The Simile of the Iliad

Many authors employ the device of the simile, but Homer fully adopts the concept, immersing many provoking, multi-layered similes into even the most ordinary of battle scenes in the Iliad. This technique both breaks up the ponderous pace of warfare and allows insight to the frequently volatile emotions of the characters.

A specific simile, found in Book Sixteen (lines 259-65), is set amongst rather dramatic action: Patroklus, in Achilleus's armor, rouses the Myrmidons as they head towards the battle. It is clear that the battalion is eager to fight ("In heart and fury" the Myrmidons "stream from their ships" (XVI, 268)), and Patroklus asks them to "remember your furious valour" (XVI, 270). Homer, however, offers the reader more than mere nouns, as he translates the sentiment of the Myrmidons into an elaborate visual simile. The basic premise of the comparison is to equate the fury of the aggravated wasps to the fury of the battle-hungry Myrmidons. This simile, however, runs far deeper than this surface association; as with many of Homer's similes, when studied more carefully, suspiciously familiar characters emerge.

The wasps of the passage, as explicitly relayed to the reader, are the...

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