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In this book, Athena disguises herself as a little girl carrying a pitcher on the road to Alcinous' house. Odysseus has landed on the island of the Phaeacians, and he wants to talk to the king Alcinous. But the Phaecians, we are told, dislike strangers, and Odysseus looks like a poor wretch. He is protected by Athena, however, and hidden in a cloud as he walks along. Athena tells Odysseus about the Phaeacians, and doing so she uses two poetic similes. "They are a sea-faring folk, and sail the seas by the grace of Poseidon in ships that glide along like thought, or as a bird in the air.” (Chapter VII).
These similes, examples of figurative language, give the reader an impression (as all figurative language is supposed to do) of what is being described. We know from Athena's simile that the Phaecians, whom we already know to be proud, are excellent sailors. Their ships are so fast that they "glide along like thought", and as easily as a "bird in the air". These metaphors also imply that they are quiet, and perhaps stealthy -- good for naval warfare and raiding. This gives us a further layer of information about the Phaecians; not only are they proud, and expert sailors, they may very well be warlike, too. These are people not to trifle with, and Odysseus does well to be protected by the powerful goddess.
Homer somtimes employs less rich metaphors than this -- the rather trite one of Arete being honored "as a goddess" is one of them. Some figurative language is a kind of shorthand -- it doesn't all have the layered implications that the ones Athena used above, for example. We know from this simile that Arete is well-honored in her place as queen. It is good for her that she is honored, for she is married to her own uncle, and in ancient Greece this was, at least among some people, considered incestuous. But both Arete and her husband Alcinous are descended, very nearly, from the god Poseidon. This makes their actions close enough to the divine to be less censured than they would be among people not descended from gods. But again, we know now that Odysseus is in enemy territory, here among the sea-god's descendents, for Odysseus has angered Poseidon. It is by no means certain what he will meet when he enters Alcinous' and Arete's house.
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