Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What are some examples of epic similes in Homer's Odyssey?

The Odyssey is full of similes. Odysseus himself is compared at different times to a woman weeping for a husband slain in battle, a lion, and an eagle. In one of the best-known similes, the stake he plunges into the eye of Polyphemus is compared to a red-hot ax or adze, which a blacksmith plunges into water.

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In Book V, when Calypso has released Odysseus, having been ordered by Zeus to do so, Odysseus drifts on his raft in Poseidon's dangerous seas. Remember that Poseidon is angry with Odysseus, and so he makes the hero's journey very difficult. Flung onto a rock by a great wave, Odysseus tries to hold on. The narrator says,

Struggling, [Odysseus] grasped the rock with both his hands and clung there, groaning, till the great wave passed. That one he thus escaped, but the back-flowing water struck him again, still struggling, and swept him out to sea. And just as, when a polyp is torn from out its bed, about its suckers clustering pebbles cling, so on the rocks pieces of skin were stripped from his strong hands.

In the final sentence of the quotation above, Odysseus is compared, via epic simile, to a polyp that firmly grips the ocean floor but is ripped violently away by the force of the water, its little suckers pulling away small pebbles as it is separated from its home. Odysseus holds on just as firmly—so firmly, in fact, that when he is ripped away from the rock, he actually leaves bits of his skin behind.

In Book VI, when Odysseus has landed in Phaeacia, another epic simile compares him to a lion as he makes his way toward Nausicaa and her serving-women:

He set off like a lion that is bred among the hills and trusts its strength; onward it goes, beaten with rain and wind; its two eyes glare; and now in search of oxen or of sheep it moves, or tracking the wild deer; its belly bids it make trial of the flocks, even by entering the guarded folds; so was Odysseus about to meet those fair-haired maids, all naked though he was, for need constrained him.

Odysseus is described as incredibly strong and confident; though he’s been so abused on his journey, he sounds like a predator. He’s described in this very animalistic way which is both frightening and attractive.

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One of the features of Homeric poetry is the presence of numerous similes. These can frequently be recognized by introductory words or phrases such as "like" or "just as."

In Odyssey 22, for example, when Odysseus is battling the suitors, the fleeing suitors are described as being "like a herd of cattle goaded and stung by the darting gadflies in spring" (A.S. Kline translation). In turn, Odysseus and his comrades are described as being "like vultures from the mountains" as they pursue the suitors.

In Odyssey 5, we find Odysseus on his raft, out on the open sea, being driven along by the winds. Odysseus' little raft is described in the following way: "Just as in autumn the North Wind blows a ball of thistle tufts..."

So, as we can see, similes are a signifcant part of Homeric poetry. To list list them all would be an epic task indeed.

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What are some epic similes in The Odyssey?

In Homeric poetry, similes are very common and introductions to...

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them can often be identified in English translations by the word "like" or the phrase "just as." Often these comparisons are drawn from images in nature.

Some of these similes are very brief, such as the one that occurs in Odyssey 1.306-324, the goddess Athena leaves the palace of Odysseus "soaring upwards like a bird" (A.S. Kline translation).

Other epic similes are lengthier. In Odyssey 6, when the naked Odysseus emerges from his bed of leaves and approaches Nausicaa and her companions he is described as being "like a mountain lion, sure of its strength, that defies the wind and rain with blazing eyes".

In Odyssey 22.378-432, after Odysseus has slaughtered the suitors, the poet compares them to a heap of fish that fishermen have caught in a net and dragged to the shore.

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What are some examples of simile in The Odyssey?

TheOdyssey is full of epic similes, which is to say similes that are extended, detailed, and may offer multiple points of comparison. For instance, when Odysseus hears the bard Demodocus singing the tale of the Trojan war, his emotional reaction is described in the following terms:

Great Odysseus melted into tears … as a woman weeps, her arms flung around her darling husband, a man who fell in battle, so from Odysseus’s eyes ran tears of heartbreak now.

Odysseus is compared to a war-widow, emphasizing his closeness to the comrades he lost in battle and the depth of his grief at losing them. Odysseus and other heroes weep several times in the Homeric poems, showing that, although the Homeric hero was supposed to be brave and noble, he was not expected to be stoical.

A grislier simile occurs when Odysseus plunges his stake into the single eye of Polyphemus, the Cyclops:

As a blacksmith plunges a glowing ax or adze in an ice-cold bath, and the metal screeches steam and its temper hardens —such is the strength of the iron, so the eye of the Cyclops sizzled around that stake.

The principal purpose of this metaphor is sheer vividness and immediacy. It paints a picture which no reader or hearer is ever likely to forget.

Several of the most memorable similes describe Odysseus’s battle with the suitors to regain his home and his wife. Odysseus is described as being like a musician when he sets an arrow to his bow, then as a lion in pursuit of fawns as he deals out death to the suitors. Finally, Odysseus and Telemachus are both characterized in an elaborate hunting simile as eagles “swooping down from a mountain ridge to harry smaller birds.” The smaller birds are the hapless suitors, and the description of Odysseus first as a lion, then as an eagle, emphasizes his strength and nobility.

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What is an example of an epic simile in Part One of The Odyssey by Homer?

A "regular" simile is a direct comparison between two essentially different things which share at least one common element, and it almost always uses the words like or as. An epic simile is the same, only it is a more extended (lengthy) comparison, suitable to the epic literature in which it is contained.

Book I of The Odyssey by Homer begins with a meeting of the gods, one of whom is Athena (or Minerva, in some translations). After she pleads her case that Odysseus should be allowed--finally--to go home, she leaves Olympus in a spectacular fashion:

[S]he bound on her glittering golden sandals, imperishable, with which she can fly like the wind over land or sea; she grasped the redoubtable bronze-shod spear, so stout and sturdy and strong, wherewith she quells the ranks of heroes who have displeased her, and down she darted from the topmost summits of Olympus, whereon forthwith she was in Ithaca....

Here is the epic simile. Athena straps on her famous and remarkable sandals and is immediately able to "fly like the wind" to her destination, in this case Odysseus's home in Ithaca. This is a terrific example of an epic simile.

The simile is repeated, in a way, when Athena leaves Telemachos, again in her spectacular fashion. Homer says she "flew away like a bird into the air," which is a clear continuation of, or at least a reference to, the simile which compares Athena to both the wind and something that can fly on the wind. 

For more insights and analysis of The Odyssey, I have linked several excellent eNotes sites below for you.

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What are three epic similes from part III of The Odyssey?

From Robert Fagles' translation of The Odyssey, in Book 16, lines 19-23, Eumaeus' reunion with Telemachus is compared to a father's welcoming home his son after a ten-year absence abroad: "As a father, brimming with love, welcomes home/ his darling only son in a warm embrace--/what pain he's borne for him and him alone!--/home now, in the tenth year from far abroad, so the loyal swineherd hugged the beaming prince...."

In Book 22, lines 316-24, Odysseus and his men are described as they attack the panicked suitors: "The attackers struck like eagles, crook-clawed, hook-beaked,/swooping down from a mountain ridge to harry smaller birds/that skim across the flatland cringing under the clouds/but the eagles plunge in fury, rip their lives out--hopeless,/never a chance of flight or rescue--and people love the sport--/so the attackers routed suitors headlong down the hall,/wheeling into the slaughter, slashing left and right/and grisly screams broke from skulls cracked open--/the whole floor awash with blood."

Also in Book 22, lines 408-414, the dead suitors are described: "But he [Odysseus] found them one and all in blood and dust.../great hauls of them down and out like fish that fishermen/drag from the churning gray surf in looped and coiling nets/and fling ashore on a sweeping hook of beach--some noble catch--/heaped on the sand, twitching, lusting for fresh salt sea/But the Sungod hammers down and burns their lives out.../so the suitors lay in heaps, corpse covering corpse."

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