Similes in the Iliad and What They Tell Us About Life in Homer's Greece
"The Iliad", an epic tale told by the famous Greek author Homer, is focused primarily on the Trojan War between the Greeks, or Argives, and the Trojans. This war was filled with bloody battles and a massive loss of life. Homer tells stories about a duration of time during this fighting, and not the entire war. He uses his story-telling abilities to focus the audience on the garish and sometimes mundane drudgery of war. Due to his removal from the actual time of these battles, his stories may be embellished or not completely accurate descriptions of what did or did not happen. Overall, however, the Iliad is believed to be mostly true.
Homer was born, most likely, in the 8th Century B.C. He is widely believed to be the best and most popular of the Ionian poets. His birthplace is not known beyond a doubt. Some have even said that he may have been blind. This idea has its share of critics though, since Homer details specific landscape scenes all throughout his works, and most of his writing is focused on the vision of the scene in which he describes.
Homer relies heavily on descriptions to get his points across to the audience. In Homer's time, stories were told orally. Therefore, as a good writer, he attempted to write eloquently to convey to the audience the overall feeling of his stories. William Shakespeare did the same thing in his writing. Shakespeare knew that his work was going to be performed, and that his audience was predominantly illiterate. He knew that if he created a quality story and told it in an interesting way, he would gain greater popularity by allowing those who didn't understand to be entertained anyway. Homer used this to his advantage in his time also through the use of elaborate descriptions of battles and scenes, and with similes and metaphors.
The similes and metaphors of The Iliad, in my opinion, are the real attention-grabbing parts of the story. Homer's descriptions using similes are mostly very detailed and often rather grotesque. The similes in his writing serve to make the audience imagine exactly what is happening in the story. For example:
"They swarmed forth like wasps from a roadside nest?" (p.421, 305-308)
Homer could simply say that the army moved forward and swarmed the opposing lines, but by the use of his simile, the audience gets a perfect example of what Homer is trying to convey to us.
Along with similes and metaphors providing us with a better understanding of what is happening in the story, they also tell us about the world in which Homer lived in, which was Greece in the 8th Century B.C. Most of the clues as to ancient Greek life come as no surprise. It is not surprising to find that the Greeks recognized the Moon during this period:
"? the massive shield flashing far and wide like a full round moon?" (p. 500, 422)
Nor is it shocking to hear of lions in Greece at this time:
"?like a great bearded lion the dogs and field hands drive back?" (p.446, 126-127)
However, even though these similes sometimes may seem unimportant or even redundant, every situation they are used in is different. A lion may be just another lion, but no two conflicts that they describe are exactly alike. Homer uses this thought to convey the energy, and even at times beauty, of his fighting scenes.
The one main theme of the plot to The Iliad is its raging battle. So, most of the similes throughout the book are about warfare. Battles are compared to things such as animals, weather, or even fire. In consideration, these three things are actually connected by their inherent naturalness. Animals, weather, and fire are all parts of what we refer to as "nature". By evaluating Homer's similes with "nature" included, we today can see what ancient Greek "nature" may have been like.
First of all, most of the similes from The Iliad are comparing something to an animal. Several animals that are mentioned throughout the book are, for example: deer, lions, sheep, dogs, wolves, and hawks. The special thing about this is that each animal