material.


Who then imposes unity on the scattered elements of the simile?
The answer is the audience. The poet selects a subject which has
certain objects customarily joined to it, and then sings about several
of these objects in themselves, seldom joining the various particulars
together into an orderly picture. Many of the similes do describe
occurrences and sights which are eternally familiar and are, therefore,
a common experience shared by both poet and audience. This
common experience provides a natural ordering of the individual
items or events of the simile into a sensible relationship; but that
ordering is not accomplished by the grammar of the poet, but
rather by the recollected experience of the members of the audience. 51

There is no internal demand decreeing the development—either in
direction or in length—of the individual simile. The simile of the
wasps contains an example of a participial phrase which extends
the simile a half-line but merely repeats information from the
preceding line:

αὐτίκα δὲ σφήκεσσιν ἐοικότες ἐξεχέοντο
εἰνοδίοις, οὓς παῖδες ἐριδμαίνωσιν ἔθοντες
αἰεὶ κερτομέοντες ὁδῷ ἔπι οἰκί ἔχοντας …


immediately they poured forth like wasps which live by the
side of the road which children are in the habit of angering,
always teasing them as they live by the side of the road . . . (16.259-261)


Basic economy would dictate the omission of either the adjective
εἰνοδίοις or the phrase at the end of 261; but economy is not the
main concern of the oral poet. 52 He can introduce any kind of line or
any kind of information which he feels is suitable to the tone he is trying
to evoke. Thus call a line irrelevant or inconsistent is impossible,
provided that the line in question is minimally suitable to the poet's
imagined picture. The loose structure of the simile both in individual
lines and in blocks of lines prods the audience into structuring the
story by ordering, subordinating, and, in this case, conflating the
elements of the simile scene while the poet keeps his focus moving
from item to item. 53 This sharing of the responsibility for communication
is not unique to the simile since all paratactic structures make
this demand on their audiences. 54

The pressures of oral composition have even exacted their toll on
the most basic rules of grammar. At 8.306 there is a clause with no

μήκων δ ὡς ἑτέρωσε κάρη βάλεν, ἥ τ ἐνὶ κήπῳ
καρπῷ βριθομένη νοτίῃσί τε εἰαρινῇσιν,
ὣς ἑτέρωσ ἤμυσε κάρη πήληκι βαρυνθέν

And he bowed his head to one side like a poppy which in a
garden weighted down with fruit and spring rain; thus he
bowed to one side . . .


It is easy to borrow a verb for the relative clause from the preceding
clause or merely to insert the verb εστί. 55 However there are enough
parallels to the relative clause which begins at the Bucolic diaeresis
and which is followed by the verb at the beginning of the next line
that there is an applicable model for the structure of this simile; for

θηρὸς ἀκούσαντες κρατερόφρονος, ὅς τε καθ ὕλην
ἔρχηται δι ὄρεσφι· (10.184-5)

ὅσσον δὲ τροχοῦ ἵππος ἀφίσταται, ὅς ῥα ἄνακτα
ἕλκῃσιν πεδίοιο . . . (23.517-8)

Line 8.307, however, does not begin with a verb but is continued by
a participle, which is also a traditional way of adding a line. Considering
the method of composition, grammatical consistency
cannot always be foremost in the poet's mind, and in fact, he does
very well to be as grammatically correct as he is. The technique of
building with small units—new clauses, participles, appositional
adjectives and nouns, and relative clauses—helps the poet to move in
such small units that there is limited opportunity to forget vital
elements. Yet in this simile the poet began with one type of clause
which was a customary way of ending a line and then continued with
another type of clause which was equally familiar at the beginning
of a line. He simply was thinking in the narrow terms of the individual
members of his simile and not in terms of the grammar or even
the sense of the passage. 56 In a written style this simile could not be
punctuated, though in an oral style it is perfectly understandable. 57


This simile is no exception since long similes with no verb are also
found at 16.406 and Od. 11.413.


Finally, it should be noted that there is a tighter structure in
many of the similes of the Odyssey than in those of the Iliad where
often the verb will be two lines away from its subject. A recent
study has noted that the most integrated set of lines in a simile
occurs at Od. 4.335 (which is repeated at Od. 17.126). 58 Though, to
be sure, there are examples of these longer and more complex units
in the Iliad, such similes are more common in the Odyssey. There is
no implication, however, that the Odyssey represents a written
style while the Iliad is the product of an earlier stage when poetry
was sung. Both were composed orally, but the composition of the
Odyssey is to this extent more subtle and sophisticated, though
needless to say, there are also similes which are strictly additive,
uncomplicated, and unsubordinated in the Odyssey.

Corroboration of the general additive quality of extending lines
can be found in the recent study by C. J. Ruijgh, Autour de "te
in which he identifies a usage of the particle τε which
implies a closer connection between two clauses than coordination.
He calls this function "disgressif-permanent". The use of τε (relative,
temporal, or coordinate) signifies that the clause is not essential
to the understanding of the independent statement and is thus
digressive. At the same time, the subordinate clause generally
provides information which is always true of the independent
statement and thus expresses a connection which can be regarded
as permanent. The subordinate clause then provides information
which does not have to be said, and it can thus be regarded as
digressive rather than essential to the immediate context. 59

III. Conclusion: The Language of the Similes

As one critic of Homer phrased his comments on the poem:


Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
  That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
  Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
  When a new planet swims into his ken . . .



Against such a statement the remarks made in this chapter may
sound like literary slander.

Homer repeated whole similes, continually borrowed phrases
from here and there to make obvious pastiches, was a master at
the creation of the run-on sentence, and often broke the basic rules
of grammar. Yet the poet who composed in this way has been
regarded by the most demanding grammarians and scrupulously
literal critics as the father of Western letters and the model of the
epic. The evidence presented in this chapter is clear indication that
Homer, as great a poet as he was, composed even the smallest and
most self-contained images in terms of half-lines, whole lines, and
blocks of lines. Such a technique inevitably leads to a style which is
far different from a later written style. And therefore what would
be regarded as clumsy and awkward in a written epic must often be
excused as a mark of oral composition. 60

Many critics have been willing to admit that the narrative is the
product of oral composition but doubt the oral composition of the
similes. Lingering suspicions have existed that such short and yet
effective images must be the spontaneous creation of an individual
poet and must have reflected the world around him, even though the
narrative was built from type scenes and formulaic phrases inherited
from a long line of oral singers. The evidence cited in this study
shows that similes seem to have had an ancestry which is also based
in the oral tradition. Similes were taken from the poet's memory
harking back to the inherited diction of the oral tradition rather
than created from the poet's eye glancing on a memorable landscape.
If then the similes were the products of an oral singer and were
composed in terms of the traditional units—large and small— which
have been illustrated, there is solid support in the language and
structure of Homeric verse for the statements concerning the placement,
subject matter and extension which have been previously


It has been demonstrated that the poet reached certain junctures
in the narrative where he customarily thought of singing a simile. 61
Examination of the language of the similes suggests that the simile
is an independent entity entering the narrative either at the
beginning of the line or else beginning at one of the traditional
caesurae of the line. Such positioning facilitates the insertion of the
standard metrical configurations of the simile unit at several points
in each line; thus the poet has no need to create each simile individually
for its place. In addition, since each simile was so independent
of the narrative, the poet did not need to prepare for the simile.
When he came to the crucial juncture, he was only required to
decide whether he would continue with a simile or with one of the
other alternatives suggested by the tradition. There would be little
point in examining the clause directly before the simile for signs of
an impending simile because the lines preceding this juncture
permitted a choice which was quite free among two or three alternatives.
Probably an oral poet himself could not have told his audience
whether he would sing a simile until he was at the crucial spot, an
indication of how strongly independent the simile was in conception,
in practice, and in form from the narrative. Finally, the additive
structure of each simile shows that it was not of major significance
to the poet whether he sang a long or short simile to satisfy the
simile suggestion given to him by the tradition. Some similes are so
short that a moment's inattentiveness from the audience would
remove them and their effect from the poem. It may even be that
an oral poet would choose the alternative of the simile in such cases
to finish out his line smoothly; a short simile will usually fill out a
colon without complicating the story. The choice was to sing a
simile or not; in the former case, the length of the extension could
be determined as the poet worked with the subject, felt the needs of
the story, and kept a watchful eye on the tolerance of his audience.
At the beginning of any one line the poet was called upon to answer
only one question: was there to be a simile or not? Subject and
extension could all be settled independently of that question.

Concerning the subject matter of the similes the poet seems most
often to have thought in terms of a simple subject with no real
notion of precise balance between simile and narrative. 62 The choice


of the basic subject was limited to a traditional list of formulaic or,
at least, independent metrical units which the poet willingly
embraced in order to turn his thoughts to other matters. The short
similes, which stand by themselves or may be extended into longer
similes, demonstrate the poet's manner of choosing the basic
subject first and then considering its extension. A certain artificial
quality or even serious incongruity can only be expected when the
poet took the subject suggested by a traditional scene each time
even though the details of each particular story may have changed.
Incongruities are especially noticeable when the poet chose the
same simile twice—as in the simile of the hungering lion—even
though the story, the motivation, and the characters are quite
different. And yet in the majority of cases similes sit well enough in
their location and such a judgment is probably the limit of the poet's
concern, since he wants his story to move forward easily with no
exceptionally jarring passages. Perfection in comparisons in the
sense one finds this quality in the similes of Vergil is nearly impossible
for the oral poet. When he submits to the dictates of the
tradition and its formulaic language, he has conceded this point. His
aim when singing within the tradition is to diminish incongruity and
roughness while admitting that neither can be totally abolished.


Finally, it has been shown that the poet extended each simile by
looking more to the tone of the whole passage than to the details of
the narrative which he was trying to complement. 63 Often when the
simile goes further than the narrative or falls short or simply is
irrelevant, the poet is not idly wandering, he is trying to deepen the
effectiveness of the whole scene by lending a tone or atmosphere
which will complement the narrative scene. Some similes were
recalled by the poet from his experience and had, therefore, been
tested in their effect, while undoubtedly some similes were improvised
as the poet sang. The additive structure of each simile would
allow an oral poet to create freely as he sang, all the while watching
his audience to see when the effect had been achieved; thus he would
never have committed himself to a long, involved simile without
expressly willing it. The paratactic structure of the simile allowed
the poet to concentrate fully on the tone of the simile without
distracting himself for the complexities of subordination and also


permitted him to stop the development of an idea which did not
seem to be effective and turn easily to another approach.


None of these statements seems particularly new when applied to
the narrative. My aim has been to point out features of traditional
oral diction which are uniform throughout the similes and which
may even explain some of the odd features of grammar and structure
in several similes. Considering the press of time, the compulsion of
a binding form like the hexameter, and the insatiate demands of an
audience, it is almost impossible to think of a bard composing both
simile and narrative in any other way. The advantage of conforming
to the traditional oral method of composition is that it permits
impromptu singing in units which are unsubordinated one to the
other and which are not dominated by any organic, unifying
conception with requirements of rigid parallels and precise exclusions.

And yet in his adherence to the oral diction there is a greater
freedom for the development of two concerns which are quite vital
to Homer: the effective presentation of the individual scene—both
fact and feeling, and the communication to other men of the theme
of the larger story. The artistry and the significance which men of
various ages have found in the Iliad and the Odyssey are ample
justification for a creative poet's submission to the diction of
traditional epic. The prison unto which Homer doomed himself no
prison was. And it is tempting to speculate about an epic poet who
might have decided to escape the oral diction by creating anew a
tale for an audience attuned to traditional songs. This is a man who
very probably would feel "the weight of too much liberty."

Notes—Chapter 5

1. For discussions of various relationships between simile and narrative see :
Fränkel, passim; K. Riezler, "Das homerische Gleichnis und der Anfang der
Philosophie", Die Antike 12 (1936), pp. 253-271; Webster, pp. 223-239;
W. Schadewaldt, "Die homerische Gleichniswelt und die Kretisch-Mykeni-
sche Kunst" in Von Homers Welt und Werk (4th ed.; Stuttgart 1965), p.
149 ff.

2. Fränkel, p. 6 f.

3. For example, C. M. Bowra, Tradition and Design in the Iliad (Oxford
1930), p. 92, A. Shewan, "Suspected Flaws in Homeric Similes'' in Homeric
(Oxford 1935), pp. 217-228, and Webster p. 235 ff.

4. For example, H. Düntzer, Homerische Abhandlungen (Leipzig 1872),
pp. 499-506; V. Inama, "Le Similitudini nell' Iliade e nell' Odissea," RFIC 5.
(1877), pp. 277-375, esp. 359-61; and H. Mancuso, "De Similitudinibus
Homericis Capita Selecta. Particula I: Certamen Leonis et Asini," RFIC 43
(1915), pp. 56-66.

5. The challenge is clearly stated by Leaf on 15.263-68: "How a single
'Homer' could have thus repeated his own best passages, careless of their
appropriateness, it is for the defenders of the unity of the Iliad to say."

6. For example, 5.161, 11.129; 11.324, 17.281.

7. Whitman, p. 279. Cf. Webster, p. 236.

8. However, excision as a critical tool must be judiciously used. Cf. the
approach of B. Fenik, Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad (Wiesbaden 1968) to
repeated patterns and lines; esp. p. 45 : "Repetition, by itself, is not sufficient
proof of consciously planned effect, or for maintaining that one part is older
than another, or that two different poets were at work. Other, and stronger
evidence is needed for any of these conclusions."

9. It might be objected that Homer was not purely an oral poet depending
on his memory but could take advantage in some way of the art of writing;
cf. A. Lesky, "Homeros", RE Suppl. 11 (1968), 703-709. It would be
possible in this case for Homer to have composed a simile, found it to his
liking, recalled it and used it again. Such repetition would not necessarily
involve reminiscence of the previous setting of the simile; see Lesky in DLZ
56 (1935) 1291. Yet on the assumption that the similes arose out of oral
rather than written practice and that their nature is better explained by
initial examination under conditions of oral composition, a modern critic
should not automatically jump to the introduction of writing to explain the
repeated similes. These similes offer strong indication that they were employed
in a way consistent with our knowledge of oral poetic practice. It is most
valuable for a discussion of the essential oral nature of these repeated similes
to treat them as parallel to other repeated scenes, such as eating and arming
scenes, where repetition is not to be explained on the basis of written reuse
but on the basis of a very strong tradition. If it is assumed that we possess
two occurrences out of four, five, or a potential one hundred repetitions, then
the simile is as good as being part of a remembered pool, written or not. In
this case my arguments for a collection of reusable similes would apply.

Lee suggests on p. 26 that these similes were repeated because there was no
tradition upon which poets could draw in creating them; since the simile was a
late creation, poets turned to pre-existing material "in default of traditional
formulas". Such a view ignores the subtlety with which the simile of the
hungering lion is placed in its setting. In addition, this argument is weakened
by the overwhelming number of unrepeated similes.

10. Webster, p. 236.

11. Cf. Bowra op. cit. (supra, n. 3) p. 92.

12. This statement goes against the judgement of Shewan op. cit. (supra,
n. 3) p. 220: "It is very difficult ... to accept the explanation from imitation
or borrowing, whether from a predecessor or a common stock.

To sustain such a theory, it would be necessary for its advocates to prove,
beyond doubt, that in such cases the recurring simile is in one of its occurrences
unsuitable to the context and borrowed. This can seldom, if ever, be
shown. But till that is done, we are entitled to accept the duplicated image as
original in both cases." Such a conclusion seems to advance our understanding
very slightly and to ignore the implications of the simile of the hungering

13. Shipp, pp. 3-222.

14. Shipp, p. 208 ff. and Webster, p. 223 ff.

15. J. B. Hainsworth, "The Homeric Formula and the Problem of its
Transmission," BICS 9 (1962), pp. 57-68 and A. Hoekstra, Homeric Modifications
of Formulaic Prototypes
(Amsterdam 1965).

16. Cf. the cautionary comments of P. Chantraine in his review of Shipp in
Revue de Philologie 29 (1955), p. 72 f. Also G. S. Kirk, The Songs of Homer
(Cambridge 1962), p. 201 ff.

17. As an example of the mixing of old and new in arming scenes, cf. the
armings of Patroclus at 16.130 ff. and of Achilles at 19.367 ff. Both are built
on the basis of a traditional framework; the structure of each of these scenes
has been analyzed by W. Arend, Die Typischen Scenen bei Homer (Berlin
1933), pp. 92-97 and Table 6 and J.I. Armstrong, "The Arming Motif in the
Iliad," AJP 79 (1958), pp. 337-54. Into this framework are set lines 16.141-
144=19.388-391. These lines concerning the Pelian ash spear are not part
of the traditional scene, yet are basic to the arming scenes in their contexts,
and are—as might be expected—cited in Shipp as containing a sign of
linguistic lateness (pp. 35 and 92 n. 2). It is significant that even lines marked
as being late compositions are made up of smaller units paralleled elsewhere
in the Iliad, none of which are noted by Shipp as containing any sign of
linguistic lateness (with 16.141 compare 5.746, 8.390, 16.802, 2.231, 15.569
and 23.668; with 16.143 compare 21.162 and 4.219). Thus, arming scenes
show a relatively late formation in several words, were probably carried in
the poet's mind as units to judge from their repetition, and betray a much
older tradition in their standard format and formulaic phrasing. In this
combination of old and new they are parallel to the similes.

18. This statement may seem to contradict the words of Fränkel, p. 105:
"Aber dass die Gleichnisse grundsätzlich eine von der Erzählung ganz freie,
selbständige Ausmalung des einmal angegebenen Motivs böten, ist falsch."
However I do not believe that Fränkel is working at cross purposes to the
conclusions of this study. He is analyzing the numerous connections which
were made by the poet to his simile scenes while admitting that there are
always details which would not fit; I am concentrating more on those elements
of the similes which did not fit while agreeing that there are a surprising
number of effective connections. It seems reasonable that the poet could
have chosen one of his simile blocks to sing and, when finished, realized
consciously or unconsciously that the action could now be picked up at a
point further advanced than it was at the beginning of the simile.

19. Fränkel, p. 6 points to a looser connection between simile and narrative
when he notes that there are similes which have a double point of comparison,
e.g., 13.492, 15.624, 5.87. The basic insignificance of the point of comparison
is revealed when the poet can change it quite easily in the course of his

20. For example, the careful analysis of the simile of Diana, p. 115 ff. in
V. Pöschl, Die Dichtkunst Virgils (2nd ed.; Darmstadt 1964).

21. Leaf, on 6.505 and 15.263-68; and CR. Beye, The Iliad, the Odyssey,
and the Epic Tradition
(New York 1966), p. 27 f.

22. Cf. the various scenes analyzed by Arend op. cit. (supra, n. 17).

23. Murray, p. 245.

24. Cf. Bowra op. cit. (supra n. 3), p. 119: "The epic poet learned some
similes as he learned other stock-lines, and, if these were less appropriate in
some places than in others, that was because for the moment he relied more
on his training than on his judgement."

25. Cf. the similar explanation of repeated typical scenes by Fenik op. cit.
(supra, n. 8), p. 47: "... the source of the typical scenes is not to be found
in a particular poem, but in the general technique of oral composition."

26. Cf. Webster, pp. 223 ff. and 235.

27. Much of the discussion of the colometric structure and the placement of
the caesurae in the hexameter line will be based on the studies of O'Neill and
Porter: E. G. O'Neill, Jr., "The Localization of Metrical Word-Types in the
Greek Hexameter," YCS 8 (1942), pp. 103-178 and H. N. Porter, "The
Early Greek Hexameter," YCS 12 (1951), pp. 1-63. I will refer to these
articles by the author's names.

28. There are two entries on this chart which appear to be outside the
normal colometric structure: λέων ὣς ending at 12 and ὥς τίς τε λέων ending
at 7. There are two examples of λέων ὣς ending the line (11.129 and 20.164)
even though Porter's Table Va shows that ls/sl/l or s is one of the least
common metrical patterns in the fourth colon. There is further indication
that this phrase is difficult to introduce neatly into the line: the same two
words precede each occurrence ("ἐναντίον ὦρτο λέων ὣς"). The second
phrase ὥς τίς τε λέων is always filled out by a preposition (s s) which makes
this pattern the second most prevalent in this position according to Porter's
Table IVa. λέων ὣς remains a difficult phrase to reconcile with colometric
structure; the rest of the examples seem to fit neatly within the standard
cola of the line and thus provide wide opportunity for a poet to insert the
phrase "like a lion".

29. See Chart 2, supra, p. 87.

30. 4.243, 4.246, 21.29, and Od. 24.392.

31. On the whole question of defining the formula see J. B. Hainsworth op.
(supra, n. 15), "Structure and Content in Epic Formulae: The Question of
the Unique Expression," CQ 14 (1964), pp. 155-164, and The Flexibility of the
Homeric Formula
(Oxford 1968), J. A. Russo, "A Closer Look at Homeric
Formulas," TAPhA 94 (1963), pp. 235-247 and "The Structural Formula in
Homeric Verse," YCS 20 (1966), pp. 219-240, William W. Minton, "The
Fallacy of the Structural Formula," TAPhA 96 (1965), pp. 241-253, and
Michael N. Nagler, Formula and Motif in the Homeric Epics: Prolegomena to
an Aesthetics of Oral Poetry
(Diss. Berkeley, 1966).

32. Cf. also J. A. Russo op. cit. "The Structural Formula . . ." (supra, n. 31).
In the Appendix of Common Structural Formula (I.B. 4) he lists verbs of the
shape s s l as common occurrences before the B caesura.

33. G. S. Kirk points out the weakness of Porter's C2 caesura in "Studies in
Some Technical Aspects of Homeric Style: The Structure of the Homeric
Hexameter," YCS 20 (1966), pp. 73-104.

34. That simile and narrative are equally representative of the oral tradition
is only to be expected from the nature of oral recitation and the limitations
which the audience places upon the poet. Cf. C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise
(Oxford, 1942), p. 20: "A line which gives the listener pause is a disaster
in oral poetry because it makes him lose the next line. And even if he does not
lose the next, the rare and ebullient line is not worth making. In the sweep of
recitation no individual line is going to count for very much."

35. Compare the analysis of the formulaic nature of the simile at 20.164 by
A. B. Lord, "Homer as Oral Poet," HSCP 72 (1967) 1-46 on p. 28. In this
whole study is concerned with methods of identifying oral verse. The analysis
of this simile demonstrates the density of formulae in an oral style.

36. This statement is supported by A. B. Lord's analysis of the growth and
interest of the poet in The Singer of Tales (Cambridge 1960), p. 36: "There is
some justification for saying indeed that the particular formula itself is
important to the singer only up to the time when it has planted in his mind
its basic mold. When this point is reached, the singer depends less and less on
learning formulas and more and more on the process of substituting other
words in the formula patterns."

37. J. C. Hogan, The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile (Diss. Cornell, 1966).
It was surprising to me to find this dissertation with the same title as mine
shortly after I had finished my degree; while Hogan's general conclusions
are the same, his method of argumentation differs. He focuses on the internal
structure of the simile to prove the oral quality of its composition. He
defines the extent to which formulae can be found in the similes and the
relation of these formulae to the narrative sections of the Iliad and the
Odyssey. He also shows in detail the additive and autonomous nature of the
units by which the basic simile is extended. His conclusions fit very well with
mine as is evident in this quotation: "The paratactic style is agreed to be
characteristic of oral poetry, and we have seen much evidence of this style in
the similes. Not only do formulae tend to be arranged appositionally, but
even those phrases for which we have no exact parallel are organized by the
same principle. Even in cases of two and three line enjambment, which are
significantly few, the inner elements are likely to be appositional expansions
of the motif rather than particular expressions of a complex whole." (p. 194).

38. M. Parry, "The Distinctive Character of Enjambement in Homeric
Verse," TAPhA 60 (1929), pp. 200-220, esp. 206-7. Cf. M. W. Edwards,
"Some Features of Homeric Craftsmanship." TAPhA 97 (1966), pp. 115-179

39. Cf. Parry op. cit. (supra, n. 38), p. 215: ". . . Homer was ever pushed on
to use unperiodic enjambement. Oral versemaking by its speed must be
chiefly carried on in an adding style. The Singer has not time for the nice
balances and contrasts of unhurried thought: he must order his words in
such a way that they leave him much freedom to end the sentence or draw it
out as the story and the needs of the verse demand."

40. This was noted by Notopoulos, "Parataxis in Homer: A New Approach
to Homeric Literary Criticism," TAPhA 80 (1949), pp. 1-23, in regard to
parataxis throughout the Homeric poems: "The imperious domination of
the immediate verse and episode shapes in large measure the paratactic
style as well as content of the oral epic. . . The poet thus tends to become
episodic in his mentality because of his verbal technique." (p. 15)

This article, basic to any study of parataxis in oral poetry, is a constant aid
in analyzing the structure of the similes.

41. Chantraine II, p. 361 f.

42. See Chart 2, supra, p. 87.

43. See C. J. Ruijgh, Autour de "te Épique" (Amsterdam 1971), p. 589 for
a discussion of the unusual way in which this simile is joined to the surrounding

44. The lack of logical connectives and subordination seems to have bothered
Leaf, among others, in regard to this simile: (on 10.8) "The simile runs on as
though 'the mighty mouth of war' were a natural phenomenon, differing
about as much from a snow-storm as a snow-storm from a hail-storm." He
then tries to see some logic in this list: "The idea may be that if the lightning
is not accompanied by (1) rain, (2) hail, or (3) snow, it must be a portent of
war. This seems to place a high importance on 'summer-lightning.' But it is
hopeless to criticize such an incompetent piece of expression."

45. Both G. W. Nitzsch and Leaf find weakness in the structure of this
simile. Nitzsch, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Epischen Poesie der Griechen
(Leipzig 1862), p. 342, is troubled by the τῶν in line 389 which he feels refers
to the waters in 385; he would excise the intervening lines 386-388. Leaf (on
16. 387-88) finds many reasons for the spuriousness of the two lines 387-88;
among his reasons one shows the kind of criticism which is not prepared to
accept a loose, additive structure: the couplet "... entirely spoils the balance
of the simile by laying weight on a point which is far removed from the
required picture."

46. E. H. Friedländer, Beiträge zur Kenntnis der homerischen Gleichnisse
(Berlin 1870), II, p. 24 f. felt the growing looseness of this simile. He thought
that the effect of the simile had been accomplished by line 280; if line 287
followed immediately, there would be a close connection between simile and
narrative—especially in the parallel structure of line 278 and 287. The
material in between (281-286) merely weakened the point of the simile.
Once again this is criticism not written with an eye to paratactic composition.

47. Ruijgh (see above, note 43) p. 854 feels that the poet quite naturally
forgot to add a concluding phrase joining the simile back to the narrative
because he had already indicated the connection at 3.2. This idea is quite in
keeping with the additive manner of composition common to most similes.
The unusual form of two juxtaposed similes modifying the same narrative
object may explain the poet's confusion.

48. The double nature of this simile has received much attention. L. Friedländer,
"Doppelte Recensionen in Ilias und Odyssee," Philologus 4 (1849),
pp. 577-591 on 586 f. and G. W. Nitzsch, Sagenpoesie, pp. 141 and 168 remove
the beginning of the simile and leave the traveller section as the true heart
of the simile. Fränkel, p. 72 and G. Jachmann, Der homerische Schiffskatalog
und die Ilias
(Köln und Opladen 1958), p. 329 ff. also see two similes combined
although the process of combination is different in each man's view. For
a defense of the unity of the simile see J. T. Kakridis, "Das Wespengleichnis
im 16 der Ilias," Hermes 88 (1960), p. 250-253 with a Zusatz by S. G. Kapsomenos.

49. Chantraine II 355 comments on the looseness of the grammatical consistency
within this simile but admits that paratactic structure is constant in
the similes.

50. Cf. B. E. Perry, "The Early Greek Capacity for Viewing Things Separately,"
TAPhA 68 (1937), pp. 403-427, concerning the Homeric simile: "It is a
familiar fact that the poet is not always content to illustrate just the particular
point for which the comparison is made; often, through concentration
upon the image before him, he adds details that have nothing to do with the
narrative and which do not belong logically in the comparison." (p. 414).

51. Notopoulos op. cit. (supra, n. 40), p. 21 in speaking of the relation of the
individual performance to the traditional epic story defines a similar cooperative
role for the audience: "The poet selects his material and the unity of
the larger whole may be in the minds of the audience, as Bassett has so
skilfully shown. . . The oral recitation thus becomes a selection of parts
whose whole is the inexpressed context of the traditional material."

52. As Notopoulos op. cit. (supra, n. 40), p. 20 has said: "... the audience's
interest is the poet's interest, and it may be stated as a cardinal principle
in oral literature that the interest of the audience rather than concern for
the structure of his material is the object of the poet."

53. Cf. S. E. Bassett, The Poetry of Homer (Berkeley 1938), p. 128: "The
best efforts of the poet may fail if the listener does not contribute his share in
the telling of the tale."

54. Cf. J. A. Notopoulos, "Studies in Early Greek Oral Poetry," HSCP 68
(1964), pp. 1-77: "The seeming discreteness of the elements of the structure
of the Works and Days does not make the poem inorganic from the point of
view of the Boeotian farmer whose life and problems enter into it. The loose
parataxis of the poem must not have bothered Hesiod's audience as much as
it does the scholar. Hesiod could make jumps and abrupt transitions with an
audience that held in its mind the necessary knowledge of interconnection."
(p. 51 f.).

55. Cf. Leaf on 8.306.

56. Notopoulos op. cit. (supra, n. 40), p. 15: "... the oral poet is both
physically and mentally bound to the moment, the immediate verse, and his
intimate relation with the audience. . . neither the poet nor his audience can
divert their attention for any period of time to the whole ; they cannot pause
to analyze, compare, and relate parts to the whole; the whole only exists as
an arrière pensée which both the poet and his audience share as a context
for the immediate tectonic plasticity of the episode."

57. F. M. Combellack, "Milman Parry and Homeric Artistry." Comparative
XI (1959), pp. 193-208; on p. 208 he is discussing the critical
limitations on the interpreter of oral verse: "For all that any critic of Homer
can now show, the occasional highly appropriate word may, like the occasional
highly inappropriate one, be purely coincidental—part of the law of averages,
if you like, in the use of the formulary style."

58. Hogan op. cit. (supra, n. 37), p. 156.

59. Ruijgh (see above, note 43).

60. The additive approach to composition is especially significant when one
must contend with a book like D. J. N. Lee's The Similes of the Iliad and the
Odyssey Compared.
Much of his argument is derived from a subjective
judgment on those lines which are organically related to their passages and
those which are obvious additions. If it can be agreed that the oral style of
the Homeric poems encourages an additive method of composition with less
than complete care for matching details, then there is little proof of lateness
or spuriousness in calling attention to lines which seem to a reader of the
twentieth century to be added or irrelevant.

61. See supra, Chapter 2.

62. See supra, Chapter 3.

63. See supra, Chapter 4.



I. The Relationship between Art and Poetry

One of the continuing complaints of Homerists is the lack of
contemporary evidence independent of the Homeric poems on which
to test their conclusions. Comparative study of the epic in later
Greek manifestations, in Roman transformations, and in the oral
verse of other literatures is an ultimate expedient embraced with no
real joy. There is no adequate substitute for the enforced breadth of
view provided by independent contemporary evidence, especially
when one's eyes are directed narrowly at a single work of art.
Conclusions about Homeric artistry reached solely on the basis of
the Homeric text represent the best efforts of critics and undoubtedly
approach true descriptions of the poet and his poem though such
conclusions lack the critical sharpness and certitude possible in
studying another age, closer in time, whose literary and social
conventions are well known and whose history and thought patterns
are familiar.

In spite of this innate weakness in Homeric studies, there is one
possibility for independent testimony which has, at times, been
invoked: the Homeric audience. Although there is no way in which
any single individual of that group can be questioned concerning his
response to the poems, there remains the possibility of probing the
attitudes of the group by examining other creative works produced
in the period from late Mycenaean times to the early Archaic age.
Visual art works—pottery, stelae, sarcophagi—are preserved from
this long period in adequate quantity to permit at least superficial
examination of the taste of the people and the aims of their artists.

Such an inquiry is intended to conclude and summarize the
detailed analysis of the Homeric simile. While conclusions to long
studies are often presented with great pride and conviction, this
brief study of the relationship between the similes and art, is
presented with only marginal confidence. These interpretations of
individual art works carry little weight of their own since they are,
in the real sense of the words, derived and, therefore, highly dependent


observations. In the course of gathering information on the
similes, I have noted that there are certain customary comparisons
in the similes which have their analogues in the work of visual and
plastic artists. It is possible, and perhaps no more than possible,
that there is a similar intent on the part of the poet, who sang the
simile, and on the part of the painter or sculptor, who created the
art work.


There have been numerous attempts to relate the art of visual
artists to the Homeric poems. Connections have been found at
least four different levels:

  1. Close representations of specific objects or events
  2. Illustrations of general practices and customs
  3. Reflections of cultural traditions
  4. Parallels of artistic technique and style.

On the first level are discoveries of an almost direct relationship
between a physical object and an object described in the poems. 1
The parallel between the so-called Nestor's cup and the description
of the much larger and more ornate vessel in Iliad II is close, but not
precise. 2 The explanation of the boar's tusks found in Mycenaean
tombs is probably the most helpful direct parallel between archaeology
and the Homeric poems. Parallels to individual scenes may be
similarly sought, and R. Hampe has discovered a picture of a
shipwreck which seems to be based on the Odyssey. 3 The drawing
of such parallels does not involve the creative power of the poet
nor the poetic use of the object, but simply indicates the existence
of an object or event which is similar to that in the text.

On the second level there are studies of practices and customs
known from painted scenes and interpretations of remains which
parallel passages in the Homeric poems. For example, there is a
great difference in battle tactics between the man who carries one
long thrusting spear and the warrior who carries two smaller


throwing spears. This is not simply a question of how many spears
the man picked up; it is a comment on the type of fighting this
warrior expected, the relative age or newness of this method of
warfare, and the armor which would be complementary to such a
conception of battle. 4 Information on such subjects comes largely
from physical remains and art works of various periods. When the
text stresses that the shield of Ajax is like a tower, this is sufficient
evidence for one critic to maintain:


Though in two of his more spectacular appearances (as champion
against Hector and as the protector of Teukros) we shall find
Aias as a wielder of the round shield, behind this figure we can
discern another, older and more shadowy, who is still so dominated
by the ancient tradition that alone of the first-class
heroes he never wears a corslet. In Homer's hands indeed he
becomes a creature of flesh and blood, as solid a creation as any
of the secondary characters; but his footing in heroic society is
precarious . . . The great Aias seems to be some legendary figure
of the remote past, the type of the perfect warrior as he was in
the days when the body-shield held sway. 5

In these first two types of inquiry the parallels are of interest
mainly to later critics; they are of slight importance to the oral poet
and of even less concern to his audience. If the Homeric audience
recollected the object or a similar object as they were listening to the
singer, they would probably have nodded in silent recognition but
would not have let this recollection distract them from the course of
the story. The experience of listening to oral verse would have
approximated graduate study if the audience had been expected to
interrupt their concentration on the story in order to ponder the
mixture of ages which seems to have formed the conglomerate
figure of Ajax. 6 The concern in these studies is primarily archaeological,


and the points made have more relevance to the history and
to the art of early Greece than they do to the composition or the
artistry of the poems.


The third type of connection made between visual and verbal
art concerns the similes more directly. There are critics who have
related the style of description in the similes to the painting style of
either Minoan-Mycenaean art or to the painters of the late Geometric
period. F. Winter finds that Homer and Mycenaean artists clearly
observed the individual characteristics of nature, while early
Archaic art shows a marked tendency to use simile subjects as
decoration with little concern for the effectiveness of the individual
scene. In the later period there is a tendency toward the use of
repeated type scenes as opposed to the more vigorous Mycenaean
treatment of individual scenes, each of which is told for its own
sake. 7 Opposed to him is W. Schadewaldt who finds the spirit of the
Homeric simile utterly divorced from Minoan-Mycenaean art.
Cretan art is unrealistic in that the characters are more decorative
in their nature than narrative; each character in a Cretan painting
fills his space on the wall without really entering into the scene
which is being portrayed. In his similes Homer, on the other hand,
is interested in the essence of the object which is being portrayed.
He combines the surface appearance with the essence to produce a
small narrative scene in which characters play their appropriate
roles. 8 Schadewaldt's conclusions are carried further by R. Hampe,
who feels that the art of the Geometric period provides the closest
parallel in aims and techniques to the similes. These scholars
attempt to define the aesthetic principles which control the representation
of the same scene in words and in paint or in inlay.

This third type of study differs from the previous two examples
because there is some attempt to see the attitude of the poet toward
his material from nature. Underlying these studies is the belief that
the proper interpretation of the artist's perception and presentation
of nature will lead to further knowledge about the poet or poets of
the epic poems. Once again, however, there is little interest in the


audience. If there is a consideration of tradition, it is the tradition
which the poet carried within himself and upon which he drew in
forming the exact words of his simile scenes.


Finally, there are a few attempts at locating the connection
between visual art and poetry in the shared thoughts of poet,
painter, and audience. C. H. Whitman has recently illustrated the
parallel between the composition of the Homeric poems and the
rhythmical, balanced placement of similar designs on Geometric
vases. He has analysed the principles of composition which appear
in art objects of the period when Homer composed, and he has found
these same principles operative in the structure of the Homeric
poems. The common concern of both visual and literary artists is the
approval of those who view the painting and of those who hear the
epic. Consequently, the connection between these two types of art
lies where, in the final analysis, it inevitably must: in the minds of
the artists and of the audience for which they were composing. This
type of study explains little about the actual visible objects or their
history; yet with the aid of these objects the critic hopes to define
the structure of the poem, to establish the poet's intent in creating
his epic, and to perceive, even vaguely, the audience's reactions in
hearing the poem. Scholars of later generations can perceptively
analyze Homeric composition, but they can never come close
enough to the instinctive and immediate understanding possessed
by a contemporary audience to participate in the full pleasure of the
story well told. Similarly it is possible to analyze intellectually the
principles which underlie the creation of the Geometric amphora,
but one would have to be born surrounded by the traditions and
spirit of ancient Greece to recapture the instantaneous and un-
conscious feelings stirred by the achievement of excellence in terms
of the living, artistic canon. The comparison of the two media,
however, allows a modern critic to approach one step closer to an
understanding of the contemporary audience. 9

In this listing of four varied approaches to art through verse and
verse through art, the main concern of each type of criticism stands


out clearly. Each of these approaches, in the order listed, becomes
increasingly more significant for the study of oral poetry as each
considers people who are more directly involved in the creation and
presentation of the poem. The first type of study, which points
out parallels to physical objects, is of interest to the archaeologist
and the historian, who are not particularly pertinent when one's
aim is literary. The second and third types of investigation, which
identify customs and cultural traditions similar to physical remains,
concentrate on the background of the poet and the visual artist.
Yet it is only in research which seeks artistic principles common to
the age that the most important contributors to the oral style are
considered in the fullness to which they are so amply entitled: the
Homeric audience. The oral poet may have continually renewed
the tradition, but it was his audience which pronounced such
renewal successful or misguided, and which controlled by its
acceptance the rate of change and the amount of freedom which the
oral poet could enjoy. There is an insufficiently understood inter-
mingling of two strong forces when one speaks of the oral tradition:
poet and audience, and only the last type of study takes into
account the relationship between poet and audience which truly
determines the direction of the tradition. Such inquiry is necessarily
indefinite in its results and difficult because of the intricacy of
interpretation, since any depth in understanding may, in fact, be
ultimately impossible once the oral poets, their audiences, and their
milieu have passed from the earth. And yet only in the minds of
both poet and audience can the connection between words and
objects be adequately explored. 10


These are words of almost inevitable frustration. There are few
ways to learn the thoughts and the desires of the Homeric audience
except through mute physical remains. The Iliad and the Odyssey
constitute an overwhelming percentage of the extant words and
thought of this early period, and there is little independent testimony.
Perhaps in following the method used by C. H. Whitman it will
be possible to see some of the traditional features of the simile in
visual art, because such a comparison of poetry and art provides a
technique for more closely defining the expectations of the audience


for whom both painter and poet were creating. If the physical
remains of a society can cast light upon the words of a poet, then it
should also be true that the poets of the oral tradition can provide
words for the voiceless monuments of painters and sculptors.
Further, when various craftsmen from scattered locations and
different periods seem to be working on the same principles, then
there is an opportunity to focus from several directions on the
aesthetic principles of the times, which is to say, the aesthetic
principles of the people. Such an approach will not allow a critic to
distinguish subtle changes of attitude and shifts of view, but it will
illustrate in general terms the ways of thinking which produced the
characteristic features of the epics and the distinctive qualities of
the visual art.


It has been demonstrated previously that there were certain
narrative contexts which suggested a very limited number of
subjects for similes to the poet. 11 The chart on page 86 lists all
such contexts; two of these are:

Lion (Boar) in contexts of a fighting warrior
Hunting scenes in contexts of pursuit and attack.

There are many other narrative contexts listed, but the two scenes
of fighting warrior (s) and pursuit and attack are the ones most
commonly represented in visual art. The chart was then reversed to
indicate the connections between simile and narrative as they
existed in the minds of the Homeric poet and his audience:

Contexts of a fighting warrior will often contain a simile of a
lion (boar)

Contexts of pursuit and attack will often contain a simile of a
hunting scene.

This connection of lion with fighting warrior was not prescribed in a
handbook for oral poets, nor was it a rigid rule which every oral
poet was compelled to follow at the risk of being drummed out of his
profession. The compulsion to employ the lion simile arose from the
past success of this subject in conveying the mood and in paralleling
the situation of most basic appearances of the fighting warrior.
Such a connection would not have remained in the traditional
diction as firmly as it did unless it had been highly useful in a


variety of situations. The frequency of these two simile subjects in
customary scenes is ample indication of the poet's dependence on
such a tradition. But it is also evidence that the pairing of lions and
boars with a fighting warrior was equally familiar to the Homeric
audience. The early Greeks, reared on the oral tradition for generations,
would feel nothing strange or wondrous in the words: "He
fought like a lion ..." or "He chased him just as a dog chases a
deer ..." In further corroboration of this familiarity there is evidence
that the painters of various periods were also aware of this
traditional connection and drew on it in creating their works.


In order to illustrate the premise that artists chose subject
matter in the same way as oral poets, a special type of art work is
required. Either there must be an obvious type of iconography
which allows the significance of the simile-like scene to be grasped
easily, or else the art object must be composed of two or more
distinct panels, one of which must illustrate a narrative scene from
the world of men while the other presents a scene containing
creatures from the world of simile (in this case lions, boars, hunters,
and their prey). The simile scene should, then, parallel the action in
the narrative panel. Such an arrangement is rare in Greek art since
more often Greek artists attempted to cover the available surface
with one unified composition rather than split the field and, thus,
be forced to create a unity from the two pictures. 12 There are,
however, several examples of art objects which do reveal a desire to
unify subjects of various picture panels and which also reveal a
feeling for the same connections which can be observed in matching
simile subject and narrative context. 13 Three basic styles offer evidence:


  • Mycenaean Art and Its Precursors
  • Protο-Attic Pottery
  • Clazomenian Sarcophagi

1. Myceanean Art and its Precursors

The evidence from Mycenaean and earlier art bearing directly on
the connection between simile and narrative is understandably
slight given the great distance in time from the composition of the
Homeric poems and the inevitable changes in the oral tradition. The
most pertinent art objects which have a symbolic meaning are the
various figures of lions, but statements on such objects run the risk
of going beyond the evidence. There are, of course, inlayed figures
of lions and hunters on dagger blades; 14 these could represent the
might of the warrior who wields the weapon, though such an
interpretation is not necessarily certain. More clearly metaphorical
is the Lion Gate of Mycenae which is so rich in symbolic meaning.
It is evident to any visitor to the magnificent site that this sculpture
is intended to say much about the power and prestige of the Mycenaean
king. 15 Though it would be excessive to try to give a precise
meaning to each feature of the sculptural composition, the two
heraldic lions most probably represent the warrior aspect of the
king of Mycenae. Such a comparison as 11.172 ff. comes easily to

some were being driven through the middle of the plain like
cattle which a lion has scattered coming in the darkness of the
night, and to one alone appears sheer death—first seizing her
neck he breaks it and then laps up the blood and all the entrails,
so did mighty Agamemnon, son of Atreus follow after them . . .

In support of this interpretation A. W. Persson has listed parallels
from Egyptian and Near Eastern art which may show the origin of
the comparison of ruler and victorious warrior to a lion. His citations
reach back as far as the 18th Dynasty (1580 B.C.). For example, the
Pharaoh Thotmes II is presented on a scarabaeus as a lion standing
over a fallen enemy with the inscription: "The lion, The conqueror,
a wildly glaring lion, when he sees the enemy who crosses his path."


The Pharoah besieges a city: "like a lion who lies in wait." Persson
also cites the Lion Gate at Boghazköi, which may, however, have
an apotropaic function, and the comparisons to lions from Genesis
49.9 and Deuteronomy 33.22. 16


Similar in intent is the scene on a stele found by Schliemann and
numbered 1427 in the inventory of the National Museum at
Athens. 17 The sculpture is badly damaged, but certain features can
be clearly identified. In the picture panel there are two separate
scenes which seem to be unrelated. The bottom of the composition
shows a lion chasing a deer. Above these two animal figures is a
single man driving a chariot. He holds the reins in his left hand and
a short object, perhaps a whip, in his right. He seems decidedly
unarmed. The chariot is being driven over an odd-shaped mound
which has been interpreted in various ways; it might be an opposing
warrior now fallen under his figure-of-eight shield or a representation
of a rocky landscape. The scene of a warrior crushing his enemies
would be fitting decoration for a grave marker; G. Mylonas, however,
feels that the driver—who is not a warrior since he is unarmed—is
engaged in a chariot race which is a part of the funeral games for
the dead nobleman. 18 Neither interpretation, however, explains the
animals below. If, indeed, there is a unity to the picture, then it
seems that the sculptor was using the same type of parallel which
is developed in the similes: 19 the charioteer is like the lion who
chases a weaker animal, in this case, a deer:

Just as a lion easily tears apart the gentle young of a fleet deer
snatching them in his strong teeth when he has entered their lair
and taken their tender life from them—and the mother even if
she happens to be close by cannot aid them because a terrible
trembling strikes her and swiftly she runs through the thick
brush and the forest sweating in her panic before the charge of
the mighty beast, so also was no one of the Trojans able to keep
death away from the two but they fled before the Greeks. (11.113-21)


This stele is so poorly preserved that there is little hope of identifying
convincingly the strange object beneath the horse. If it is not
the figure of a slain opponent, perhaps it is landscape and the picture
merely represents the confident chieftain driving his chariot through
his domain. This is an apt scene for a tombstone, and the compliment
would be reinforced by the commentary provided in the
parallel scene of the lion chasing the deer.

In all these examples from Near Eastern, Egyptian, and Mycenaean
art, the lion is joined with the warrior or the nobleman, an
analogy which is well established in art and in literature. The
persistence of this same comparison with its luxuriant development
in the poetry of Homer is probably rooted in the earlier connection
which would have entered the Greek oral tradition far before the
Iliad and the Odyssey were composed in their present forms.

A similar kind of pairing might be traced in the conjunction of
birds with divinities. It has already been pointed out that in two
cases it is difficult to distinguish the simile of a bird describing a
divinity from a transformation. 20 At Od. 3.372 Athena leaves
Telemachus, Nestor, and the assembled citizens of Pylos:

Thus the gleaming-eyed Athena spoke and went away in the
likeness of a sea-eagle. Wonder seized all the Achaeans, and the
old man was amazed when he saw it.

There is similar ambiguity at Od. 1.320. In the Homeric poems
there are thirteen occasions upon which a god or goddess is compared
to a bird.

M. Nilsson comments on the representations of birds in conjunction
with divinities and shrine models in Minoan art and also on
related objects found at Mycenae. Birds appear on sarcophagi with
religious scenes, on religious statues, and on temple or shrine
models. 21 There is a strong Minoan influence in such works, especially
since they do not occur with any frequency after the LH I period.
G. Mylonas is dubious of the significance to the Mycenaeans of birds
on top of human figures or alighting on shrines, but he is willing
to consider the acceptance of this Minoan custom by the Mycenaeans:




Proto-Attic Neck Amphora (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, 1911)




Painted Sarcophagus Rim (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers
Fund, 1921)


... it is not clear whether or not they adopted the device of the
bird symbolizing the epiphany of a goddess. After LH I the
only example of the divine epiphany is to be found on the
sealing from the Rhyton Well of Mycenae; but even that
example, dating from LH II times, could be considered an
importation. However, the legends and the association of birds
with Olympian deities, such as Athena, may indicate the
adoption of the Minoan concept of divine epiphany by the
Mycenaeans. 22

These two examples of lion-warrior and bird-divinity connections
which appeared in the art and literature of the Near East, Egypt,
Crete and Mycenaean Greece may show the origins of the later
expanded similes. If this is true, then the folk tradition which
united certain similes with limited contexts is very ancient and,
perhaps, ultimately pre-Greek.

2. Proto-Attic Pottery

The second area of early Greek art offering two major picture
panels is proto-Attic pottery of which perhaps the clearest example
is the Nessos Vase in the Metropolitan Museum (Plate I). This
amphora has a very tall neck with a picture frieze on it and also
one on the body of the vase. There are decorations on the lip of the
vase, on the handles, at the shoulders and several bands below the
main panel, but the two principal surfaces for decoration are the
body and the neck. The main panel shows Heracles fighting Nessos;
the panel on the neck contains a panther or lion attacking a deer.
Though panthers are not a common topic in the similes, a panther
does appear in a context where it is equated to a lion or a boar
(17.20 f.), and the one extended simile of the panther puts him in
the type of hunting scene which most often would have contained
a lion or a boar:

Just as a panther comes out of a deep thicket to face a hunter
and does not fear nor flee when she hears the barking of the dogs
—even if a man wounds her or strikes her first, still pierced with
the spear she does not cease from her fury until she has attacked
him or is killed . . . (21.573-78)


If the artist of the Nessos Vase were trying to create a unit in at
least these two panels, then he is probably drawing upon his viewers'
knowledge of the oral tradition by presenting Heracles subduing
Nessos as similar to the wild animal who subdues the deer.

A second example is a vase from Denmark (CVA Danemark 2,
Pl. 73, 4a and b). There are three major panels on this vase; on the
body there is a scene of warfare on ship and on shore with several
killings, while immediately above this scene there is a frieze of four
dogs chasing a highly nervous rabbit. There is just such a simile
at 10.360:

as when two sharp-toothed dogs, skilled in hunting, chase
ceaselessly after a young deer or hare through the woods, and
he runs crying before them . . . (10.360-62)

The panel on the neck of the vase represents a man with a sword
holding two horses; his connection to the scenes on the body is
problematical. He could be the squire holding the horses while his
warrior-master is repulsing invaders from the sea; but he could
fill so many other roles that satisfactory interpretation is difficult.
More important is the immediate juxtaposition of the battle scene
and the simile scene.

One further example comes from Berlin (CVA, Deutschland 2,
Pl. 43 and 44). There are four major decorative friezes on this vase:
on the neck, on the shoulder, and two on the body. The neck band
shows individual combat; the shoulder, one warrior fighting from a
horse and one from a chariot; the first panel on the body shows
several scenes of individual combat; the second band presents six
lions. This bottom frieze states in a comparative pictorial way the
same spirit as the three upper decorative bands, a connection that
would be especially apparent to viewers raised on the oral tradition.

Several other examples can be listed:

  1. CVA, National Museum Athens 2, PI. 1 (Grèce): a frieze at
    the shoulder of the vase with two lions and three stags while the
    major frieze shows a warrior in a chariot next to a woman and child.
    Beneath this band there is a procession of six bulls. The connection
    between the warrior and the lions tracking the stags is amply
    paralleled from the similes; the bull panel may reflect the prominence
    of the warrior in the same way that the simile at 2.480 adds


    stature to Agamemnon; but then this subject appears in so many
    different contexts in the Homeric poems that it is doubtful that a
    tradition had been developed which would give added significance
    to the mere representation of a bull. More revealing is the juxtaposition
    of the warrior and the lion.
  2. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (#1935.18): an early Orientalizing
    vase with four bands: 1. Chariots, 2. Hounds pursuing a rabbit,
    3. Chariots, 4. Hounds pursuing a fox.
  3. British Museum (#1927-4-11-1): a tall amphora with two
    panels representing warriors with spears and swords. A frieze
    between the two picture panels contain five dogs chasing one rabbit.
  4. Louvre (CA 3468) Attic Sub-geometric: there are five picture
    panels: 1. (top of vase) single men in two horse chariot; 2. (bottom
    of neck) standing armed men, equipped with upright spears; 3.
    (body) men in two-horse chariots and men with shields and spears;
    5. (immediately beneath body panel) lions or wolves walking in file;
    (immediately beneath #4) running horses or dogs. At the very
    least the two friezes of armed warriors juxtaposed with the lions or
    wolves make a unified statement; perhaps the running animal
    contributes its share, especially if these animals are hunting dogs.

3. Clazomenian Sarcophagi

The third art form which may show significant relation to the
oral tradition as revealed in the choice of simile subjects is the more
or less standard form of the Clazomenian sarcophagus cover;
examples are all dated approximately to the 6th century. 23 The
form is demonstrated clearly by an example in the Metropolitan
Museum (Plate 2). The decorated surface consists of a rectangular
frame tapering toward the bottom. The rectangular area left vacant
in the center was at times covered by a gabel-shaped roof. 24 At the
four corners of this opening there is a protruding small rectangular
inset which is treated as part of the surface to be decorated. The
long sides of this sarcophagus are painted with an interlocked
spiral and palmette motif. At the top and bottom of these side
pieces there are square spaces set aside for separate picture panels.
Beneath the bottom squares and above the top squares there is a


narrow band with geometric or figured decoration. Across the top
and the bottom of the cover there are unbroken picture panels
running the full width of the sarcophagus. Though within this basic
pattern there are variations, the standard form of the Clazomenian
sarcophagus is preserved remarkably well in most of the remaining


Particularly pertinent to the intent of the artist is the conscious
striving for symmetry throughout the composition with the notable
exception of the large picture panels at the top and the bottom.
On the sarcophagus from the Metropolitan Museum the decorative
elements on the side pieces are almost perfectly symmetrical. At the
top there are balancing panels containing two heraldic sphinxes
facing one another surrounded by two lions. Although the painting
has been severely damaged, the attempt at symmetry is evident in
such small details as the curl of the tails on the outer two sphinxes. The
sphinx on the far right has a neatly curling tail which stands out in
sharp profile against the plain background. The sphinx on the far
left carries its tail a little more low slung although in the same neat
curl. The problem is one of spacing because the composition on the
right is more crowded toward the inside of the sarcophagus while
that on the left is more compressed toward the outer edge. However
there is no correction made for the differences in spacing. If one
sphinx had a handsome tail in an s-curve, then his counterpart must
have the same, the desire for symmetry taking precedence over
clarity of composition. The same point could be made in reference to
the s-curve tails of the two innermost sphinxes, since this area of
the picture seems clear on the left but confused on the right.

Continuing down the side panels there are facing centaurs with
palm branches. There is a break with the idea of symmetry in this
small composition; the palm branches on the left are exhaustively
decorated with leaves, while those on the right are denuded.
Beneath the centaur is a column of interlocked double spirals with
palmettes to either side. There are more spirals on the left than on
the right, but this is not evident to the casual observer and the
effect is one of symmetry. Then follow two facing sirens; identical
decorative elements fill the surrounding space in the square.
Beneath the birds is a series of small squares each filled with an
abstract design. These are not in perfect symmetry although there
are two basic designs which are alternated. Such a listing of the
decorative elements reveals the depth of interest in balance and


symmetry which is characteristic of the design of most Clazomenian


The only two panels which are not symmetrical are the large top
and bottom panels. Such panels offer another possibility for illustrating
graphically the same connections which exist in the Homeric
simile. In the example from the Metropolitan Museum there is a
battle scene in the top panel. Because the painting is so damaged it
is difficult to ascertain the details, but there is a partial symmetry
in the composition. The picture is flanked by two chariots each
with two riders; there are two round shields, one dark and one light
which balance each other toward the middle of the picture. But
there are also clear unsymmetrical elements especially in the center
section of the painting.

The bottom panel consists of a boar surrounded by openmouthed
lions. There is really not much attempt at balance in this panel with
the exception of the heraldic position of the lions. Admittedly there
is no precise source for this scene in the existing similes, but there is,
however, a close parallel:

As when a lion overwhelms a tireless boar in combat when the
two fight with high hearts on the peaks of a mountain over a
small spring and both wish to drink—the lion overcomes the
boar as he pants hard, thus did Hector take life from the valiant
son of Menoetius . . . (16.823-28)

The choice of such a simile for a war context is a parallel construction
to the scene of the two lions attacking the boar as a balance to
the picture of battle in the top panel. The attempt to achieve
balance in most of the other details of the sarcophagus cover
proves the artist's interest in symmetry and gives a unity to the
total composition. If this were the sarcophagus of a warrior chieftain,
not only would there be ornament of adequate elaboration for a man
of such rank, but the art would convey a fitting epitaph in traditional
symbols: he fought like a lion or a boar and perhaps (considering the
fallen man over whom the battle has gathered) he even fell in battle
fighting like a lion or a boar.

A second example of this type of balance is a sarcophagus from
E. Pfuhl, Malerei und Zeichnung der Griechen, PI. 141. There are a
few unsymmetrical details in the design: for example, the direction


of the heads of the goats at the lower corners or the design of the decorative
band above the goats. The upper picture panel is, however,
almost totally symmetrical: two warriors leave their chariots and
rush at each other while their charioteers drive away from the
conflict. At the bottom a lion approaches a grazing deer. Though
there is one other animal on the far left, so little of the paint remains
that it is unidentifiable. This is an appropriate simile subject to
accompany the scene of a warrior doing battle. The message of the
traditional symbols is clear; the warrior who lies in this tomb fought
like the lion—or else he could, of course, have fallen like the unsuspecting


One further example which may contain a Homeric subject is in
the Pergamon Museum (3145). In the top panel two characters
threaten a third. Some scholars have seen Odysseus and Diomedes
threatening Dolon although there is much guesswork in such an
interpretation. 25 The corresponding bottom panel contains a lion and
a panther surrounding a steer; though no simile in the Doloneia
corresponds exactly, the Greek warriors there are called lions
(10.297). More probably the painter and the poet both drew upon a
tradition of common connections. The pairing of warriors with lions
or panthers is amply precedented in the Homeric corpus.

There are some further examples which need not be discussed in
such detail:

  1. Louvre (CA 1024): in the top panel there are three individual
    battle scenes. Two open-mouthed lions attack a grazing cow in the
    balancing panel at the bottom. The design on the sides is symmetrical
    including two matching panels of a pair of warriors killing one
    other warrior. There seems to be a unity in the composition of this
    sarcophagus cover.
  2. Pergamon Museum (#3348): in the top panel Helen is attacked
    by Menelaus and Odysseus, while in the bottom panel an open-
    mouthed lion and a panther surround a grazing goat. The design on
    the sides is symmetrical.
  3. Pergamon Museum (#3347): in the top panel two men are
    fighting over a fallen warrior; on either side is a chariot with a dog
    beside. In the bottom panel there is a goat surrounded by a lion
    and a panther. This example is interesting because the bottom
    panel has the same subject as #3348, which demonstrates that


    there is some continuity of themes at least in the minds of the
  4. Pergamon Museum (#4824): In the top panel are two warriors
    each leading his horse and dog placed about a winged Athena
    with helmet and shield. In the bottom panel there are a lion and
    a panther. Once again it is interesting to note the presence of the lion
    and the panther although the goat is not there. It may be significant
    that there is no battle in actual progress in the top panel whereas
    the previously cited examples show the fighting either on the verge
    of beginning or well underway. This sarcophagus may be making a
    statement of the battle ability of the buried warrior: whenever he
    fought he was as brave as a lion or a panther and had the favour of
    Athena, but he does not happen to be fighting in the top picture and,
    therefore, there is no weaker animal being attacked in the bottom

II. The Audience and Oral Tradition

In such art works from various periods and scattered locations
there is evidence that visual artists, poets, and audiences of both
media consciously or unconsciously made similar associations when
seeking an explanatory parallel to a specific narrative scene.
Admittedly there is only a small amount of pertinent evidence
upon which to base firm statements about the oral tradition. There
are many unanswered questions; for example:

  • Is this small list exhaustive? Are there no further examples
    illustrating the connection between simile and narrative?
  • Are there illustrations of simile scenes parallel to picture panels
    which demonstrate lack of unity?
  • Is there any reason to think that the technique of paralleling
    two scenes was wide-spread? Or is there independent evidence
    that any single creative artist worked in this way?

These are all good questions, and yet to ask them is to misunderstand
the collection of evidence offered in this discussion.

In our age of buzzing archaeological activity when new finds are
continually appearing, it is hard to feel confidence in any general
statement. Too much that is contradictory can be discovered in a
brief time, as writers on the Bronze Age are continually learning.


I have discussed in all nineteen examples of a particular point. This
point is literary, and it is in literature that whatever proof can be
found exists. It would be dangerous to estimate even what percentage
of the art of their particular period is comprised by the few
pieces of evidence herein cited, and I would be surprised to find
that in each case more than a minor percentage of the existing art
supported the precise connection of narrative and simile subject.
My intent is to note several occasions when the artist thought like
his literary colleague.


It is readily admitted that there was no constraint as binding as
meter which drove the artist to resort to traditional motifs or even
to create a unity that can be perceived today. Conviction in these
interpretations can only arise from viewing the individual work of
each artist as a conscious effort to make a statement in his own
medium; some artists may, at varied times and in different cities,
have drawn on the folk traditions known by many men to express
their thoughts. Ultimately, of course, each work of art must be
judged in itself; in its composition, in its subject, and in its effect.

That some pertinent works of art have come from the later part
of the sixth century and from varied locations should not militate
against the comparison of their evidence with that of an epic of the
eighth century B.C. First there is evidence in the existence of the
mysterious Homeridae that there was some sort of continuation of
the Homeric poems. Second, the stories of Lycurgus and Peisistratus
show that there was considerable authority in the Homeric poems
in various parts of the Greek world down to the beginning of the
fifth century. Plato's rhapsode Ion is further testimony to the
eagerness of people for the familiar old words. Most decisively, it
was the living quality of the Homeric tradition in the hearts of men
which compelled Plato to fight so strenuously against poetry's
widely corrupting effect in his new state. There is then ample
evidence that the Homeric songs lived on in continuing vigor among
the people of the Greek world into the 5th century and beyond.

But the most important reason for continuing this study of the
Homeric similes far beyond the actual composition of the Iliad and
the Odyssey is the nature of the topic. Neither the epic poems nor
the specific art works are the actual objects of discussion since this
study is directed toward the tradition which underlies both poetry
and visual art. Such a tradition cannot be dated precisely because it
is carried on for an indeterminate length of time by an amorphous


mass of people, commonly referred to as the "audience" in Homeric
criticism or the "viewer" in art criticism. Audience and viewer are
really the same man at any particular point.


And it is this group, the "audience", to whom the poet so diligently
catered. The glimpses of Phemius and Demodocus and, in addition,
our first-hand knowledge of Yugoslav bards reveal that the
aim of oral poets is communication with and entertainment of their
audiences. There is little room in such societies for the individualistic
poet who expresses his own feelings in a personal language with
scant concern for his audience. The whole technique of oral poetry
—the familiar story from legend, the type scenes, ring composition,
foreshadowing, retrospection, and many other features—were
devices by which the poet avoided losing his audience. 26 The vast
majority of the formulae, both the simpler ones like the noun-
epithet combinations and the more complex type-scenes with their
variations, were an aid not only to the poet who arranged them and
altered them as he composed but also to his audience. They did not
need to listen to the subtleties of each phrase but could concentrate
on the movement from block to block and could appreciate the
variation because of their intimate knowledge of the more traditional
phrasing. The audience were the critics who had to be satisfied
since they hired the poet and could dispense with him brusquely.
Because of the importance of this audience's insistence on a good
story told to a relentless meter, there would have been little reward
for innovation, and, in fact, there is much danger for a poet in
becoming entangled in complications which would prevent his
audience from following the story. There is, then, in both audience
and poet a natural tendency toward conservatism: toward the old
legends told in the old way. The audience was as much a supporter
of the oral tradition as the various singers who practiced the art.

This is a statement of extreme importance. The oral tradition is
not only maintained by generation after generation of practicing
poets, but it is also continuously imposed by the audience. Such
limitation may hamper the poet who wishes to create freely, but it


is an indispensable aid to the poet who will create within the tradition.
The whole technique of slight variation on a type scene
depends on the audience's close knowledge of the standard form.
The "Game of Analogy" is not a game played privately by the poet,
because the audience raised on the oral tradition would also appreciate
the virtuosity of the poet. 27 There is a total background of
epic words, epic phrases, and epic stories and values which have been
built into the audience as they have into the growing and maturing
poet. As one critic puts it:


"Both the audience and the poet of the oral literatures are
bound to the past by invisible complex ties which bind the
audience, the oral poet, and the traditional material into an
intimate trinity. The poet and the audience are intimately
related to their traditional material by ties that are not formally
manifest in the story". 28

One small part of this tradition shared between poet and audience
is seen in the study of the traditional nature of the similes. Both poet
and audience would have been acquainted not only with the type of
simile which the poet chose to sing at various moments in the narrative,
but also with the alternate methods for continuing the story
which the poet had passed over. Both would be accustomed to
repeated simile subjects in certain narrative contexts and would
appreciate the implicit comment when a subject was used in an
unusual context; for example, there is a type of subsidiary statement
of character being made when the poet compares the anxious
Penelope to a lion (Od. 4.791). These two choices—placement and
subject matter—were made by the poet in accordance with the
tradition quite often, and the audience was fully aware of the fact
that the poet had so chosen. The poet could always develop the
simile in whatever way seemed appropriate to him, and the audience
would be more able to follow and appreciate such variation because
of their intimate acquaintance with the tradition. In doing so the
individual members of the audience were drawing upon experiences
ingrained from childhood. Poet and audience, each in his own way,
participated in the combined creation of the oral song.


Folk tradition can cover a wide area. Even though this study has
focused on the simile, which is a small component of heroic verse,
the implications are extensive. A traditional art of any kind is based
in a broad understanding of folk culture, but this is especially true
of the traditional art of story-telling which inevitably comments
upon all facets of life, attitude, and value of a people. J. A. Notopoulos
draws a modern parallel:

. . . the traditional oral art is only natural and inevitable for an
oral society whose life is traditional. The poet, his art, his
audience, are part of it. A modern Greek villager lives, as we have
seen, completely in a world of formulae, exhibited in his poetry,
in his music, the patterns in a girl's weaving of her dowry, in the
ikons, in all social, agricultural, and religions patterns of life . . .
The formula is both a linguistic and sociological phenomenon.
It is imposed on the form of the poem both from within the
poet and from without by his audience. 29

It is such a tradition which lies at the roots of the pairing techniques
which appear to be similar in oral art and visual art from
Mycenean times down to the Archaic Age, though it is very difficult
to find convincing independent evidence for many of the features of
the epic. Regarding the selection of simile subjects there are several
art objects which show artists of various periods drawing on the
knowledge of the folk tradition possessed by themselves and by their
viewers. That they did not do this consistently is unfortunate for the
Homerist but familiar to anyone who has attempted to define with
any precision the connections between art and literature in the
general cultural trends of a period.

From the contributions of two further areas external to more
direct studies of the Iliad and the Odyssey it is possible to formulate
a more consistent and unified conception of the developing tradition
which lies at the root of the Homeric simile:

  • A. Studies of Language: G. P. Shipp in his book, The Language of
    comes to the following conclusion: "The similes of the Iliad
    and the Odyssey are characterized by linguistic lateness. Late forms


    occur much more frequently in them than in the narrative, and archaisms
    are hardly found. More than half the similes of any length
    include late forms, and no significant difference is observable between
    the similes of different parts of the poem". 30

  • B. Studies of Oral Formulae: J. B. Hainsworth has written:
    "Supposing each bard replaced 20% of his formulae in his lifetime,
    and if there are fifty years between master and pupil, then in the
    latter half of the eighth century only about 15% of his formulae
    would reach back into the Mycenaean age". 31

In support of this statement the study of A. Hoekstra offers
evidence that the formulae were being revamped at a more intense
rate toward the period when the poems were sung. 32

Such arguments focusing on the language and phrasing of the
poems in general and the similes in particular demonstrate a recent
formulation of the individual additive lines and the individual
features of each simile, though there is strong indication in art
works that standard connections were made by artists from the
Mycenaean period down to the time of Homer. That artists widely
spread throughout the Aegean world could draw upon this tradition
is evidence that the tradition had spread quite broadly and deeply
into the hearts and minds of the people of Greece. It seems that the
phrasing of each simile may often be new, but the idea of the simile
as a means of expression, its placement, its subject matter, and the
connection of that subject matter to various scenes in the epic were
quite old and had probably become traditional from centuries and
centuries of oral story telling.

The members of the audience remain the most important figures
in any study of tradition both in the restrictions which they place
upon the poet and in the advantage their special type of knowledge
offers to the poet. In the fullest degree, it is their tradition. The poet
shares it by birthright, but he does not own it. When he composed
his similes, he was drawing upon a tradition formed by singers and


their audiences through countless generations. Most probably
Homer himself and his contemporaries left their mark upon this
continuing tradition, but that particular mark cannot be identified
with any certainty. The weight and the influence of the oral tradition
was so massive that innovations or additions made by any one
poet—even an incandescently brilliant poet like Homer—were
absorbed into the anonymity of the inherited poetic conglomerate.
It is this indissoluble blending of the new with the very old which
underlies the composition of the similes, and it is this method of
composition which allows us to speak of the oral nature of the
Homeric simile.


When the analysis of the similes has ended and all conclusions
have been drawn, even the most dedicated admirers of individual
images must admit that these small pictures are but a minor part
of the Homeric poet's consideration. What simile—even in its most
intricate and sensitive development—could be an achievement
equal to the portrayal of Achilles or Odysseus? What simile could
have the emotional impact of the wondrous meeting of Priam and
Achilles or the tender parting of Hector and Andromache? The
simile is a well-defined, independent unit which can be admired for
its many virtues, but it is the joining of simile and narrative which
gives reciprocal life to both elements. It is perhaps effective to say
that a warrior is like a lion, or a fire, or a bird, or a tree; but if he is
not initially like a warrior, then he is really nothing at all. The aim
of the poet is to subject the traditional form of the simile to the
narrative so thoroughly that the two form one poetic whole. If the
simile is removed, the narrative is deprived of luster and the
simile loses its majesty. To separate the two is impossible if the poet
knows his craft well. As a friend of Prof. Bassett is reported to have
said, "To gather the similes apart from their setting is like abstracting
the plums from a pudding". 33

Notes—Chapter 6

1. Among recent works, H. L. Lorimer, Homer and the Monuments (London
1950) and the chapters on material culture by A. J. B. Wace, H. P. Wace, and
F. H. Stubbings in A. J. B. Wace and F. H. Stubbings, A Companion to
(London 1962).

2. See A. Furumark, "Nestor's Cup and the Mycenaean Dove Goblet,
Eranos 44 (1946), pp. 41-53 for a discussion of the lack of connection between
the cup in the poem and the cup from the Shaft Grave.

3. Hampe, p. 26 ff. Cf. K. Friis Johansen, The Iliad in Early Greek Art
(Copenhagen 1967); he cites scenes taken from the Iliad in dating the spreading
awareness of the Iliad story.

4. See G. S. Kirk, "Objective Dating Criteria in Homer," in Language and
Background of Homer
(Cambridge 1964), pp. 174-190 for cautionary advice
on dating various objects in Homer.

5. Lorimer op. cit. (supra, n. 1), pp. 181-2.

6. J. A. Notopoulos, "Parataxis in Homer: A New Approach to Homeric
Literary Criticism," TAPhA 80 (1949), pp. 1-23 discusses the necessary
concentration of the poet and his audience on the development of the
immediate story: "neither the poet nor his audience can divert their attention
for any period of time to the whole; they cannot pause to analyze, compare,
and relate parts to the whole" (15).

7. F. Winter, "Parallelerscheinungen in der griechischen Dichtkunst und
bildenden Kunst," in Gercke-Norden, Einleitung in die Altertumswissenschaft
(Leipzig and Berlin 1910) II, p. 161 ff.

8. W. Schadewaldt, "Die Homerische Gleichniswelt und die Kretisch-Mykenische
Kunst," in Von Homers Welt und Werk (4th ed.; Stuttgart 1965),
pp. 130-154.

9. Cf. Snell, p. 7 where he compares the way a modem child and an early
Greek artist draw a man. He then draws a conclusion about the early Greeks
by comparing their art and their speech: "Thus the early Greeks did not,
either in their language or in the visual arts, grasp the body as a unit." See
also J. L. Myres, "The Last Book of the Iliad," JHS 52 (1932), pp. 264-296
and "Homeric Art," BSA 45 (1950), pp. 229-260, and Webster, pp. 187-207,

10. Homerists desperately need the type of study which has been done by
D. Whitelock, The Audience of Beowulf (Oxford 1951); evidence, however, of
the kind that was available for her study which has long since perished for
the years when Homer composed.

11. See supra, Chapter 3.

12. This is a broad statement made for presenting clearly the type of art
work required in this study. I must acknowledge that there are important
exceptions in Rhodian ware, Proto-Corinthian, Corinthian, and Geometric

13. Hampe, pp. 33-4 offers an example of this kind of connection in commenting
on the decoration of a vase: "Sowohl auf der Wagenfahrt im Haupt-
fries als auch auf der Fuchshatz darunter, bilden die Füllmotive, so belanglos
sie als solche erscheinen, ein wesentliches Element der Bildwirkung. Sie
helfen, die Vorstellung von Geschwindigkeit, Bewegung und Erregung zu
steigern, erzeugen mit den Figuren zusammen einen unauflöslichen Gesamt-eindruck.
Wir konnten verwandte Symptome auch bei den homerischen
Gleichnissen feststellen. Es lieft über solchen Bildern das, was man für die
Gleichnisse mit "Stimmung" oder "Stimmungsgehalt" auszudrücken suchte,
womit etwas Richtiges gekennzeichnet war, wenn man dabei nicht an
Stimmung im romantischen Sinne denkt."

14. Represented in Marinatos and Hirmer, Crete and Mycenae (London
1960), plates XXXV-XXXVII.

15. Cf. G. E. Mylonas, Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age (Princeton 1966),
pp. 173-76.

16. A. W. Persson, "Legende und Mythos in ihrem Verhältnis zu Bild und
Gleichnis im vorgeschichtlichen Griechenland," DRAGMA (Lund 1939),
p. 379 ff.

17. Pictured in Marinatos-Hirmer op. cit. (supra, n. 14), Figure 146.

18. G. E. Mylonas, "The Figured Mycenaean Stelai," AJA 55 (1951),

19. See note on page 176.

19. Webster, p. 224. Cf. A. W. Persson, New Tombs at Dendra Near Midea (Lund 1942), p. 189.

20. See supra, p. 77.

21. M. P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion (3rd ed.; Munich 1967),
I, pp. 290-92 and plates 10 and 11. See also Webster, p. 224.

22. Mylonas op. cit. (supra, n. 15), p. 176.

23. R. M. Cook, Greek Painted Pottery (London 1960), pp. 138-9.

24. E. Pfuhl, Malerei und Zeichnung der Griechen (Munich 1923), I, p. 166.

25. Pfuhl op. cit. (supra, n. 24), p. 169.

26. For discussion of these techniques and their effectiveness in guiding the
audience see: G. E. Duckworth, Foreshadowing and Suspense in the Epics of
Homer, Apollonius, and Vergil
(Princeton 1933); B. A. van Groningen,
"Éléments Inorganiques dans la Composition de l'Iliade et de l'Odyssée,'
Revue des Études Homériques 5 (1935), pp. 3-24; J. A. Notopoulos, "Continuity
and Interconnexion in Homeric Oral Composition," TAPhA 82 (1951),
pp. 81-101 ; and A. B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge 1960).

27. Parry, pp. 221-227.

28. Notopoulos op. cit. (supra, n. 26), p. 99.

29. J. A. Notopoulos, "Studies in Early Greek Oral Poetry," HSCP 68
(1964), pp. 1-77 on page 53. See also his article "The Generic and Oral
Composition in Homer," TAPhA 81 (1950), pp. 28-36.

30. Shipp, p. 208.

31. J. B. Hainsworth, "The Homeric Formula and the Problem of Its
Transmission," BICS 9 (1962), pp. 57-68 on page 66.

32. A. Hoekstra, Homeric Modifications of Formulaic Prototypes (Amsterdam
1965). But see also the cautionary statements in reviews by W. McLeod in
Phoenix 20 (1966), pp. 332-40 and G.S. Kirk in Gnomon 38 (1966), pp. 737-40.

33. S. E. Bassett, "The Function of the Homeric Simile," TAPhA 52 (1921),
p. 132.



Column One lists the context in which the simile is placed using
the following abbreviations of section headings from Chapter 2
where categories are discussed more fully:

  1. The Journeys of Gods—Journey

  2. Measurement—Measure

  3. Actions of Divine Beings, Spirits, and Monsters—Unusual

  4. Themes of Specific Emotions—Psychological

  5. Variation of Standard Themes—Variation

  6. General Scenes of the Armies —Army

  7. Summary Scenes before Battle—Summary

  8. Entrance of the Hero—Entrance

  9. Withdrawal of the Hero—Withdrawal

  10. Anticipated Meetings—Meeting

  11. Joining of Two Scenes—Join

  12. Emphasis in Short Episodes—Emphasis

  13. Emphasis on Continuing Motifs—Event

  14. Similes in Speeches—Speech

Column Two classifies the similes by subject matter and the
context in which the simile occurs using the following abbreviations
from section heads in Chapter 3 where these categories are discussed
more fully:

    1. Lion Similes—Lion

    2. Wind and Sea Similes—Wind

    3. Fire Similes—Fire

    4. Gods and Goddesses—God

    5. Tree Similes—Tree

    6. Wolf Similes—Wolf

    7. Deer Similes—Deer

    8. Stele Similes—Stele

    9. Diver Similes—Diver

    10. Hunting Similes—Hunt


  1. Similes of Children—Child

  2. Swarms of Insects—Insect

  3. Fish Similes—Fish

  4. River Similes—River

  5. Bird Similes—Bird

  6. Farm Animal Similes—Animal

Similes Column I Column II
Iliad, Book 1      
47 Journey    
104 Psychological Fire Anger
265 Variation God Enter battle
359 Journey    
Iliad, Book 2      
87 Army Insect Number
144 Army Wind Movement
147 Army Wind Movement
209 Army Wind Noise
289 Speech Child Unwarlike
337 Speech Child Unwarlike
394 Army Wind Noise
455 Summary Fire Gleam
459 Summary Bird About to attack
468 Summary Flowers, Number
  Measure etc.  
469 Summary Insects Number
474 Summary    
478 Summary God Enter battle
480 Summary Animal  
764 Measure Bird  
780 Summary Fire Fighting warriors
781 Summary Fire Fighting warriors
800 Speech Leaves, Number
  Measure etc.  
872 Variation Child Unwarlike


Iliad, Book 3      
2-3 Summary Bird Enter battle
10 Summary    
23 Psychological Lion Emotion: joy
33 Psychological    
60 Speech    
151 Entrance    
196-7 Speech Animal  
222 Speech Snow  
230 Speech God  
449 Entrance    
Iliad, Book 4      
75 Journey Fire God
130 Unusual Child Protection
141 Withdrawal    
243 Speech Deer Fear
253 Summary Lion Warlike spirit
275 Summary    
277 Measure    
394 Summary God Enter battle
422 Summary Wind Movement
433 Summary Animal x
452 Army River  
462 Variation Tower  
471 Army Wolf Attack
482 Variation Tree Dead
Iliad, Book 5      
5 Entrance Fire Gleam
87 Entrance River Sweep
136 Entrance Lion Fighting warrior
161 Variation Lion Fighting warrior
299 Meeting Lion Fighting warrior
438 Unusual God Attack
459 Unusual God Attack


476 Speech Lion Fighting warrior
487 Speech Fish Dead
499 Army Wind  
522 Army Wind Lack of movement
554 Variation Lion Fighting warriors
560 Variation Tree Dead
597 Unusual River Sweep
770 Measure    
778 Unusual Bird God
782 Army Lion Fighting warriors
860 Unusual    
864 Journey    
884 Speech God Attack
902 Unusual    
Iliad, Book 6      
295 Measure Fire Gleam
401 Entrance Fire Worth
506 Entrance Animal Enter battle
513 Entrance Fire Gleam
Iliad, Book 7      
4 Entrance Wind Emotion: relief
59 Unusual Bird God
63 Army Wind Movement
208 Entrance God Enter battle
219 Entrance Tower  
235 Speech Child Unwarlike
256   Lion Fighting warriors
Iliad, Book 8      
131 Army Animal  
271 Entrance Child Protection
305 Entrance God Enter narrative
306 Army Animal  
338 Army Hunt Pursuit and attack
555 Army Fire Gleam


Iliad, Book 9      
4 Psychological Wind Emotion: confusion
14 Psychological    
323 Speech Bird  
481 Speech Family  
Iliad, Book 10      
5 Psychological    
154 Variation Fire Gleam
183 Army Animal  
297 Entrance Lion Fighting warriors
351 Measure Animal Enter battle
360 Meeting Hunt Pursuit and attack
437 Speech Wind Movement
485 Army Lion Fighting warrior
547 Speech Fire Worth
Iliad, Book 11      
27 Entrance    
60 Summary God Enter battle
62 Summary Fire Fighting warrior
66 Summary Fire Gleam
67 Army    
72 Army Wolf Attack
113 Variation Lion Fighting warrior
129 Variation Lion Fighting warrior
155 Army Fire Fighting warrior
172 Army Lion Fighting warrior
239 Variation Lion Fighting warrior
269 Withdrawal    
292 Entrance Hunt Pursuit
295 Entrance God Enter battle
297 Entrance Wind Attack
305 Army Wind Attack
324 Entrance Lion Fighting warriors
383 Speed 1 Lion Fighting warriors
389 Speech Child Unwarlike
414 Army Lion Fighting warrior
474 Army Lion Fighting warrior


485 Entrance Tower  
492 Army River Destructive sweep
546 Join    
548 Join Lion Emotion: stubbornness
558 Join Animal  
596 Army Fire Fighting warriors
604 Entrance God Enter
638 Entrance God Enter
747 Speech Wind Attack
Iliad, Book 12      
40 Army Wind Attack
41 Army Lion Emotion : warlike spirit
130 Entrance God Enter battle
132 Entrance Trees Unmoving
146 Entrance Lion Fighting warriors
156 Army Snow  
167 Speech Insect Ferocity
278 Army Snow  
293 Entrance Lion Fighting warrior
299 Entrance Lion Fighting warrior
375 Army Wind Movement
385 Variation Diver Falling man
421 Army    
433 Army    
451 Event    
463 Event    
Iliad, Book 13      
39 Army Fire Fighting warriors: Noise
    Wind Movement: Noise
53 Speech Fire Fighting warrior
62 Unusual Bird God
101 Speech Deer Fear
137 Army    
178 Variation Tree Dead
198 Emphasis Lion Fighting warrior
242 Entrance Fire Gleam
292 Speech Child Unwarlike
298 Entrance God Enter


330 Entrance Fire Fighting warrior
334 Army Wind Movement
389 Variation Tree Dead
437 Unusual Stele Unmoving
  Tree Unmoving  
470   Child Unwarlike
471   Lion Fighting warrior
492 Army Animal  
531   Bird Attack
564 Unusual    
571 Variation Animal Dead warrior
654 Variation    
673 Army Fire Fighting warriors
688 Army Fire Fighting warrior
703 Army Animal  
754   Mountain  
795 Summary Wind Movement
802 Summary God Enter
Iliad, Book 14      
16 Psychological Wind Emotion: confusion
148 Unusual    
185 Unusual Fire Gleam
290 Unusual Bird God
386 Unusual Fire Gleam
394 Army Wind Noise
396 Army Fire Noise
398 Army Wind Noise
413 Withdrawal    
414 Withdrawal Tree Wounded warrior
Iliad, Book 15      
80 Journey    
170 Journey Snow  
237 Journey Bird God
263 Entrance Animal Enter battle
271 Army Lion Fighting warrior
323 Army Lion Fighting warriors
358 Measure    
362 Unusual Child  
381 Army Wind Movement
410 Army    
579 Emphasis Hunt Pursuit and attack


586 Emphasis    
592 Army Lion Fighting warriors
605 Unusual God Fighting warrior
    Fire Fighting warrior
618 Army Wind Unmoving
624 Army Wind Emotion: confusion
630 Army Lion Fighting warrior
679 Join    
690 Join Bird Attack
Iliad, Book 16      
3 Psychological    
7 Speech Child Unwarlike
156 Summary Wolf About to enter battle
192 Summary Family  
212 Summary    
259 Army Insect Ferocity
297 Army    
352 Army Wolf Attack
364 Army    
384 Meeting River  
406   Fish Kill
428 Meeting Bird Enter battle
482 Meeting Tree Dead
487 Meeting Lion Fighting warrior
582 Entrance Bird Attack
589 Measure    
633 Army    
641 Army Insect Number
705 Unusual God Attack
742 Variation Diver Falling man
752 Meeting Lion Fighting warrior
756 Meeting Lion Fighting warrior
765 Army Wind Movement
786 Army God Attack
823 Meeting Lion Fighting warriors
Iliad, Book 17      
4 Entrance Animal  
20 Speech Lion Fighting warrior


53 Variation Tree Dead
61 Army Lion Fighting warrior
88 Entrance Fire Fighting warrior &
109 Withdrawal Lion Emotion : stubbornness
128 Entrance Tower  
133 Entrance Lion Fighting warrior
263 Summary Wind Noise
281 Army Lion Fighting warrior
366 Army Fire Fighting warriors
389 Army    
434   Stele Unmoving
460 Entrance Bird Attack
520 Variation Animal  
542   Lion Physical appearance
547 Journey    
657 Withdrawal Lion Emotion: stubbornness
674 Withdrawal Bird  
725 Join Lion Fighting warrior
737 Join Fire Fighting warriors
742 Join Animal  
747 Join River Fighting army
755 Join Bird Attack
Iliad, Book 18      
I Army Fire Fighting warriors
56 Speech Tree Dead
57 Speech Tree Dead
110 Speech Fire Anger
154 Join Fire Fighting warrior
161 Join Lion Fighting warrior
207 Unusual Fire Gleam
219 Unusual    
318 Psychological Lion Emotion : warlike spirit
437 Speech Tree Dead
438 Speech Tree Dead
616 Journey Bird God
Iliad, Book 19      
17 Psychological Fire Anger
282 Entrance God Entrance
286 Entrance God Entrance
350 Journey Bird God


357 Army Snow  
366 Psychological Fire Anger
374 Entrance Fire Gleam
375 Entrance Fire Gleam
381 Entrance Fire Gleam
386 Entrance    
398 Entrance Fire Gleam
    God Enter battle
Iliad, Book 20      
46 Entrance God Enter battle
51 Unusual Wind  
164 Meeting Lion Fighting warrior
200 Speech Child Unwarlike
244 Speech Child Unwarlike
252 Speech    
371 Speech Fire Fighting warrior
403 Variation Animal  
423 Meeting Fire Fighting warrior
431 Speech Child Unwarlike
447 Unusual God Attack
490 Army Fire Fighting warrior
493 Army God Attack
495 Army Animal  
Iliad, Book 21      
12 Army Fire Fighting warrior
18 Army God Attack
22 Army Fish Kill
29 Event Deer Fear
227 Army God Attack
237 Unusual Animal  
251 Measure    
252 Unusual Bird  
257 Unusual    
282 Speech Child Unwarlike
346 Unusual Wind  
362 Unusual    
464 Speech Leaves, etc.  
493 Journey Bird God
493 Unusual Bird God
522 Army Fire Fighting warrior
573 Unusual    
573 Entrance    


Iliad, Book 22      
I Army Deer Fear
22 Meeting Animal  
26 Meeting Fire Gleam
93 Meeting    
127 Speech    
132 Entrance God Enter battle
134 Meeting Fire Gleam
139 Meeting Bird Attack
150   Fire  
151   Snow  
162 Meeting Animal  
189 Meeting Hunt Pursuit
199 Meeting    
262 Speech Lion  
308 Meeting Bird Attack
317 Meeting Fire Gleam
Iliad, Book 23      
100 Unusual    
222 Event    
366 Army Wind  
431 Measure    
455 Measure Fire Gleam
517 Measure Animal  
598 Psychological    
692   Fish  
760 Measure    
845 Measure    
Iliad, Book 24      
41 Speech Lion Emotion : warlike spirit
80 Journey    
317 Measure    
480 Psychological    
572   Lion Emotion : warlike spirit
699 Entrance God Enter
Odyssey, Book 1      


308 Speech Family  
320 Journey Bird God
371 Speech God  
Odyssey, Book 2      
5 Entrance God Enter
47 Speech Family  
234 Speech Family  
Odyssey, Book 3      
290 Measure Mountain  
372 Journey Bird God
468 Entrance God Enter
Odyssey, Book 4      
32 Speech Child Ineptitude
45   Fire Gleam
122 Entrance God Enter
310 Entrance God Enter
335 Speech Lion Fighting warrior
413 Unusual    
535 Event Animal  
662 Psychological Fire Anger
791 Psychological Lion  
Odyssey, Book 5      
12 Speech Family  
51 Journey Bird God
249 Measure    
328 Unusual Wind  
337 Journey Bird God
353 Journey Bird God
368 Unusual Wind  
371 Unusual Animal  
394 Psychological Family  
488 Join Fire Warrior
Odyssey, Book 6      
16 Entrance God Enter
20 Journey Wind  
102 Meeting God Enter
130 Meeting Lion Warrior
231 Unusual Hyacinth  
232 Unusual    
309 Entrance God Enter


Odyssey, Book 7      
5 Entrance God Enter
36 Speech Bird  
84   Fire Gleam
106 Variation Leaves  
291 Speech God Enter
Odyssey, Book 8      
14 Speech God Enter
115 Summary God Enter
124 Measure Animal  
174 Speech God  
280 Unusual    
518 Entrance God Enter
523 Psychological    
Odyssey, Book 9      
4 Speech God  
  Measure Leaves, etc  
191 Unusual Mountain  
289 Unusual    
292 Unusual Lion Warriorlike
314 Unusual    
322 Measure    
384 Unusual    
391 Unusual    
473 Measure    
Odyssey, Book 10      
113 Measure Mountain  
124 Unusual Fish Dead
216 Unusual Animal  
304 Unusual    
410 Psychological Animal  
Odyssey, Book 11      
222 Unusual    
243 Measure Mountain  
368 Speech    


411 Event Animal  
413 Event Animal  
605 Unusual Bird  
606 Unusual    
Odyssey, Book 12      
86 Measure    
181 Measure    
237 Unusual    
251 Unusual Fish Kill
413 Unusual Diver Falling man
418 Unusual Bird  
433 Unusual    
Odyssey, Book 13      
31 Psychological    
81   Animal  
Odyssey, Book 14      
21 Emphasis    
175 Speech Tree Dead
308 Unusual Bird  
Odyssey, Book 15      
108 Measure Fire Gleam
152 Speech Family  
414 Entrance God Enter
479   Bird  
Odyssey, Book 16      
17 Meeting Family  
216 Meeting Bird  
Odyssey, Book 17      
37 Entrance God Enter
111 Speech Family  
126 Speech Lion Fighting warrior
397 Speech Family  
518 Meeting    
Odyssey, Book 18      
27 Speech    
29 Speech    


193 Unusual    
240 Speech    
296 Variation Fire Gleam
Odyssey, Book 19      
39 Speech Fire Gleam
54 Entrance God Enter
109 Speech    
205 Psychological Snow  
211 Psychological    
233 Speech    
234 Speech Fire Gleam
494 Speech    
518 Speech    
574 Speech    
Odyssey, Book 20      
14 Psychological Animal  
25 Psychological    
Odyssey, Book 21      
14 Entrance God Enter
37 Entrance God Enter
48 Event Animal  
406 Event    
411 Event Bird  
Odyssey, Book 22      
240 Unusual Bird God
299 Army Animal  
302 Army Bird Attack
384 Army Fish Dead
402 Army Lion Physical appearance
468   Bird  
Odyssey, Book 23      
(48 Speech Lion Physical appearance)
158 Unusual    


159 Unusual    
163 Entrance God Enter
191 Speech    
233 Psychological    
Odyssey, Book 24      
6 Unusual    
148 Speech Fire Gleam
371 Unusual God  
538 Entrance Bird Attack     



Coffey, Michael. "The Function of the Homeric Simile", AJP 78 (1957)

De Velsen, Arthur. De Comparationibus Homericis (Berlin 1849).

Fränkel, Hermann. Die homerischen Gleichnisse (Göttingen 1921).

Hampe, Roland. Die Gleichnisse Homers und die Bildkunst seiner Zeit
(Tubingen 1952).

Leaf, Walter, ed. The Iliad (2nd ed.: London 1900-2).

Lee, D. J. N. The Similes of the Iliad and the Odyssey Compared
(Melbourne 1964).

Müller, Friedrich. "Das homerische Gleichnis," Neue Jahrbücher fur Antike
und deutsche Bildung
5/6 (1941) 175-83.

Murray, Gilbert. The Rise of the Greek Epic (4th ed.: New York 1960).

Parry, Milman. L'Épithète Traditionnelle dans Homère (Paris 1928); now
available in translation along with Parry's other writings in The Making
of Homeric Verse
(Oxford 1971), edited by Adam Parry.

Shipp, G. P. Studies in the Language of Homer (2nd ed.: Cambridge 1972).

Snell, Bruno. The Discovery of the Mind (Eng. translation by T. G. Rosenmeyer:
Cambridge, Mass. 1953).

Webster, Thomas B. L. From Mycenae to Homer (London 1958).

Whitman, Cedric H. Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge, Mass. 1958).



Each simile is listed separately by the number of the first line of the simile unit. There are no references to the list of similes in the Appendix.

1.47: 12, 17
1.57: 144
1.103 f.: 30
1.104: 29, 31, 68
1.262 ff.: 36
1.265: 40
1.359: 12, 17
2.87: 35, 75, 92, 104
2.144: 35, 63, 64, 65, 92, 104
2.147: 35, 65, 92, 104
2.209: 35, 63, 64, 65, 92, 102 n., 104
2.231: 137 n.
2.289: 50, 74, 104
2.337: 74, 104
2.394: 35, 64, 65, 92, 104
2.455: 37, 66, 92, 104
2.455 ff.: 2
2.459: 21, 37, 78, 92, 102, 104, 155
2.468: 21, 37, 81, 92, 104
2.469: 21, 37, 75, 92, 104
2.474: 37, 104
2.478: 37, 69
2.480: 37, 79, 104, 178
2.740 ff.: 104 n.
2.764: 22, 78, 156
2.780: 37, 67, 104
2.781: 37, 104
2.793: 102 n.
2.800: 50, 81, 104
2.814: 103 n.
2.872: 31, 74, 96
3.2: 37, 78, 102, 104, 104 n., 106, 156, 157 n.
3.4: 144
3.10: 37, 64, 82, 104, 104 n., 106
3.23: 43, 61, 106, 154
3.33: 29, 43, 106
3.151: 40, 105, 106
3.196: 32, 105, 106
3.I97: 32, 105, 106
3.222: 81, 106
3.374: 16
3.447 ff.: 106
3.449: 41
4.75 ff.: 99
4.130: 25, 74, 112
4.141: 41, 112
4.219: 137 n.
4.240 ff.: 142
4.243: 50, 72, 143 n.
4.244: 145
4.244 ff.: 148
4.246: 143, 143 n.
4.253: 32, 61
4.275: 32, 64, 100
4.277: 22
4.391 ff.: 36
4.422: 38, 64, 109
4.433: 38, 80, 109
4.452: 76, 77, 109
4.462: 81, 97
4.471: 71, 110 n.
4.482: 70, 109
5.5: 39, 94, 110
5.37 ff.: 13
5.87: 39, 76, 94, 137 n.
5.136: 39, 60, 61, 94
5.144 ff.: 33
5.161: 60, 73 n., 129 n.
5.299: 44, 61
5.438: 26
5.459: 26
5.476: 50
5.487: 75
5.493 ff.: 35 n.
5.499: 64, 65, 82
5.522: 64, 65
5.527: 66, 66 n.
5.554: 62, 73 n.
5.560: 70
5.590 ff.: 76 n.
5.597: 76, 145
5.677 ff.: 33
5.693: 103 n.
5.705 ff.: 33
5.719 ff.: 18
5.746: 137 n.
5.770: 17, 24
5.782: 52, 62, 129, 132


5.860: 22, 25, 26, 52, 81, 129, 132
5.864: 17, 64
5.884: 26
5.902: 22, 25
6.29: 104 n.
6.293: 22 n.
6.294: 22 n.
6.295: 22, 67, 96
6.296: 22 n.
6.347: 102 n.
6.401: 40, 68
6.506: 6, 40, 52, 80, 104, i20, 131, 138
6.513: 40
7.4: 40, 104
7.59: 25
7.63: 35,65
7.208: 39, 69
7.219: 39, 81
7.256: 52, 129, 132
8.41: 18, 19
8.41 ff.: 18, 20 n.
8.229 ff.: 152
8.271: 40, 74, 111
8.300 ff.: 32
8.306: 82, 111, 159
8.307: 160
8.309 ff.: 32
8.338: 73, 73 n.
8.382 ff.: 18
8.390: 137 n.
8.438: 19
8.489 ff.: 103 n.
8.555: 9, 98, 102
9.4: 9, 64, 98
9.8: 66
9.14: 6, 104, 130, 131
9.182: 102 n.
9.323: 78, 105
9.434: 146
10.5: 29, 68, 07, 100, 155
10.75 ff.: 32
10.154: 32, 100
10.160: 102 n.
10.184 ff.: 160
10.199: 103 n.
10.261 ff.: 167
10.297: 62, 73 n., 90, 94, 182
10.351: 83
10.360: 73, 155, I78
10.415: 102 n.
10.485: 60
10.507 ff.: 104 n.
10.547: 50, 68
11.27: 39, 100
11.56: 102 n.
11.60: 37
11.62: 37, 67, 100
11.66: 37, 100
11.67: 109
11.72: 71, 110 n.
11.85: 22, 109
11.113: 60, 105, 106 n., 175
11.129: 129 n., 141 n.
11.147: 82
11.155: 35, 67, 91, 101, 105, 106 n.
11.166 ff.: 103 n.
11.172: 60, 91, 105, 106 n.
11.172 ff.: 174
11.192: 70 n.
11.195 ff.: 104 n.
11.237: 97
11.269: 41, 105
11.291 ff.: 73 n.
11.292: 41, 73
11.295: 41
11.297: 64
11.305: 64
11.324: 60, 111 n., 129 n.
11.383: 50, 111 n.
11.414: 73, 111 n.
11.474: 61 n., 111 n.
11.485: 81
11.492: 76
11.544: 111 n.
11.546: 46, 111, 111 n., 157
11.548: 46, 52, 61, 111, 111 n., 129, 131, 132, 139, 149, 150, 157
11.549: 136
11.558: 46, 111, 111 n.
11.575 ff.: 46 n.
11.613 ff.: 40 n.
11.630 ff.: 167
11.638: 40 n.
11.747: 64, 92, 120
11.804 ff.: 46 n.
12.2 ff.: 46 n.
12.3: 112 n.
12.37: 112 n., 113
12.41: 59, 61, 61 n., 73


12.132: 70, 105, 113
12.146: 104
12.156: 81
12.166: 102 n.
12.167: 75, 104
12.173 ff.: 112 n.
12.200 ff.: 98 n.
12.252 ff.: 112 n.
12.278: 81, 96, 113, 156
12.280 ff.: 156 n.
12.290 ff.: 39, 112 n.
12.298 ff.: 39
12.299: 61, 90, 94
12.371: 102 n.
12.375: 113
12.385: 72, 96
12.402 ff.: 112 n.
12.413 ff.: 107
12.421: 35, 107
12.433: 107
12.437 ff.: 112 n.
12.451: 49, 112, 112 n.
12.463: 49
13.1 ff.: 112 n.
13.23: 18
13.23 ff.: 18, 20 n.
13.39: 63, 67, 91
13.53: 87 n.
13.101: 72, 143
13.169 ff.: 47
13.178: 47, 70
13.195: 47 n.
13.198: 47, 47 n., 73 n.
13.330: 67, 89
13.334: 63, 64, 109
13.334 ff.: 63 n.
13.389: 52, 70, 129, 132, 155
13.437: 25, 70, 72, 91
13.455 ff.: 108
13.470: 74, 108
13.471: 61, 73 n., 108
13.492: 80, 102, 109, 137 n.
13.564: 25
13.571: 79
13.641: 48
13.703: 80
13.754: 81
13.798: 102 n.
14.16: 30, 64, 100
14.148: 25, 26, 52, 81, 129, 732
14.185: 25, 67
14.244 ff.: 18
14.264: 146
14.290: 25
14.386: 25
14.394: 63, 64, 153
14.394 ff.: 91
14.396: 67, 153
14.398: 63, 153
14.413: 41, 82, 97
14.414: 41, 71
15.67: 44
15.80: 17
15.168 ff.: 17
15.170: 81
15.262 ff.: 34, 105
15.263: 6, 28, 34, 34 n., 41, 52, 80, 104, 129, 131, 138
15.271: 34, 59, 73 n., 154
15.272: 136
15.323: 34
15.358: 34, 34 n.
15.362: 25, 34, 34 n., 74, 112 n.
15.363: 144
15.381: 34, 63, 102
15.390 ff.: 46 n.
15.410: 34, 35, 108
15.490: 146
15.545: 48
15.552 ff.: 48
15.568 ff.: 48
15.569: 137 n.
15.579: 48, 73, 92
15.583: 48
15.586: 48
15.605: 25, 67, 91, 155
15.615 ff.: 113
15.618: 60, 64, 111
15.622: 66, 66 n.
15.623: 111
15.624: 64, 102, 111, 137 n.
15.629: 66
15.630: 60, 111
15.679: 46, 82, 11
15.690: 46, 111, 155
16.3: 6, 104, 130, 131
16.7: 74, 104
16.114 ff.: 46
16.130 ff.: 136 n.
16.141: 137 n.
16.141 ff.: 136 n.
16.143: 137 n.
16.152 ff.: 116 n.
16.155: 125


16.156: 38, 54 n., 61 n., 71, 110, 110 n.
16.212: 38
16.259: 38, 75, 110, 157
16.259 ff.: 158
16.263: 158
16.297: 114
16.352: 71, 110 n.
16.364: 114
16.384: 43, 76, 114, 155
16.385 ff.: 156 n.
16.406: 75, 161
16.428: 43
16.482: 43, 52, 70, 12q, 132, T55
16.487: 43
16.582: 78
16.589: 21, 81, 155
16.630 ff.: 75 n.
16.632 ff.: 108
16.640 ff.: 116 n.
16.641: 75, 75 n., 108
16.644 ff.: 99 n.
16.676 ff.: 16 n.
16.685 ff.: 17 n.
16.686: 99 n.
16.705: 26, 69
16.742: 72
16.752: 43
16.756: 43
16.763 ff.: 63 n.
16.786: 69
16.802: 137 n.
16.823: 43, 181
17.4: 40, 79, 108 n.
17.20 ff.: 177
17-53: 71
17-61: 35
17.88: 40
17.109: 42
17.128: 81
17.133: 40, 61
17.281: 35, 59, 89, 129 n.
17.366 ff.: 108
17.389: 35, 108
17.434: 72
17.460: 78
17.542: 62
17.547: 100, 155
17-549: 97
17.657: 42, 52, 62, 129, 131, 132, 139, 149, 150
17.658: 151
17.674: 42, 78
17.722 ff.: 73 n., 107 n.
17.725: 45
17-737: 45, 67
17.742: 45, 80, 107 n., 155
17.747: 45, 76
17.755: 45
18.22 ff.: 30
18.35 ff.: 115 n.
18.55 ff.: 152
18.56: 51, 71, 114, 115
18.57: 51. 71, 114, 115
18.110: 68
18.134 ff.: 114
18.154: 45, 89
18.161: 45
18.170 ff.: 114
18.188 ff.: 114
18.207: 114
18.219: 114
18.318: 61, 61 n., 114
18.336 f.: 49 n.
18.410 ff.: 26
18.437: 51, 71, 115
18.438: 51, 71, 115
18.463: 146
18.616: 12, 115
19.17: 30, 68, 115
19.282: 41, 69
19.286: 41, 69
19.350: 115
19.357: 81
19.362 ff.: 110
19.366: 29, 30, 68, 115
19.367 ff.: 136 n.
19.374: 39, 115
19.374 ff.: 119
19.375: 39, 101, 104, 110, 115, 116
19.381: 39, 115
19.388 ff.: 136 n.
19.398: 39, 66, 115
20.46: 69
20.164: 44, 61, 116, 141 n., 147 n., 156
20.187 ff.: 44
20.252: 51
20.371: 67, 116
20.403: 79, 116
20.423: 43, 87 n.
20.447: 26
20.490: 67, 116
20.495: 82, 117


21.1: 117
21.7: 117
21.12: 67, 116
21.17: 117
21.22: 35, 75, 116
21.26 ff.: 148
21.29: 49, 72, 142, 143 n., 148
21.162: 137 n.
21.227: 69
21.237: 25, 82
21.252: 26, 78, 116
21.257: 26, 117
21.282: 74. 117
21.342 ff.: 25
21.346: 25, 117 n.
21.362: 25, 117 n.
21.493: 17
21.573: 177
22.1: 72, 142, 143, 149
22.22: 43, 80, 117
22.26: 43, 100, 116
22.93: 43, 116
22.132: 43, 69
22.134: 43, 116, 155
22.138: 92
22.139: 43, 116
22.145 ff.: 118
22.162: 43, 117
22.189: 43, 116
22.199: 43
22.258: 48
22.308: 43, 116, 155
22.137: 15, 117
23.59: 102 n.
23.100: 27
23.175: 50 n.
23.222: 50
23.366: 64
23.382 ff.: 15
23.455: 22, 67
23.475: 145
23.517: 21
23.517ff.: 160
23.521: 145
23.598: 29
23.668: 137 n.
23.692: 75
23.760: 83
23.845: 21
24.41: 61, 119
24.42 ff.: 152
24.46 ff.: 120
24.80: 18, 119
24.93 ff.: 18 n.
24.317: 21
24.340: 18
24.340 ff.: 19
24.349: 102 n.
24.471 ff.: 38
24.572: 61, 119
24.699: 69
Od. 1.96: 18
Od. 1.96 ff.: 19
Od. 1.308: 51, 123
Od. 1.320: 12, 77, 77 n., 176
Od. 2.5: 40, 69, 00, 94
Od. 2.47: 123
Od. 2.234: 123
Od. 3.290: 21, 81, 121
Od. 3.372: 77, 176
Od. 3.468: 40, 69
Od. 4.32: 74
Od. 4.45: 67, 121
Od. 4.122: 40, 69
Od. 4.310: 40, 69, 90, 94
Od. 4.335: 52, 68, 122, 129, 132, 161
Od. 4.413: 25
Od. 4.535: 50, 79, 122
Od. 4.022: 31
Od. 4.661 f.: 30
Od. 4.662: 68
Od. 4.715 ff.: 30
Od. 4.791: 31, 62, 123, 186
Od. 5.12: 123
Od. 5.44: 18
Od. 5.44 ff.: 19
Od. 5.51: 18
Od. 5.59 ff.: 26
Od. 5.328: 82
Od. 5.368: 25
Od. 5.371: 26, 96
Od. 5.394: 29. 123
Od. 5.448: 98
Od. 5.488: 49
Od. 6.16: 69
Od. 6.20: 12
Od. 6.102; 42, 69, 121


Od. 6.130: 42, 62, 90, 94, 121,
Od. 6.157: 71 n.
Od. 6.162: 71 n.
Od. 6.231: 121
Od. 6.232: 25, 26, 52, 121, 129, 131
Od. 6.309: 69
Od. 7.36: 50, 78
Od. 7.78: 18 n.
Od. 7.84: 67, 121
Od. 8.518: 69
Od. 8.523: 123
Od. 9.51: 21, 81
Od. 9.190: 190
Od. 9.190 ff.: 23
Od. 9.191: 81
Od. 9.289: 27, 80, 123 n.
Od. 9.292: 27, 123 n.
Od. 9.314: 27
Od. 9.322: 22
Od. 9.384: 27
Od. 9.391: 27, 82
Od. 10.113: 22, 27, 81, 121
Od. 10.124: 27, 75
Od. 10.216: 25, 80
Od. 10.304: 25
Od. 10.410: 80
Od. 11.243: 21, 81, 121
Od. 11.411: 50, 79, 122
Od. 11.413: 50, 122, 155, 161
Od. 11.605: 78
Od. 12.251: 75
Od. 12.413: 72
Od. 12.418: 26, 78
Od. 12.433: 26
Od. 13.81: 80
Od. 14.21: 48
Od. 14.175: 71
Od. 14.308: 26, 78
Od. 15.106: 22 n.
Od. 15.107: 22 n.
Od. 15.108: 22, 67
Od. 15.109: 22 n.
Od. 15.479: 78
Od. 16.17: 42, 123
Od. 16.216: 30, 43, 79, 123
Od. 17.111: 123
Od. 17.126: 52, 122, 129, 132, 161
Od. 18.193: 25, 26
Od. 18.296: 31, 67, 121
Od. 19.54: 43, 69
Od. 19.109: 156
Od. 19.205: 29, 43, 81
Od. 19.211: 43
Od. 19.233: 48
Od. 19.234: 48, 67, 121
Od. 19.518: 31, 123
Od. 20.14: 29, 80, 122
Od. 20.25: 31
Od. 21.14: 40
Od. 21.37: 40
Od. 21.48: 49, 122
Od. 21.406: 49, 122
Od. 21.411: 49, 79, 122
Od. 22.240: 25
Od. 22.299: 26, 35, 122
Od. 22.302: 35, 78, 122
Od. 22.384: 36, 75, 122
Od. 22.402: 36, 62, 73 n., 122, 123
Od. 22.468: 79, 122
Od. 23.158: 122
Od. 23.159: 52, 122, 129, 131
Od. 23.233: 29, 122
Od. 24.6: 27
Od. 24.148: 22, 67, 121
Od. 24.392: 143, 143 n.
Od. 24.538: 78





Last Updated: 5/4/15