What literary devices are used in The Odyssey?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a huge number of examples of literary devices in the Odyssey, but we can only deal with a few of them here. One of the most notable features of the poem is Homer's use of epithets—adjectives or phrases that express a particular quality or attribute of a person or thing. A few examples:

Rosy-fingered dawn.

Wine-dark sea.

Bright-eyed Athena.

Such epithets were used to make each line fit the poetic meter of dactylic hexameter. (Six feet to each line.) We should always bear in mind that the Odyssey was intended to be read aloud, so it was important for it to have the right sound and rhythm.

Similes are also frequently used. These are comparisons between two different things using the words "like" or "as." For instance, "As brave as a lion," or "My love is like a red, red rose."

In The Odyssey, similes tend to be longer, stretching out over several lines. This explains why they're often called Homeric, or epic similes. Here are some examples:

I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home like a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright's drill that men below, whipping the strap back and forth, whirl and the drill keeps twisting, never stopping—So we seized our stake with it fiery tip and bored it round and round in the giant's eye.

This is Odysseus describing how he blinded the giant cyclops Polyphemus.

. . . its crackling roots blazed and hissed—as a blacksmith plunges a glowing ax or adze in an ice-cold bath and the metal screeches steam and its temper hardensthat's the iron's strength—so the eye of Cyclops sizzled round that stake.

Odysseus is comparing the sizzling sound of Polyphemus's burning eye to that of white-hot metal being plunged into cold water.

Think of a catch that fishermen haul in to a halfmoon bay in a fine meshed net from the white caps of the sea: how all are poured out on the sand, in throes for the salt sea, twitching their cold lives away in Helios' fiery air: so lay the suitors heaped on one another.

Odysseus, along with Telemachus, has just slaughtered the suitors paying court to Penelope. He compares them to dying fish twitching on the deck of a fishing boat, lying on top of each other after they've been caught.

Dramatic irony- This is where we know something that a character in the story doesn't. Odysseus has just recently returned to Ithaca and is about to enter his palace. He is greeted by his loyal hound, Argos, lying decrepit on a pile of dung, and about to die:

"A hunter owned him—but the man is dead in some far place."

These words are spoken by Eumaeus, a loyal goatherd. He thinks that Odysseus is dead, but in actual fact he's talking to the man himself, cunningly disguised as a beggar.

Foreshadowing- This provides us with hints as to what is to come. A good example comes from the cyclops, Polyphemus, who puts a curse on Odysseus:

“Should destiny intend that he shall see his roof again among his family in his fatherland, far be that day, and dark the years between. Let him lose all companions, and return under strange sail to bitter days at home.”

This is precisely what does happen as Odysseus is forced to wander for many years before he's finally able to return home to Ithaca.



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The Odyssey

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