Similes in The Odyssey gave perception and depth to both the greek classic and monologues done by our beloved characters.
They helped shape the classic we know today. A simile is a figure of speech where two, unlike things, are compared.
How Similes Shaped The Odyssey
Homer uses similes to create a better and exaggerated description of specific actions in The Odyssey, giving the audience the impact needed to understand. The comparisons from each simile are straightforward and allow the audience to discern the idea made by the author.
Without such, the play would appear bland and lack the recurring themes the audience enjoys to this day. Epic similes in the Odyssey can be seen when Odysseus recounts his adventure to the Phaecians.
He utilizes multiple similes to create depth and perception, allowing the Phaecians to experience and feel Odysseus’ journey as if they were there with him, gaining their sympathies and help.
List of Epic Similes in The Odyssey
Similes are found throughout The Odyssey. Some are seen in the battle of the cyclops, others on the island of the Laestrygonians, and some in the despair of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, as she struggles to contain the suitors wanting her hand in marriage.
The scattered similes throughout the play are used as a guide, a way for the audience to visualize tales of Odysseus and understand the problematic journey he had gone through. This gives us, the audience, a way to further acknowledge our heroes’ merits and just how strong his character is as a whole.
Odysseus Recounts His Story to the Phaeacians
As Odyssey recounts his travels to the Phaeacians, he talks about the battle with Polyphemus. He states, “I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home like a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright’s drill that men below, whipping the strap back and forth, whirl and the drill keeps twisting, never stopping. So we seized our stake with its fiery tip and bored it round and round in the giant’s eye”
This Homeric simile in the Odyssey describes his battle with the giant, comparing it to a shipwright. We can surmise that Odysseus used this example to give the Phaecians a better glimpse of how the action took place. The simile was used to create a distinct perception that the audience, the Phaecians, can use to visualize the battle itself.
He then continues the story of the and says, “as a blacksmith plunges a glowing ax or adze in an ice-cold bath and the metal screeches steam and its temper hardens – that’s the iron’s strength – so the eye of Cyclops sizzles around that stake.” This can be noted as a figurative language in the Odyssey. Odysseus compares the Cyclops’ eye’s sizzling sound to that of sticking hot metal into a cold bucket of water.
Next, he talks about the Laestrygonians, to which he stated, “They speared the crews like fish and whisked them home to make their grisly meal,” conveying how normal and familiar it was to torture and brutalize human on the strange island.
The Laestrygonians were considered ruthless monsters, hunting his men left and right for dinner. He continues his tales up to his adventures in the Underworld.
Odysseus in the Journey to the Underworld
Some similes can be seen during Odysseus’ travel to the Underworld to seek out Tiresias. Circe instructed him to summon his spirit by sacrificing a sheep and pouring its blood in a pit. Souls have an affinity to blood, and doing so would attract souls to his pit and hold off the spirits till Teiresias arrives.
As he describes it, “Here slowly came a grand array of women, all sent before me now by august Persephone, and all were wives and daughters once of princes. They swarmed in a flock around the dark blood.”
Although considered one of the metaphors in The Odyssey, Odysseus compares the women as frocks—evidently less human because they have lost an essential aspect of themselves in death.
Homeric Similes in the Journey
In a state of torment before Odysseus returns, Penelope was described as “Her mind in torment, wheeling like some lion at bay, dreading the gangs of hunters closing their cunning ring around him for the finish.” Penelope expresses her helplessness in this clause by comparing the suitors as hunters and herself to a trapped lion, the noblest animal of them all, ironically trapped by her prey.
Another figurative language in The Odyssey is that of the battle of the suitors. It was described as “Weak as the doe that beds down her fawns in a mighty lion’s den – her newborn sucklings – then trail off to the mountain spurs and grassy bends to graze her fill, but back the lion comes to his lair, and the master deals both fawns a ghastly, bloody death, just what Odysseus will deal that mob – ghastly death.”
Noting how Odysseus is compared to a lion and the fawns are the suitors. The suitors are to be taught a valuable lesson of entering the lion’s den without permission, coveting someone else’s wife.
And lastly, the last Homeric simile in The Odyssey is seen in the last leg of the play.
After the massacre in the palace, Odysseus compares the piles of the dead body to that of a fisherman’s catch. He says, “Think of a catch that fishermen haul into a Halfmoon bay in a fine-meshed net from the white caps of the sea: how all are poured out on the sand, in throes for the salt sea, twitching their cold lives away in Helios’ fiery air: so lay the suitors heaped on one another.” This allows the images of rot and decay to conjure.
We’ve discussed the major similes in The Odyssey and how they shaped the play.
Let’s go over some of the critical points of this article:
- A simile is the comparison of two unlike things linked with “as” or “like” to denote comparison.
- Similes are made to create a more significant depth, helping the audience understand what the author wants to express and the magnitude of his expression.
- Without similes, the audience may be unable to comprehend and understand the depth each character’s trials and tribulations must go though
- When Odysseus recounts his journey to the Phaecians, he starts with the battle with Polyphemus. He compares the struggle to that of a shipwright.
- In the Island of the Laestrygonians, Odysseus described them as ruthless, going as far as recounting the gruesome deaths his men had to face and how he and his men were hunted like pigs for dinner.
- In his journey to the Underworld, Odysseus describes his encounter with the spirits, comparing them to frocks—having lost part of their humanity in death, the souls he’s encountered flock towards him like a goose looking for a break.
- Similes were made to describe Penelope’s sense of hopelessness—like that of a trapped lion being preyed upon by hunters.
- The last simile compared the dead suitors’ bodies to a fisherman’s catch and how their piled-up bodies were equal quantities to that of fish.
In conclusion, similes create a more significant perception of what is written; the Homeric Similes impact The Odyssey so that the audience can grasp the bigger picture being painted by the illustrator.
Odysseus utilizes this method to garner the sympathy of the Phaeacians. In the end, through Odysseus’ storytelling, the Phaecians safely escort our hero home, where he saves both his family and homeland.