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Homeric Similes and Nature’s Wonders I

According to the Homer Bot on Twitter, my day will be like:

'the shining evening star, bright in the night's dark.' (Iliad 22.317-20)

The simile goes on to describe the star, which we now know to be the planet Venus, as the brightest of stars in the heavens. She is certainly splendid to behold. The star is used in a simile, where its brightness is designed to convey the flash from the 'keen-edged spear' of Achilles, which is poised to kill Hector and win Achilles the fight.

The gruesome reality of the battlefield is, as is so often the case in Homeric similes particularly in the Iliad, at odds with the image to which it is compared.

But I want to focus on the description itself.

Homer's similes often contained images from everyday life, maybe so that the audience could relate the remote mythical subject matter to their own experience. Moreover, taken by themselves, these similes represent some of the most exquisite descriptions of nature in poetry.

The truth of the beauty of the evening star, I think only really came home to me thanks to Homer. On holiday one year in Portugal, in a sweet little village called Carvoeiro, walking back to where we were staying one night, the shone very brightly over the sea. Homer's words were suddenly made manifest and I had a new appreciation of this natural phenomenon.

Homer's greatness lies not just in the poems' colourful characters, emotional descriptions, and gripping plots. The sensitive perceptions of nature contained within the works' many similes are a further reminder of their timelessness.


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