The Iliad is a Greek epic poem attributed to Homer. Paris, son of King Priam of Troy carries off Helen, wife of Menelaus. The epic describes the war waged by Achaean prince against Troy with an intention to recover Helen. Specifically, it deals with the anger of Achilles, the special hero of the poem at the slight put upon him by Agamemnon, leader of the host, and his final return to the field and slaying of Hector [MARGARET and JENNY, Para 1]. The Iliad is one of the most prominent among the ancient masterpieces in literature. It is about two countries that bitterly war over a single woman, Helen, the wife of Menelaus.
The rivalry takes place for about ten years before the Argive armies (the Greeks) finally win out over the Trojans. Today, The Iliad is available to a contemporary audience in several different forms. It may be read, listened to, or viewed even by illiterates. The story’s author, Homer, has typically overcome the challenge of how to tell the story to the masses. He achieved it by singing the entire poem or perhaps several books at a time to them. Homer has employed the so called oral tradition of communication to reach the masses.
In the epic, Homer has used certain terms which an average person in Ancient Greece could understand. These similes can be divided into several different categories: the descriptions of battles, people, and gods. In all cases, these similes are used to aid understanding in Greek oral tradition [Radman, Para 1]. The story suggests a battle between Troy and Greece in large scale. Since most of the listeners would never have seen such large wars, Homer has made an effort to link between what those people would understand and the actual events of the combat.
The similes that Homer used to describe the various fighting scenes have nature as its basis to depict the actions of the warriors, or of entire ranks of men. If an average person who listens to the epic had never seen a war, he/she will never be able to visualize the actions being dictated. Therefore, Homer has used creative and elaborate descriptions of something common in an ordinary person’s lives, juxtaposed with the unfamiliar and it has allowed the listener to understand what the singer of the tale is trying to convey.
The similes related to fighting are divided into two different categories: the type depicting animals in nature, and of the happenings of the natural world itself. When one goes through the text, he/she could notice similes on a single page of fighting, describing one or several people through animal behavior. This could be observed when the Trojans are fighting for the body of Patroclus.
There the simile used links their armies to an angered hive of wasps. When the Trojans charge it, the simile goes like: they swarmed forth like wasps from a roadside nest when boys have made it their sport to set them seething, day after day tormenting them round their wayside hive—idiot boys! They make a menace for every man in sight. Any innocent traveler passing them on that road can stir them accidentally—up in arms in a flash, all in a swarm come pouring, each one raging down to fight for home and children …[Radman, Para 4] The movements of entire armies in a seething battle portray the images found in a typical life of an Ancient Greek. The other two frequently used references to the mass movements of troops are that of land and water.
These references utilize the commonality of the elements so that Homer can describe some scenarios to the listeners who find it difficult to understand such scenes. Another simile that is used frequently in battles is when one person was singled out for a description of their fighting prowess. These similes call upon the graphic details of wolves in attack, or the ravaging of a lion. Menelaus is one of the Argive warriors and when he is fighting rigorously in the battle, the other would-be attackers are frightened-off by the intense ferocity of his initial attack.
Homer describes this scenario as follows … as a fierce mountain lion sure of his power, seizing the choicest head from a good grazing herd. First he cracks its neck, clamped in his huge jaws, mauling the kill then down in gulps he bolts it, blood and guts, and around him dogs and shepherds raise a fierce din but they keep their distance, lacking nerve to go in and take the lion on …[Radman, Para 7] There are several observations that can be made by looking at the similes of warriors in battle.
The first is that the type of animal used to describe Menelaus and his actions represents his ferocious nature. In other instances, the lion is used to describe several fighters like Argives and Trojans. The second major use of simile is to describe people in combative and non-combative situations. Generally, these can be seen as a type of title for the person described. Only the major characters of the epic are named with such titles. The types of titles given in the story fall in to two categories: titles of mortal men and women, and those of the gods.
Even mortals are given due importance in some scenes. As far as fighting is concerned, most of the similes are linked with the characters of Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, and Ajax, along with other men who were often referred to in battle as having the characteristics of a lion. It reflects their skill, strength, and overall mighty presence. Other types of creatures that have nothing to with battle are used to describe some of the fighters. For instance, Achilles is once addressed as a dolphin while slaughtering Trojans in the Xanthus River.
Trojans try hard to save their life from Achilles. Here is the text from the epic that describes the scenario: Like shoals of fish darting before some big-bellied dolphin, escaping, cramming the coves of a good deepwater harbor, terrified for their lives- he devours all he catches- so the Trojans down that terrible river’s onrush cowered under its bluffs [Radman, Para 12]. In the epic, a mortal is often compared to a deity. In many scenes, a man’s fighting skill is mentioned as divine. Generally, this is just an elaborate way to say that a person has done something really well.
Everyone knows that the God Hephaestus, “the famous crippled Smith,” was the god of fire [Radman, Para 14]. As Patroclus makes a fire that is worthy of a God, it is surely a mighty blaze which Patroclus has created. The listeners of ancient Greece wondered at these great skills. Many of these similes aimed at embellishing a person’s qualities to make them all the more impressive. While describing Gods, similes are slightly more difficult to come by. As it will sound bad to compare a god to a mortal, Homer describes them by their specific abilities.
In essence, he moves laterally instead of vertically. The entire epic is filled with many different types of similes used in the graphic depiction of battles, people, places, and gods. Hats off to Homer who has used the similes in such a creative way that even an illiterate can understand what Homer means to say in his poem. The similes not only assist a reader in trying to imagine what is being read, but also allow him/her to understand how relations are described to people who are less advanced than a modern culture. The epic serves a multi-functional purpose today.
It is used as a tool to learn about a culture which has faded from the face of the planet into the obscurity of ancient tales and legends [Radman, Para 16]. Apart from teaching about the wars fought, the types of armor, weapons, and the strategies used in conquests of other countries in that time period, the epic also stresses on the most important usage of and gives an insight in to the social standards of the time, how that culture behaved, what they believed, and how they lived. People will learn from this classical epic for generations to come. An epic is considered to have gained a great success when it reaches even the masses
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