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What are some examples of figurative language in Book VI of the Odyssey by Homer?

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sftballnut193 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 11, 2009 at 5:24 AM via web

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What are some examples of figurative language in Book VI of the Odyssey by Homer?

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sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted August 12, 2009 at 12:34 PM (Answer #1)

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Right at the beginning of Book VI Homer uses figurative language (as he does throughout this epic poem, in varied forms.)  Metaphor first makes it appearance describing Athena

She went straight to the beautifully decorated bedroom in which there slept a girl who was as lovely as a goddess, Nausicaa, daughter to King Alcinous. Two maid servants were sleeping near her, both very pretty, one on either side of the doorway, which was closed with well made folding doors. Athena took the form of the famous sea captain Dymas' daughter, who was a bosom friend of Nausicaa and just her own age; then, coming up to the girl's bedside like a breath of wind, she hovered over her head and said: (Book VI)

Imagery and metaphor give this passage life and meaning to the reader; the picture of the lovely, sleeping girls, in a well-appointed apartment is enchanting, and the silent, delicate approach of Athena in the guise of another girl is an arresting image, indeed.  This last part is a simile (which is a type of metaphor) -- Athena's coming is "like a breath of wind".  Swift, silent, and yet at the same time gentle is how her approach is described, and in these few words we feel the supernatural power of the goddess.

Earlier in this episode Athena uses hyperbole in order to make her point to Nausicaa.  She calls her a "lazy girl" in order to incite her to take the washing out to the seashore, and says she will be married "almost immediately".  Well, it is not true that Nausicaa is at all lazy, so this is an exaggeration for effect (hyperbole), and "almost immediately" is untrue, also, for a suitor for Nausicaa has not even been chosen for her.  This was all used to spur Nausicaa in her dream to an undeniable urge to go to the seashore -- it is an example of hyperbole used in conversation, for emphasis.

An extended simile is used to describe the naked, shipwrecked, tempest-tossed Odysseus creeping up on the maidens by their washing.

As he said this he crept from under his bush, and broke off a bough covered with thick leaves to hide his nakedness. He looked like some lion of the wilderness that stalks about exulting in his strength and defying both wind and rain; his eyes glare as he prowls in quest of oxen, sheep, or deer, for he is famished, and will dare break even into a well fenced homestead, trying to get at the sheep—even such did Odysseus seem to the young women, as he drew near to them all naked as he was, for he was in great want.

Again, Homer's simile puts in a few words a whole idea regarding a description.  The simile of the lion makes not only Odysseus' appearance and attitude discernible to the reader, but does the double duty of giving the reader the impression of what the girls would be feeling when they saw him.  This is a masterful example of the simile.

Depending on the translation, more examples of poetic figurative language do exist in Book VI -- but it must be remembered that an English translation of this poem from the Ancient Greek does not always convey alliteration, assonance, and onomatopeia, which are usually language-specific.  But Homer's writing, no matter what the translation, is particularly metaphor- and simile-rich, with a wealth of descriptive epithets (such as "daughter of Aegis-bearing Zeus" to describe Athena, among others) which add greatly to the imagery.  These devices create effects for readers, without telling them exactly what to think, and Homer uses them masterfully.

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