Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What is an example of alliteration in Book 5 of The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles?

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Book 5 is a tumultuous Book for Odysseus, as he leaves Calypso's island only to be struck by a storm sent by Poseidon. However, Athena guides Odysseus, who was saved by his magical scarf, to the coast of Phaeacia, and his hopes soar before being dashed once again. For the "roaring breakers [are] crashing down on an ironbound coast, / expounding in fury—the whole sea shrouded—sheets of spray-" and there is no beach for Odysseus to wash up on, only forbidding cliffs and "rip-tooth reefs." In my first example, the 's' and 'sh' sounds are actually a subcategory of alliteration called sibilance. This sibilance creates a hissing sound reminiscent of spitting water as it rebounds off the hard stone of the cliff. Meanwhile, the harsh alliteration of 'r' combined with the clipped monosyllabic words reinforces the cruel and unrelenting nature of the reefs that could easily shred Odysseus' skin. These aural techniques help to immerse the listener or reader in the threatening natural environment Homer has created and reinforces the suspense of Odysseus' final danger before he finally finds safety in Phaeacia.

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In Book V, Athena attempts to influence Zeus on Odysseus's behalf because she feels sympathetic toward Odysseus and his family.  Odysseus has been kept for seven years by the nymph, Calypso, and though he badly wants to return home, she will not let him leave.  Athena argues that Odysseus needs a great deal of help because he no longer has a "crew to ply the oars / and send him scudding over the sea's broad back."  Alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant sound, and the words send, scudding, and sea all begin with the "s" sound; therefore, the line that contains these words contains an example of alliteration.  This particular repetition seems appropriate, given the subject matter of the line -- water -- because the "s" sound can be used to replicate the sound of moving water: many words that describe wet things begin with "s" -- slurp, spurt, slippery, slushy, and so forth (these are known as phonetic intensives).  The repetition of the initial "b" sound in the words broad and back also qualifies as alliteration.  Thus, the line actually contains two examples of this poetic device.

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