’…a speeding cormorant, crossing the waters, catching fish as it hurtles into the waves, salting its wings’.
This so exactly describes a hungry cormorant in flight many may be surprised to learn that the passage is getting on for three millennia in age.
It comes from Homer’s Odyssey near the start of book five when Hermes swoops down on to the see, speeding towards Calypso, the nymph.
HomertheBot (https://twitter.com/homerthebot) on Twitter tweeted this lovely passage, which recalled it to my mind. What struck me reading it now was not only the beautiful description, but also what simple pleasure could be found in nature. Having witnessed a cormorant on exactly the same mission, the description's power was very moving.
A week or two ago I uploaded a classical thought for the day entitled, ‘The Beauty of the Every Day’ looking at Homer and Virgil’s touching descriptions of everyday domestic moments.
Both also remind us of the exquisite beauty of nature itself.
The simile above, obviously adds a majestic vividness to the scene. The god Hermes swoops elegantly and powerfully down like a cormorant, and he breezes across the waves like the graceful but predatory bird.
Yet, if one imagines oneself standing inside the simile, rather than the main great Homeric epic narrative, one can imagine being out on a seaside walk in autumn or winter and stopping speechless to witness the flight of the dark-winged cormorant. Having observed exactly this scene, the experience only made the simile more powerful.
Homer and Virgil, too, are treasure troves of perceptive descriptions that connect their lofty, grand, and tragic narratives to every day scenes that are not merely familiar experiences, they bring great pleasure to the every day.