Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

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Bart
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Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Bart » Sat Mar 28, 2015 8:23 pm

At the beginning of book 17 Menelaus fights for the corpse and armour of Patroclus, slain by Hector.

βῆ δὲ διὰ προμάχων κεκορυθμένος αἴθοπι χαλκῷ,
ἀμφὶ δʼ ἄρʼ αὐτῷ βαῖνʼ ὥς τις περὶ πόρτακι μήτηρ
πρωτοτόκος κινυρὴ οὐ πρὶν εἰδυῖα τόκοιο·
ὣς περὶ Πατρόκλῳ βαῖνε ξανθὸς Μενέλαος.

Though it's a relatively short simile (for Homer at least) I think it is one of the more striking and even touching I've read so far. Another favourite is Apollo pushing over the Greek wall as children push over a sandcastle at the beach (in book 15, I believe).
In both cases, I think, it's not only the point of comparison that makes the simile an effective literary device (pushing over a man made thing is easy as playing for a god etc), but perhaps even more so the dissimilarity between the two situations under comparison. For what greater contrast could there be than between the violence of Apollo on the battle field and children playing, or a warrior in the midst of battle and the peaceful picture of a cow nervously taking care of her calf?

Anyway, I'm interested in what others think are the best/ most beautiful/ strongest similes in Homer.

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Markos » Sun Mar 29, 2015 1:02 am

Bart wrote:...I'm interested in what others think are the best/ most beautiful/ strongest similes in Homer.
Hi, Bart,

Mark Twain might have said that Homer did not have time to write short similes, so he wrote long ones. But he is at his best when he is compact.
Od 6:20: ἡ δ᾽ ἀνέμου ὡς πνοιὴ ἐπέσσυτο δέμνια κούρης...
Watch him lose the similes, and sum up life's odyssey with three words, a verb and two adverbs:
Od 12:141: ὀψὲ κακῶς νεῖαι...
It's the Homeric gospel. Jesus calls me home, but late, and with pain.

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Bart » Sun Mar 29, 2015 5:19 am

Thanks, Markos. Now I have to read the Odyssey as well....

You're right, less is often more. In book 1 for instance when angry Apollo comes down from Olympus with his bow and arrows clanging on his shoulder, Homer compares him to the (falling) night' ὃ δʼ ἤϊε νυκτὶ ἐοικώς. Great stuff.

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Ahab » Sun Mar 29, 2015 2:46 pm

Just a small nitpick, Bart - but I think the it is Apollo's coming that is like the night. Great choice. One of my favorite passages in the Iliad.

Another is the passage beginning at Bk. 2, Line 459. There a series of similes used to describe the movement of the Greeks into battle. From Lattimore's translation:

These, as the multitudinous nations of birds winged,
of geese, and of cranes, and of swans long-throated
in the Asian meadow beside the Kaÿstrian waters
this way and that way make their flights in the pride of their wings, then
settle in clashing swarms and the whole meadow echoes with them,
so of these the multitudinous tribes from the ships and
shelters poured to the plain of Skamandros, and the earth beneath their
feet and under the feet of their horses thundered horribly.
They took position in the blossoming meadow of Skamandros,
thousands of them, as leaves and flowers appear in their season.
Like the multitudinous nations of swarming insects
who drive hither and thither about the stalls of the sheepfold
in the season of spring when the milk splashes in the milk pails:
in such numbers the flowing-haired Achaians stood up
through the plain against the Trojans, hearts burning to break them.
These, as men who are goatherds among the wide goatflocks
easily separate them in order as they take to the pasture,
thus the leaders separated them this way and that way
toward the encounter, and among them powerful Agamemnon,
with eyes and head like Zeus who delights in thunder,
like Ares for girth, and with the chest of Poseidon;
like some ox of the herd pre-eminent among the others,
a bull, who stands conspicuous in the huddling cattle;
such was the son of Atreus as Zeus made him that day,
conspicuous among men, and foremost among the fighters.
Why, he's at worst your poet who sings how Greeks
That never were, in Troy which never was,
Did this or the other impossible great thing!
---Robert Browning

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Ahab » Sun Mar 29, 2015 2:57 pm

Markos wrote:
It's the Homeric gospel. Jesus calls me home, but late, and with pain.
To each their own, but it strikes me as quite inappropriate to Christianize Homer's writing. :shock:
Why, he's at worst your poet who sings how Greeks
That never were, in Troy which never was,
Did this or the other impossible great thing!
---Robert Browning

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Bart » Mon Mar 30, 2015 1:13 pm

Ahab wrote:Just a small nitpick, Bart - but I think the it is Apollo's coming that is like the night. Great choice. One of my favorite passages in the Iliad.
Nitpicking no problem. Still, a powerful image.
To each their own, but it strikes me as quite inappropriate to Christianize Homer's writing. :shock:
Not to your liking, sure, but inappropriate? Why?
Maybe this touches upon the concept of 'cultural appropration' discussed a few weeks (and threads) ago.

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Ahab » Mon Mar 30, 2015 7:03 pm

Bart wrote:
Ahab wrote:Just a small nitpick, Bart - but I think the it is Apollo's coming that is like the night. Great choice. One of my favorite passages in the Iliad.
Nitpicking no problem. Still, a powerful image.
Yes it is. :)
To each their own, but it strikes me as quite inappropriate to Christianize Homer's writing. :shock:
Not to your liking, sure, but inappropriate? Why?
Maybe this touches upon the concept of 'cultural appropration' discussed a few weeks (and threads) ago.
Even though I recognize that we can't help but be influenced by our culture when interpreting Homer, I do take the view that we should at least try and keep that influence to a minimum. Whether or not I agree with what Homer has written, I at least want to understand as much as possible what it was he intended to say in his writings.

Also, given the known differences between Paganism and Christianity it (Christianity) doesn't seem to me to be an appropriate lens or filter through which one interprets a Pagan text such as the Iliad. However, I do have to admit my personal distaste for much of Christianity and that may be unduly influencing my views here.
Why, he's at worst your poet who sings how Greeks
That never were, in Troy which never was,
Did this or the other impossible great thing!
---Robert Browning

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Paul Derouda » Thu Apr 02, 2015 9:08 pm

For me to, Apollo coming like the night with arrows rattling and all is one of the most powerful moments in Homer.

There a some many good ones in Homer that if I cite one and call it the best, someone will immediately show me wrong by pointing out ten even better ones. But here is one I particularly like:

Od. 4.787 ff.:
ἡ δ᾽ ὑπερωίῳ αὖθι περίφρων Πηνελόπεια
κεῖτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἄσιτος, ἄπαστος ἐδητύος ἠδὲ ποτῆτος,
ὁρμαίνουσ᾽ ἤ οἱ θάνατον φύγοι υἱὸς ἀμύμων,
ἦ ὅ γ᾽ ὑπὸ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι δαμείη.
ὅσσα δὲ μερμήριξε λέων ἀνδρῶν ἐν ὁμίλῳ
δείσας, ὁππότε μιν δόλιον περὶ κύκλον ἄγωσι,
τόσσα μιν ὁρμαίνουσαν ἐπήλυθε νήδυμος ὕπνος:
εὗδε δ᾽ ἀνακλινθεῖσα, λύθεν δέ οἱ ἅψεα πάντα.

Penelope with her anxieties is compared to a lion who is being trapped by a group of men surrounding him. Many critics don't like this, a woman compared to a lion and all, and find it ill-adapted to the context (including West, if I remember correctly). Still, I'm entitled to like what I want!

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Paul Derouda » Thu Apr 02, 2015 9:12 pm

I'm pretty much in agreement with Ahab that we should try to understand Homer as much as possible in his own context. But perhaps there is a paradox - perhaps this modern approach in itself, this idea of "objectivity", is a form of cultural appropriation, only one typical of the "scientific age"?

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Bart » Fri Apr 03, 2015 9:24 am

Paul Derouda wrote:I'm pretty much in agreement with Ahab that we should try to understand Homer as much as possible in his own context.
Agreed. But surely reading Homer is not merely about understanding and interpreting. As with any piece of art it is also engaging with it on an aesthetic and personal level. Maybe I like the Homeric simil about Apollo and the sandcastles because -to keep it simple- I like building them myself: this of course tells us nothing about Homer but rather something about me. In the same way I read Markos' remarks about some verses in the Odyssey resonating with his Christian world view and sensibilities. Nothing wrong with that. Even more so, to quote your own words, he's entitled to read into those verses whatever he wants.
But perhaps there is a paradox - perhaps this modern approach in itself, this idea of "objectivity", is a form of cultural appropriation, only one typical of the "scientific age"
Ah, that's deliciously 'meta'! I like it. Clever foxes, those Finnish :)

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Post by Bart » Fri Apr 03, 2015 9:33 am

And -contra West- I like 'your' simil too.

Must finish Iliad and start Odyssey! No, must read Iliad a second time. No, wait,...
At the moment I feel like I could read only Homer for the next ten years and still not grow tired of it.
To sum it up: Homer long, life way too short.

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Bart » Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:59 pm

I just came across this intriguing simile in book 19, lines 373-380; Achilles is putting on his arms and when he takes his famous shield, Homer writes:

"αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα σάκος μέγα τε στιβαρόν τε
εἵλετο, τοῦ δʼ ἀπάνευθε σέλας γένετʼ ἠΰτε μήνης.
ὡς δʼ ὅτʼ ἂν ἐκ πόντοιο σέλας ναύτῃσι φανήῃ
καιομένοιο πυρός, τό τε καίεται ὑψόθʼ ὄρεσφι
σταθμῷ ἐν οἰοπόλῳ· τοὺς δʼ οὐκ ἐθέλοντας ἄελλαι
πόντον ἐπʼ ἰχθυόεντα φίλων ἀπάνευθε φέρουσιν·
ὣς ἀπʼ Ἀχιλλῆος σάκεος σέλας αἰθέρʼ ἵκανε
καλοῦ δαιδαλέου·"

The comparison of the gleam coming from the shield to the moon is obvious, but the second part of the simile less so. Whence the melancholy undertone of the sailors looking helplessly at the slowly disappearing lights of their homeland?
Jenny Strauss Clay discusses this simile in Homer's Trojan Theater and suggests the gleam of the shield represents the human world, abandoned by Achilles as he sets out to kill Hector, aware that he will not return.
Regardless of whether one agrees with her or not, it is beautiful poetry.

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Apr 14, 2015 6:36 pm

West brackets line 374 [εἵλετο, τοῦ δʼ ἀπάνευθε σέλας γένετʼ ἠΰτε μήνης]. That makes the simile more straightforward. However, this doesn't have manuscript support; according to the apparatus the line was rejected by some Heyne fellow originally.

I liked Jenny Strauss Clay's book. I don't remember that bit anymore but it sounds like a good explanation.

The simile is a bit similar to the one that compares Penelope to a lion, in that both seem a bit far-fetched. I like both though, but I prefer the one with the lion. :)

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Qimmik » Tue Apr 14, 2015 10:53 pm

But Achilles will return, at least to the camp he's setting out from, won't he--or did I miss something?
Last edited by Qimmik on Wed Apr 15, 2015 7:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Iliad17, 3-6/ Homeric similes

Post by Bart » Wed Apr 15, 2015 6:57 pm

Qimmik wrote:But Achilles will return, at least to the camp he's setting out from, doesn't he--or did I miss something?
I guess it's life itself and the human world Achilles is turning his back on; that he will return to the camp at least one more time is immaterial in that respect. At least, that's how I read Straus Clay's interpretation.

She gives two other possible explanations:
-the sailors/ observers are the Greeks. But then, why the nostalgic and sad undertone of the comparison, for the Greeks are surely glad to see Achilles return.
-the sailors/ observers equal Hector. Now that explains the sadness, but seems a bit forced.

Another option is that we are the sailors and that the gleam from the shield (i.e the world) gives rise to longing and nostalgia. A kind of Vergillian sadness avant la lettre. But that doesn't fit well with Homer, I think.

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