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Epic Similes In The Odyssey Book 5 REPACK

Rather than trying to settle this problem, I will use the customary book divisions as guides while not insisting that they authoritatively define the beginning and end points of basic narrative units comprising each of the epics. My assumption is that both poems are built from a collection of tales, each of which centers on an individual narrative that tells its story in its own way.29 In other words, I will use the traditional book numbers as shorthand to identify a particular segment of the narrative while not attempting to justify the precise beginning and ending of that segment. Often adding twenty more lines (or even fifty) to the preceding book or taking twenty lines off the beginning of the book will not appreciably affect the discussion. I will treat the book divisions as suggestions that a unit is beginning somewhere in that area.

Epic Similes In The Odyssey Book 5

I will argue later that book 5 is a carefully constructed book in many ways, including the placement, subject, and extension of the similes. There are 21 similes in the 909 lines of book 5, or an average of one simile in every 43 lines; in book 6 there are 4 similes in 509 lines, or a comparable average of one simile every 127 lines. (If the length of the similes is calculated, 5.8 percent of lines in book 5 are similes vs. 1.7 percent in book 6.) In addition, in the initial 236 lines of the Glaucus-Diomedes scene there are no similes. On this evidence alone there seems a difference in the design of the two books; but the establishment of this difference is not dependent on book 5 ending at line 909, or at book 6.37, or later at 6.66, or at 6.72.30 I feel that the contrast in the density of similes reflects a shift in the subject and theme of the two books. Book 5, the aristeia of Diomedes, is centered on his attacks on Aphrodite and Ares; book 6 is one where warriors refuse to fight and instead turn to broader considerations of family and friends:31 Diomedes refuses to fight Glaucus, and Hector leaves the battle to visit his mother, sister-in-law, and wife. The book then closes with the return of Hector and Paris to battle. Thus the division between these two books signals a significant change in subject and style, and that change can be analyzed without insisting on the authenticity of the division at precisely 5.909.

Third, neither the simileme nor its components are necessarily attached to repeated phrases; no one of the motifs listed on the chart is expressed through a limited set of formulae. There are four similes centered on the oak tree, all extended. In two (12.132 and 14.414) the oak is introduced in different phrases, neither of which is parallel to formulae in other parts of the Homeric poems. However, in the other two passages (13.389 and 16.482) the oak is included as part of a repeated three-line unit. The opening line of this repeated simile reveals alternative species of trees: "He fell as when an oak falls, or a poplar, or a tall pine." As a result the simileme offers different expressions to specify the oak tree; two of these expressions appear only once in the two epics, while the other two seem formulaic. Further, at 4.482 the poplar is introduced with a different word from that at 13.389 and 16.482, as is the pine at 5.560. The same is true for the words for leaves and shoots in the longer similes at 4.482, 13.178, and 17.53; yet the short similes at 18.56, 18.437, and Ody. 14.175 are identical in the choice of word, occur at the same position in the line, and are clearly formulaic. Likewise, there is little repetition of formulae in the element of the craftsmen, their cutting tools, their act of cutting, the mountain peak, or the intended use for the fallen tree. While the simileme depends for its existence on being expressed in specific words, the choice of those words is a separate act.

By choosing insects for the first of many similes describing the army in book 2, the poet prepares his audience, well aware of the traditional possibilities in the insect simileme, to focus on the fighting spirit of the Greeks. Yet at the same time, when he rigorously suppresses the available warlike elements to create a spring scene of untroubled bees, he counts on that same audience to realize that he has eliminated the aggressive element of the simileme in order to present the least ready army in the Iliad. The disorder and uncertainty in its movements are made clear in their random clustering (82 and 89) and their lack of direction (90).14

Second, in book 15 when the Trojans are on the verge of burning the Greek ships, thus fulfilling the plan of Zeus and putting crucial pressure on Achilles (592ff.), there is a cluster of six similes, two of which are short comparisons:

The similes in book 2 consistently support the pervasive irony of the strong-but-weak army directed by the powerful-yet-inept commander. They are repeatedly placed to emphasize the reactions of the army as the visible

It is difficult to specify other incidents in this book that might have received a simile. The structure of the book is relatively simple, and the details in the narrative all seem to support that structure. Similes are so common that the addition of yet more comparisons seems unnecessary; the problem is not to find places where further similes might have occurred, but rather to judge whether this book, with its high number of colorful and vigorous similes, could allow any more.

The final scene centering on Hector presents a different kind of battle. At this point nontraditional similes enter book 12 for the first time. The evenness of the conflict is described by two similes that have no parallel in Homeric poetry and are drawn from country life; whatever the source, the similes are not the lion, boar, god, or wind similes that have proven to be well suited to the battlefield.28 In the first, two men with measuring sticks quarrel about the placement of boundary stones; in the second, a woman weighs wool on her scale (421 and 433).29

Within the shifting mix of characters and subjects, the distribution of similes both throughout the book and in each of the four sections provides guidance in identifying the theme. Section one contains four long similes, while section 2, longer in terms of lines, contains only three part-line similes. Both long and short similes are spread widely throughout section 3, and in the final section reporting the battle between Diomedes and Ares, similes cluster: three following line 770 and two after line 860. The final two sections concern the interrelationship of gods and men on the battlefield. Such an uneven distribution of similes suggests that the poet is not employing them to emphasize the

At line 35 Athena leads Ares from the battlefield. It would be possible to include a simile describing this divine action, but instead the poet immediately turns to a list of Greeks who slay Trojans, culminating in the reentrance of Diomedes. The effect is clear and complementary to the design of the book. In this section the poet focuses attention on the actions of men; later, when it suits his theme, similes will call attention to the actions of divinities.

The experience of the storm is sufficiently intense to rouse his sense of purpose and to energize the abilities that Odysseus will need to survive on Ithaca, where equally hostile forces will turn their destructive power against him. His enduring, indomitable spirit remains a constant element in the epic from book 5 through his final reinstatement in Ithaca. He begins the book yearning to escape the dominating nymph Calypso and ends it having passed through a series of tests, still clinging to life, yet not for a minute renouncing the crucial choice that is the fixed point from which all the later episodes of the epic arise.

Not all immortals receive such treatment, even though they appear constantly throughout this book. Ino, who lends Odysseus her veil and watches over him throughout the storm, receives two short bird similes (337 and 353). Athena and Poseidon, as the opposed divinities, receive no similes at all; Calypso is presented directly in actions and words. The tutelary divinity of the Phaeacian stream that graciously receives Odysseus from the sea is unnamed and in spite of this crucial assistance is not further highlighted. Similes are not employed to emphasize the continuing role of the gods in this book; they focus only on moments when Odysseus is divinely aided in pursuing his wish to be free from Calypso.

The books discussed in this chapter are complex; each moves through a series of episodes, shifts the focus between various locations, and involves many characters.120 Yet the firm hand of the poet is constantly evident in the development of a major theme that shapes and unites events, scenes, and characters. This control is at its clearest in book 12 of the Iliad, where the Greek wall provides a physical focus for the book; once this focus is established, the narrative is built in episodes centered on a series of three Trojan heroes whose achievement increases from Asios to Sarpedon to Hector. Yet at the same time the Trojan dependence on Zeus also increases, a discordant note that is ominous for the future defense of the city. The similes reflect these mutually reinforcing elements of the narrative so closely that even though their omission would not leave unbridgeable gaps, the contrasts between the characters and their actions would not stand out so clearly.

The book is structured as a series of initiatives by Hector/Aeneas that are blocked each time by the opposition of Ajax, who finally manages to pull the body free from the Trojans. Within this repeated structure a series of Greek heroes draws the spotlight, each for a brief moment while the design of the similes emphasizes the temporary effectiveness of these characters in their individual scenes. Even more importantly, these similes reinforce the clear indications in the narrative that the Greeks are gaining power through the course of book 17 while Hector loses both strength and divine favor. This shift in force from the Zeus-supported Trojans to the Greeks, driven by thoughts of their obligation to Achilles, provides an effective introduction to the final books of the Iliad, the aristeia of Achilles.


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