Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer
Start Free Trial

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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team