Chapter 6. The Cognitive Aspect of the Homeric Simile

Ontological Boundaries

The term ontological boundary refers to (a) the creation of vivid mental imagery that transports the audience from the world of the plot to different visual spheres, and (b) a boundary-crossing experience that enables the narrator to create a further spatial division of the typical dichotomy between the mental world of the narrative and the ontological and corporeal habitat of the real world. [1]

Multiple space

Homeric similes are about a different mental universe, one that does not belong to any single plotline but is fragmented, in the sense that the mental pictures it allows the audience to visualize are like images seen from a window that opens and closes very fast. Given that this universe is not one, but differs every time the simile-window opens, it becomes clear that we are dealing with multiple different worlds, each accessed by the audience only for a very brief time. One of the trademarks of this different register seems to be its multiformity: it not only applies to the simile-system as a whole, but also works internally, that is, within the framework of a single simile. It actually takes the forms of bilaterality, complex expansions, mapping inconsistency of the target domain and base domain, [2] nontransferability of the simile marker and its replacement by a spatial framework, [3] and the multiplied simile, or the “elliptical combination of two superimposed comparative structures … violating all four requirements of the standard epic simile.” [4] In this way, the simile achieves an approximation and equation of elements, conditions, and people, by presenting parts of some specific and highly selective activity, that is, of situating them in space.


Bilaterality is a spatial aspect par excellence that is particularly associated with the expanded Homeric simile. In what follows, I will explore the question: Why do epic similes tend to be bilateral, and what is the function and effect of their spatial split?
The term bilaterality describes the split of the simile marker into two domains, the base domain and the target domain. I have opted for these terms instead of the traditional “vehicle” and “tenor,” or the even more traditional “anaphoric” and “deictic” parts, which are based on Fränkel’s Wie- and So-Satz. [5] New terms imply novel perspectives, and since these have been employed only by Ben-Porat in an article published in a non–classical journal, they need some preliminary remarks.
The split of the simile marker is a phenomenon so closely, and perhaps so intimately connected with the Homeric simile that it is fair to say that it belongs to its deep structure, or even to its ontogeny, its coming into being. If we endorse this scenario, then it may be argued that what we see as a split of the simile marker is only due to our literary perspective and our familiarity with written literature, which has accustomed us as readers only to the nuclear simile of the type “A is like B.” Reading the Iliad, instead of listening, and writing poetry instead of composing it and performing it orally, have shaped our understanding of the simile as a form of comparison. They have virtually deprived us of the ability to comprehend the simile as imagery, whose dynamic nature can be seen in its constantly changing perspective. Unlike the nuclear simile, which is characterized by its stillness and presents the two terms of comparison as motionless, that is, as expressing fixed identities, the Homeric simile invites the audience on a mental journey, following a visual path that takes the listener in various directions. Visual motion is a powerful mnemonic tool, the more so if associated with imagery that is suited to transformational thinking, which requires “moving rapidly from one situation to another.” [6] From this perspective, what we see as the split of a single simile marker acquires a completely different meaning. The oral storyteller does not work with a given verbal model consisting of a single anchoring mechanism, the simile marker, which has been broken or divided into two parts. He composes by following a path with his mind’s eye: this path he searches “on the run,” without deciding beforehand which aspect of the narrative he will highlight through his use of a simile. He may initially have used an aspect of the narrative as a mental link to begin the simile, but he does not depend solely on this; in fact he often forgets it and moves on to a new image. The introduction of the target domain after the completion of the base domain is a surface effect of the process of composing the simile “on the run,” since it stems from the storyteller’s decision to return to his narrative.
Having discussed the theoretical underpinnings of this cognitive approach, let us perform a litmus test on an Iliadic simile:
ὣς ἔφατ’, Ἀτρείδης δὲ παρῴχετο γηθόσυνος κῆρ·
ἦλθε δ’ ἐπ’ Αἰάντεσσι κιὼν ἀνὰ οὐλαμὸν ἀνδρῶν.
τὼ δὲ κορυσσέσθην, ἅμα δὲ νέφος εἵπετο πεζῶν·
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἀπὸ σκοπιῆς εἶδεν νέφος αἰπόλος ἀνήρ
ἐρχόμενον κατὰ πόντον ὑπὸ Ζεφύροιο ἰωῆς,
τῷ δέ τ’ ἄνευθεν ἐόντι μελάντερον ἠΰτε πίσσα
φαίνετ’ ἰὸν κατὰ πόντον, ἄγει δέ τε λαίλαπα πολλήν,
ῥίγησέν τε ἰδών, ὑπό τε σπέος ἤλασε μῆλα,
τοῖαι ἅμ’ Αἰάντεσσι διοτρεφέων αἰζηῶν
δήϊον ἐς πόλεμον πυκιναὶ κίνυντο φάλαγγες
κυάνεαι, σάκεσίν τε καὶ ἔγχεσι πεφρικυῖαι.
καὶ τοὺς μὲν γήθησεν ἰδὼν κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων,
καί σφεας φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

So he spoke, and Atreides, cheerful at heart, went onward.
On his way through the thronging men he came to the Aiantes.
These were armed, and about them went a cloud of foot-soldiers.
As from his watching place a goatherd watches a cloud move
on its way over the sea before the drive of the west wind;
far away though he be he watches it, blacker than pitch is,
moving across the sea and piling the storm before it,
and as he sees it he shivers and drives his flocks to a cavern;
so about the two Aiantes moved the battalions,
close-compacted of strong and god-supported young fighters,
black, and jagged with spear and shield, to the terror of battle.
Agamemnon the lord of men was glad when he looked at them,
and he spoke aloud to them and addressed them in winged words.
Iliad IV 272–284
This extended simile cannot be reduced to a nuclear simile of the type target domain + simile marker + base domain. The split of the simile marker into ὡς δ’ ὅτε and τοῖαι, coupled with two hypothesized domains, a base domain in the first part and a target domain in the second, transforms the epic simile into a bilateral one. The use of multiple images (a goatherd in his lookout, a black cloud over the sea piling a storm around it, the goatherd driving his flock to a cavern), the shifting perspectives (goatherd-cloud-goatherd-cloud), the elliptical nature of the landscapes evoked, the technique of paratactic visual syntax (analogous to the λέξις εἰρομένη), and finally the vividness of the colors (an essential aspect of space), [7] all suggest that this is a universe of revisited landscapes, comprising multiple memory images stored in the mind, which the narrator and audience know from common experience. This is not only the result of the inbuilt pictureability of the Homeric simile; it also reenacts a mental process of transformational thinking that is typical of oral traditions, where the storyteller’s mind constantly changes visual locations. When he decides to rein in his pictorial overabundance, he returns to his narrative, indicating the change of register to his audience by introducing the target domain. Bilaterality is indeed present, but it transcends the verbal constraints of its native register and amounts to a split between two paths of visual representation, traditionally known as narrative and extended simile.
Together with this, I would argue that bilaterality must be interpreted within the framework of transformational thinking, which requires a swift movement from one visual snapshot to another. The use of space as a cue for recall is inherently associated with the process the narrator’s mind follows in visualizing the micronarrative of a Homeric simile. By beginning always in medias res, he makes full use of traditional imagery with which he and his audience are familiar; by leaving his “miniature” unfinished, he opts for suspension and ellipsis instead of cohesion and completeness. In the realm of transformational thinking, that is, visualizing the world of the narrative by transposing oneself into another register, most, if not all, of the rules of narrative collapse: there is no protagonist, no time, no plot; only vivid vistas of another world, where the mind’s eye can temporarily wander before it is summoned back to the main narrative.

Complex expansions

In contrast with the nuclear simile, which is virtually a “closed” simile, Homeric poetry makes ample use of the extended simile, which is characterized by its openness. The typical structure of the nuclear simile, consisting of a base item, a target item, and a simile marker, assumes that storyteller and audience will be able to extract the most salient feature of the base item and extend it to the target item, even if this characteristic (the tertium comparationis) is not expressed. In this closed form of utterance or comparison, stating that the target item (e.g. Achilles) is like the base item (a lion), listeners are expected to realize that the most typical feature of the lion in this context is its ferocity, and apply it to Achilles. Ben-Porat has criticized this approach, arguing that its main deficiency lies in its reductiveness, since those endorsing it “must posit an earlier stage in the generation of such incomplete utterances by their authors, a stage in which the unexpressed attribute is present.” [8]
In the world of the extended simile, openness is the rule. We should make clear from the beginning that we are dealing more with simile utterances, involving a search for transferable attributes and a mapping of whole domains, [9] than with selecting a single relational attribute on which the whole comparison relies. Viewed from this angle, internal expansions of the base domain create multiple domains that storyteller and listeners need to scan with their mind’s eye, resulting—unavoidably but also tellingly—in the activation of many irrelevant features. In both narrative and extended similes, traditional referentiality is present not only on the formulaic but also on the thematic level. This “mnemonic flood” carries with it a number of details or aberrant features that deviate from the visual framework of the epic simile. It is exactly at this point that referential incompatibility becomes part of the very nature of the Homeric simile, whose openness reminds us of the importance of asymmetry and “estrangement” in tracing the cognitive process of interpreting it. Given that aberration and complex expansions constitute integral parts of the open simile, we shall now explore their function in a complex Iliadic example:
Τρῶες δὲ προύτυψαν ἀολλέες, ἦρχε δ’ ἄρ’ Ἕκτωρ
ἀντικρὺ μεμαώς, ὀλοοίτροχος ὣς ἀπὸ πέτρης,
ὅν τε κατὰ στεφάνης ποταμὸς χειμάρροος ὤσῃ,
ῥήξας ἀσπέτῳ ὄμβρῳ ἀναιδέος ἔχματα πέτρης,
ὕψι δ’ ἀναθρῴσκων πέτεται, κτυπέει δέ θ’ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ
ὕλη· ὃ δ’ ἀσφαλέως θέει ἔμπεδον, ὄφρ’ ἂν ἵκηται
ἰσόπεδον· τότε δ’ οὔ τι κυλίνδεται, ἐσσύμενός περ.
ὣς Ἕκτωρ εἷως μὲν ἀπείλει μέχρι θαλάσσης
ῥέα διελεύσεσθαι κλισίας καὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
κτείνων· ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ πυκινῇς ἐνέκυρσε φάλαγξιν,
στῆ ῥα μάλ’ ἐγχριμφθείς. οἳ δ’ ἀντίοι υἷες Ἀχαιῶν
νύσσοντες ξίφεσίν τε καὶ ἔγχεσιν ἀμφιγύοισιν
ὦσαν ἀπὸ σφείων, ὃ δὲ χασσάμενος πελεμίχθη.

The Trojans came down on them in a pack, and Hektor led them
raging straight forward, like a great rolling stone from a rock face
that a river swollen with winter rain has wrenched from its socket
and with immense washing broken the hold of the unwilling rock face;
the springing boulder flies on, and the forest thunders beneath it;
and the stone runs unwavering on a strong course, till it reaches
the flat land, then rolls no longer for all its onrush;
so Hektor for a while threatened lightly to break through
the shelters and ships of the Achaians and reach the water
cutting his way. But when he collided with the dense battalions
he was stopped, hard, beaten in on himself. The sons of the Achaians
against him stabbing at him with swords and leaf-headed spears
thrust him away from them so that he gave ground backward, staggering.
Iliad XIII 136–148
This extended simile is a typical example of how expanding the base domain can create a level of complexity that virtually defies compactness and immediate directionality. The base domain comprises three smaller domains, which are better examined as they come into existence instead of being seen as parts of a coherent whole.
The base domain begins by offering a view of Hektor, leading his army (a) “like a great rolling stone from a rock face / that a river swollen with winter rain has wrenched from its socket / and with immense washing broken the hold of the unwilling rock face.” [10] Next, the base domain expands in another direction by mentally mapping a different spatial aspect: from the sight of a stone breaking away from a cliff under the pressure of a swollen river, the storyteller now turns (b) to the forest thundering from the noise (“the springing boulder flies on, and the forest thunders beneath it”). [11] He subsequently sees (c) the stone running “unwavering on a strong course, till it reaches / the flat land, then roll[ing] no longer for all its onrush.” [12] The expansion of the base domain has not only created multiple visual domains which the audience is invited to view, but also led to a rather unpredicted result for the narrative to follow: when the narrator began uttering his simile, he had probably visualized the steady movement of a rolling stone; but since his visualization was done “on the fly,” it generated other visualizations in succession. “Carried away” from his point of departure (the rolling stone), the storyteller mentally arrived at a different destination, namely the stone’s stopping on the flat land. The complex expansion of the base domain led unavoidably to the need for a new mapping of the target domain, whence its expansion by the storyteller to six whole lines (Iliad XIII 143–148).
Details are also important not only as traces of incompatibility but also as signs of asymmetry and visual “estrangement.” Let us consider the beginning of the base domain. What is the function of the visualization of Hektor not simply as a rolling stone but “as a rolling stone wrenched from its socket and broken from an unwilling rock face because of the immense washing of a river swollen with winter rain”? Why is the rock “unwilling,” the river “swollen with winter rain,” the stone part of “a rock face”? In order to answer these questions, we could engage, as scholars have often done, in sophisticated interpretive techniques and innovative literary interpretations. It is not my purpose to deny all that, but to shed light on a different aspect of this issue. Details may also, at least at times and at least some of them, be irrelevant. Their irrelevance, not to speak of pure incompatibility, stems from the constraints exerted upon us by our belief that the nuclear simile represents the default mode of comparison, that its closedness and compactness, its stillness and solidity, represent the idea of perfection. In Homeric epic, asymmetry is relevant from the perspective of oral poetics. The details of the unwilling rock, the river swollen with winter rain, and the rolling stone that forms part of a rock face are spatial elements of the narrator’s visualization of a rolling stone. They come up in the process of his mental imaging of the stone, because it has to be “placed” somewhere in his mind’s eye. Like all human beings, he recalls images of familiar things not on their own, but within a given space. In this light, the rolling stone is mentally “anchored” both to a rock face, which resists (“unwilling”) the breaking off of the stone, and to a river, not any river but one that exerts enormous force to break the stone from the rock, because it is swollen by the rain. All these details that particularize and concretize space stem from its role as a cue for recall and visualization. They may be, or seem, asymmetrical with the kernel of the comparison, but our simile utterance extends well beyond that level of interpretation. Spatial minutiae of the sort described above are strong evidence of the storyteller’s eusynoptic view, and testify to the vividness and clarity of visual imagery.

Mapping inconsistency between the target and base domains

The extended Homeric simile or simile utterance, as we have seen, has specific comparative features, but “is not necessarily consistent when it comes to the process of mapping its domains.” [13] Let us consider the following example, and then attempt to explain the origins and function of inconsistency between the target domain and base domain:
οἵη δ’ ἐκ νεφέων ἐρεβεννὴ φαίνεται ἀήρ
καύματος ἔξ, ἀνέμοιο δυσαέος ὀρνυμένοιο,
τοῖος Τυδείδῃ Διομήδεϊ χάλκεος Ἄρης
φαίνεθ’ ὁμοῦ νεφέεσσιν, ἰὼν εἰς οὐρανὸν εὐρύν.

As when out of the thunderhead the air shows darkening
after a day’s heat when the stormy wind uprises,
thus to Tydeus’ son Diomedes Ares the brazen
showed as he went up with the clouds into the wide heaven.
Iliad V 864–867
This simile has puzzled interpreters. Its lack of clarity has been effectively summarized by Moulton:
The dark air rising after a day’s heat and the stirring wind almost lead us to expect a storm; yet the departure of Ares represents the passing of a threat to Diomedes and the Greeks, from whose point of view the description is given. The best way to understand the comparison is probably to equate Ares’ disappearance with the dissolution of the clouds in the sky after a thunderstorm; this is supported by the detail of Ares surrounded with clouds at 867. If we compare the image with the simile at 522, we note the following: Diomedes is connected with both (519 and 866); in the first the clouds are stationary and the winds calm (522–525), while in the second the wind is rising (865) and Ares moves up into the sky with the clouds (867); both images allude to dark clouds of storm (525–526, 864). Variation of the same motifs, and the placement of the similes in the narrative movement, warrant consideration of these images as an associated pair. [14]
Moulton’s line of argument abides by the interpretive approach he takes in his monograph. Association of images obscures simile-internal inconsistencies. As I have argued, similes operate in visual blocks, on the basis of common mnemonic anchors like spatial references, but as far as their internal consistency is concerned they tend to defy macroscopic connections of the sort Moulton points to. Conversely, it could be plausibly argued that first, it is not only “Diomedes [who] is connected with both (519 and 866),” as Moulton argues, since in the first case it is the two Ajaxes, Odysseus, and Diomedes who are compared to stationary clouds, and second, the wind-cloud simile of 522–527 belongs to the same visual unit as a preceding wind–threshing floor simile (499–505), both of them visualizing the Achaeans’ standing firm against the Trojan onslaught.
The simile under discussion is a typical example of mapping inconsistency between the base domain (which comes first) and the target domain, based on the fact that “the formal simile compares the heads of the respective parts explicitly, by using the split simile marker” [15] and not the base and target domains. What is really assimilated is the darkening air and brazen Ares, that is, the semantic topics of the base domain and target domain. The heads of these two domains reflect the base item and target item of a nuclear simile. In other words, were we to reduce this extended simile to a nuclear simile, it would have the form “brazen Ares” (target item) is like (simile marker) “darkening air” (base item). What would have been the target and base items of a nuclear simile that would function as a complete comparative structure have now become heads of entire spatial domains that appear in reverse order, the target domain coming first and the base domain following. This is not to say that extended similes have come into being from nuclear similes by the generative process of expansion. I have simply referred to the nuclear simile in order to show the limited comparative scope of the epic simile. [16]
The question of the origins of this mapping inconsistency can be answered only by considering the way visual imagery evolves. The storyteller has visually paired the space of this simile on the basis of the blowing wind, which constitutes an effective cue to recall that is frequently used in Iliadic similes, for the wind combines various spatial aspects such as sound, movement, and color (since it often changes the color of the clouds or the sea). The narrator, who has kept in his mind’s eye the image of “Ares the brazen” (V 859, 866 χάλκεος Ἄρης), aims at creating equivalent spatial cues in both similes of the same visual unit. He therefore resorts to two spatial features, sound (859–860 “Ares the brazen bellowed with a sound as great as nine thousand men make, or ten thousand”) and color (864: “as when out of the thunderhead the air shows darkening”), in order to see the god of war in his mind’s eye. In fact, both these spatial features create the illusion of proximity, of “being there” on the battlefield like Diomedes and the rest of the Achaeans, listening to the great sound and looking at the darkening figure of Ares. Seen from this angle, the inconsistency between base and target domains in this wind simile is caused by the dynamic spatial nature of visual imagery, which evolves freely and transcends the fixed identities of the heads of the base and target domains.
The term “inconsistency” is useful mainly in discussing the dynamic spatial nature of the extended simile as a form of visual imagery. Visual imagery does not operate in a linear manner. Its telling combination of a low degree of compactness and consistency with a high degree of vividness and visual richness [17] may violate the rules of symmetry and complete relevance under which modern readers have been trained to read written literature, but it is the natural outcome of the visual cornucopia of imagery created and recalled in the mind’s eye of the storyteller while performing his song.

Multiplied simile

The multiplied simile is a variant form of the epic simile, whose elliptical nature results from the blurring of target and base domains and the nontransferability of the simile marker. [18] By superimposing comparative structures, the oral storyteller creates a type of simile that defies almost all the rules governing the formal or nuclear simile. The role of key principles of recall, such as spatial organization and mental association and ordering of material, is paramount for the multiplied simile. [19]
To explore in detail the form and function of superimposed space in multiplied similes, let us focus our attention on an Iliadic example:
ὡς δ’ ὅτε πῦρ ἀΐδηλον ἐν ἀξύλῳ ἐμπέσῃ ὕλῃ,
πάντῃ τ’ εἰλυφόων ἄνεμος φέρει, οἳ δέ τε θάμνοι
πρόρριζοι πίπτουσιν ἐπειγόμενοι πυρὸς ὁρμῇ,
ὣς ἄρ’ ὑπ’ Ἀτρείδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι πίπτε κάρηνα
Τρώων φευγόντων·

As when obliterating fire comes down on the timbered forest
and the roll of the wind carries it everywhere, and bushes
leaning under the force of the fire’s rush tumble uprooted,
so before Atreus’ son Agamemnon went down the high heads
of the running Trojans …
Iliad XI 155–159
Every interpreter of this simile is vexed by the asymmetrical comparison between the heads of the anticipating base domain and the target domain that follows: [20] ὡς δ’ ὅτε πῦρ ἀΐδηλον―ὣς … πίπτε κάρηνα / Τρώων φευγόντων· (“As when obliterating fire … so … the high heads / of the running Trojans”). When a listener hears the beginning of the extended simile, he starts to visualize the head of the base domain, the “obliterating fire,” doing something (“coming down on the timbered forest”: ἐν ἀξύλῳ ἐμπέσῃ ὕλῃ). By analogy, he expects the head of the target domain to be mapped onto it—that is, to be doing something similar. Surprisingly enough, and despite the use of the same verbal form that was employed for the head of the base domain (πίπτε κάρηνα / Τρώων φευγόντων), the head of the target domain is different altogether, namely the actual heads (κάρηνα) of the running Trojans instead of Agamemnon’s. The heads of the simile’s two spatial domains, the base domain and the target domain, “should” normally be symmetrical with respect to syntactic position and meaning, being as they are, figuratively speaking, at equal distance from the simile marker. In this case, there is a clear blurring between heads, which unavoidably results in the tempting illusion of fusion between spatial boundaries. Since members of the audience must have readily assumed that Agamemnon, who was emphatically mentioned just before the beginning of the simile (lines 153–154), is to be compared with “obliterating fire,” it is plausible to say that their subsequent confusion may have resulted from the fact that the inconsistency of the two heads has generated the chiastic connection between two nuclear similes included in this multiplied simile:
Target Domain Simile Marker Base Domain
(1) Agamemnon is Like fire
(2) the heads of the Trojans Like bushes
Because of the chiastic connection of the two verbalized spatial domains (the “fire” that is the base domain of the first nuclear simile with the “heads of the Trojans” that are the target domain of the second), listeners are inclined to cross-link the other two spatial domains (“Agamemnon” and the “bushes”), which are half-verbalized but readily hypothesized due to analogy. [21] The result is a striking paradox: the listeners are tempted to assume that the comparison is between the verbalized heads of a single simile containing one base domain and one target domain, the fire and the heads of the Trojans. They are, therefore, confused by the illogical assumption that “the heads of the Trojans are like fire,” and the even more illogical inference that “Agamemnon is like bushes.”
The spatial blurring of the domains of different nuclear similes, accompanied by the inconsistent spatial mapping of their respective heads, is caused by the fact that the narrator is “carried away” in the process of visualization. In particular, the mental image that comes last (the bushes as a base domain) guides the storyteller in visualizing its corresponding target domain (the heads of the Trojans), to which is subordinated the symmetrically and logically equivalent target domain (Agamemnon) that corresponds to the first mental image (fire) of the base domain. In other words, the last image contained in the first spatial domain, the base domain “fire” (θάμνοι / πρόρριζοι πίπτουσιν ἐπειγόμενοι πυρὸς ὁρμῇ [“bushes / leaning under the force of the fire’s rush tumble uprooted”]), creates a mental route that leads the storyteller to a semantically, syntactically, and grammatically (plurals) analogous target domain, despite the fact that the latter belongs to a different nuclear simile.
Having suggested a possible explanation for the blurring of target and base domains belonging to different similes within the structure of a multiplied simile, we may now explore some of its functions; for whatever the mental process of its creation, it represents a prominent trademark of the poetic grammar of Homeric poetry, and as such it belongs to the deep structure of the epic.
In order to interpret analogical reasoning, which stands at the basis of similes, people are expected to make judgments based on symmetry. To this end, they select what Tversky [22] calls a “feature space” or a “frame of reference,” and then assume a resemblance between the subject and its referent. Notwithstanding such one-to-one analogies, the Homeric narrator selects a space where the referent is placed, and then associates the referent with other shifting spaces. Space is thus conceived as a way of mentally contextualizing a referent that is presented by means of specific manifestations of its existence or activity. But what is it that determines which features or aspects of the referent the narrator selects? Its applicability to the subject, Tversky says, though this is not really valid for the extended Homeric similes, since their general comparative structure involves not a subject and a referent, but particular activities or situations of the subject and the referent, or as with the multiplied simile a chiastic relation between subjects and referents. [23] In fact, the whole process is even more complicated: not only a single activity or situation of the subject is compared, and not only a single activity or situation of the referent is evoked. Situational multifariousness is accentuated by pictorial multiformity and an ongoing processing of mental images in ever-shifting spatial frames.
In Iliad XI 155–159, the audience is helped to visualize Agamemnon’s killing Trojans through the movement of obliterating fire carried everywhere by the wind in a timbered forest. Then, the simile captures a part of the forest and some bushes, leaning under the force of the fire. The reference to the timbered forest and the uprooted bushes takes any listener on a short visual tour of the place where this snapshot occurs. The storyteller does not provide his audience with information about the cause of the fire, nor will he inform them of its end result. He has only captured a snapshot, a given moment or series of moments of what could have been a plotline. In other words, we are suddenly situated in the middle of a brief story, not knowing how it began or how it will end. What matters is suspense, incompleteness, and indeterminacy. As if this were not enough, the narrator shuns the symmetrical mapping of the heads of his two nuclear similes, adding confusion, asymmetry, and inconsistency to the mental tableau he has painted for his audience. From this perspective, multiplied similes present snapshots of a world that takes human attention by storm. By defying most of the rules of epic narrative, it challenges the audience, who are temporarily faced with an alternative mode of expression within the set of constraints imposed by epic song. An almost lyric tone emerges, [24] as if the storyteller “turns on the switch,” and the space of the battlefield disappears while the audience visualizes a space more akin to that of lyric poetry. I am not suggesting that the audience experiences this phenomenon as a generic shift, but that the register of the Homeric simile is tuned to a lyric instead of an epic note. By introducing snapshots of potential narratives in medias res, where beginning and end are systematically lacking [25] and pictorial richness blurs spatial levels, the narrator performs at the level of visualization what he does at the level of diction, and as has been suggested even of meter: [26] he marks his similes as special kind of song within the supergenre of Homeric epic, a song imbued with lyric overtones, and thus memorable and strongly pictureable for both himself and his audience.

Metaleptic space

The Homeric simile allows for a boundary-crossing experience, [27] into a different world that is visualized in vivid snapshots of action suspended in medias res. The similes enable the narrator to create a further spatial division of the typical dichotomy between the mental world of the narrative and that of the ontological and corporeal habitat of the real world. This time, the song itself introduces a new distinction, between the world of the narrative and that of the similes. Keeping the former dichotomy in mind, we can see the latter as its internal reflection: the audience is invited on a new journey, a novel mental iter to a new “space,” the universe of the simile. The clear-cut demarcation of the simile, whose beginning and end are carefully delineated by deictic markers, bears a striking similarity to the very performance of epic song. The storyteller informs his audience that he is going to begin his song by invoking the Muse and asking for inspiration. In tandem with this explicit acknowledgment of the meta literary aspect of oral song-making, the narrator attempts to liberate his listeners from the spatiotemporal bonds of their ontological life and transport them to a different mental world. Likewise, when introducing a simile, the storyteller changes register: he temporarily stops referring to the world of the plot, carries his listeners over the mental boundaries [28] that he has constructed for them while performing his epic song, and attempts to create a new spatiotemporal framework, a mental landscape which they are invited to explore. By following this strategy he is able to put the process of “escapism” in the limelight. “Estrangement” is not only the result of the blurring of the spatial domains of two nuclear similes within the visual framework of a multiplied simile, but also the by-product of realizing the dichotomy between the world of the narrative and that of the similes. The latter of course evoke familiar mental images, but at the same time they remind the audience of the gap that separates the realm of the narrative from the ontological sphere of the real world. While the very performance of epic song carries the listeners to a distant world (both temporally and spatially), that of the epic heroes of Troy, the internal mirroring of this technique on the shifting registers of narrative and simile allows the narrator to invite his audience to return to the mental images of the natural world, the world they inhabit ontologically. This metaleptic effect of the simile is not so much author- but performance-oriented. In the oral universe of Homeric poetry, audience immersion, for all its resemblance to readerly immersion, taps into the very nature of performance: the simile capitalizes on the fundamental realities of oral singing and mirrors internally the basic dichotomy between reality and song, allowing the audience to comprehend and evaluate for themselves the futile “escapism” of the art of epic poetry. By relativizing the medium, the narrator engages his listeners in a process of revealing the fact that like the simile, the poetry of the Iliad enhances the sameness, or at least the approximation, of human nature and human fate.
The crucial role of space in the metaleptic aspect of the Homeric simile can be better evaluated by considering the following observations:
Extended similes have more space to develop, allowing for “more real” boundary crossings by listeners, in richer and more developed worlds of the base domain, where the audience can mentally stay longer.When the simile is introduced, there is a moment of oscillation, of spatial hesitation  [29] between the space of the main narrative and the location of the short narrative included in the base domain. [30] As the base domain evolves, the piling up of “modifiers” enhancing specificity and contextuality weakens narrative echoes, in an ongoing effort to immerse the audience in a spatially new visual realm. [31] Despite the effect of these modifiers, the transition from narrative to simile is strongly felt, not so much sequentially as spatially.The digressive aspect of the Homeric simile constitutes a narrative strategy, according to which extradiegetic base domains can “expatiate freely.” The term “digression,” of course, is based on the narrative sequence and evolution of the plot. It presupposes a notion of linearity, from which there can be deviations. But the simile can hardly have such an effect, for its register is distinct from that of the narrative. Unlike other aspects of Homeric narrative, such as the mythological example, [32] the simile does not have protagonists nor does it refer to myth: it is devoid of names and distinctive “individualized” agents. It constitutes not a paranarrative but a paratopic space, a place to which the narrator invites his audience, a universe without all the mental images created for the Iliadic narrative. Its clearly demarcated boundaries are not just a surface element of how the pictorial world of the simile is verbalized, but also, and significantly so, a metaleptic hint to the very performance of the song. [33]
The metaleptic aspect of the Homeric simile is sometimes alluded to by its very content. In Iliad XV 80–84, the swift journey of Hera to Olympos is compared with the speed of thought in the mind of a traveler, who “sees” places before actually going there. This is a very interesting example of the relationship between space and mental visualization, the more so since it is attested in an oral epic like the Iliad. Given that “Homeric epic refers to itself as a path (οἴμη),” [34] this simile has an almost metapoetic coloring, since the traveler resembles the epic storyteller who travels along the path of song and “thinks of things in the mind’s awareness, ‘I wish I were this place, or this,’ and imagines many things” (XV 81–82). Another illustration of the epic simile’s metaleptic effect is that of the “spearcast.” Cognitive psychologists have proved that “measuring” [35] distance or size by way of drawings is faster and more effective than by means of words. [36] Moreover, as the storyteller’s constant recourse to the image of the spearcast in “measuring” similes shows (e.g. XV 358–359), performance can achieve greater precision and clarity by repeatedly creating a mental image of an event or action. [37] In other words, the reiterated imaging of the distance covered by a spearcast is not only an effective way of visualizing an action presented in the narrative, but also may have helped the narrator improve his performance by picturing the course of his narrative in advance. [38]
Despite appearances reinforced by sets of formulaic and metrical constraints, epic song is a multilayered web, characterized by various interwoven registers. The extended simile, like ecphrasis and catalogue, is an example of how the mental organization of space may also have a metaleptic aspect, reminding the audience of the fictionality of the epic song during the long hours of its performance.

Hypertextual Space

Hypertext facilitates access to material in any order and in various forms (auditory, graphic, textual, or a combination of all three), challenging hierarchy and promoting multilinearity. [39] By allowing for a number of effects that simple narrative is unable to offer, the Homeric simile displays some of these hypertextual features. In order to make this point clearer, I will explore a series of aspects of hypertextual space, through various examples comparing the effects of narrative segments with those of their accompanying similes. [40]

Aural hypertextuality

Hypertext editions of books now contain even audio links, which allow readers to listen to a song or a performance of a whole musical composition. For example, an e-book on Beethoven may contain, apart from information about his life and music, actual performances of some of his symphonies and other musical pieces in the form of links that can be activated by the reader with a simple click of the mouse. It should be noted that such a hypertext edition is different from a modern printed book on the same topic that may be accompanied by a CD of Beethoven’s music. The difference lies in the fact that the auditory material is hypertextually linked, and in this way built in to the e-book, whereas it is externally added to the printed book. [41]
Similarly, sound as a spatial aspect of the Homeric simile may function as a “hypertext link” for the audience. The clamor and hubbub of battle, the shouting of the troops and other sound effects of the narrative, can be linked in the listeners’ minds to more familiar sounds from the world of nature. The latter work in the manner of hypertext nodes that activate audio segments: the audience can thus “hear” the sound of battle by imagining the sound of the sea waves; they can listen to the noise made by the body of a falling warrior by recalling the sound of a falling tree. As with hypertext editions, spatial sound-links are only partly under the author’s control. In oral verse-making, although the narrator decides where to insert such links, and to this extent predetermines for his audience the material available to them, listeners decide for themselves about the particulars of their mental representation of sound: [42] some may hear in their minds a louder sound, others a longer one, while others may even keep this spatial aspect in their minds long after the completion of the simile, reactivating it at will in other similar narrative circumstances, even without recourse to any other such simile. This overriding of narrative constraints is due to the effective function of the spatial aspect of sound, both a strong cue for memory recall and a dynamic means of aural hypertextuality, at the disposal of both storyteller and audience.

Tagging and annotating narrative space

Similes help listeners mentally visualize, and therefore comprehend, what is going on in the narrative, as if reading an encyclopedia or dictionary. Mental viewing of narrative snapshots is “visually explained” by examples of vivid imagery contained in the similes. To this extent, the example offered by a modern dictionary is valid. Let us take the entry “crew” from Oxford’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary:
crew /kru:/ n [CGp] 1(a) all the people working on a ship, an aircraft, etc: The ship had a crew of 60. / All the passengers and crew survived the crash. (b) all these people except the officers: the officers and crew of the SS Neptune. (c) a rowing team: a member of the Cambridge crew. 2 a group of people working together: a camera/film crew / an ambulance crew. 3 (usu derog) a group of people: The people she’d invited were a pretty motley crew.
The entry contains information organized in multiple levels: headword and pronunciation, classification of the word crew according to traditional grammatical categories (noun), and meanings separated by numbers or, when closely related, by letters. Sometimes (though not in this example) the standard American pronunciation and spelling of the entry are given (when different from British English), as well as cross-references to related or contrasted words. Let us now consider a series of extended similes belonging to the same visual unit:
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἀφ’ ὑψηλῆς κορυφῆς ὄρεος μεγάλοιο
κινήσῃ πυκινὴν νεφέλην στεροπηγερέτα Ζεύς,
ἔκ τ’ ἔφανεν πᾶσαι σκοπιαὶ καὶ πρώονες ἄκροι
καὶ νάπαι, οὐρανόθεν δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπερράγη ἄσπετος αἰθήρ,
ὣς Δαναοὶ νηῶν μὲν ἀπωσάμενοι δήιον πῦρ
τυτθὸν ἀνέπνευσαν· πολέμου δ’ οὐ γίνετ’ ἐρωή·

And as when from the towering height of a great mountain Zeus
who gathers the thunderflash stirs the cloud dense upon it,
and all the high places of the hills are clear and the shoulders out-jutting
and the deep ravines, as endless bright air spills from the heavens,
so when the Danaans had beaten from their ships the ravening
fire, they got breath for a little, but there was no check in the fighting.
Iliad XVI 297–302
ὡς δὲ λύκοι ἄρνεσσιν ἐπέχραον ἠ’ ἐρίφοισιν
σίνται, ὕπεκ μήλων αἱρεόμενοι, αἵ τ’ ἐν ὄρεσσιν
ποιμένος ἀφραδίῃσι διέτμαγεν, οἳ δὲ ἰδόντες
αἶψα διαρπάζουσιν ἀνάλκιδα θυμὸν ἐχούσας,
ὣς Δαναοὶ Τρώεσσιν ἐπέχραον· οἳ δὲ φόβοιο
δυσκελάδου μνήσαντο, λάθοντο δὲ θούριδος ἀλκῆς.

They as wolves make havoc among lambs or young goats in their fury,
catching them out of the flocks, when the sheep separate in the mountains
through the thoughtlessness of the shepherd, and the wolves seeing them
suddenly snatch them away, and they have no heart for fighting;
so the Danaans ravaged the Trojans, and these remembered
the bitter sound of terror, and forgot their furious valour.
Iliad XVI 352–357
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἀπ’ Οὐλύμπου νέφος ἔρχεται οὐρανὸν εἴσω
αἰθέρος ἐκ δίης, ὅτε τε Ζεὺς λαίλαπα τείνῃ,
ὣς τῶν ἐκ νηῶν γένετο ἰαχή τε φόβος τε,
οὐδὲ κατὰ μοῖραν πέραον πάλιν.

As when a cloud goes deep up in the sky from Olympos
through the bright upper air when Zeus brings on the hurricane,
so rose from beside the ships their outcry, the noise of their terror.
Iliad XVI 364–367
These three extended similes constitute a single visual unit, which employs the space of the mountains to help audience and storyteller specify and mentally visualize the fierce fighting next to the ships between Achaeans and Trojans. Particular details constitute a form of visual annotation of the “spatial entry” “fighting next to the ships.” The use of three similes accompanying the action in the same location sheds light on distinct levels of the same visual entry and clarifies all its different aspects.
Like the headword and pronunciation at the beginning of all entries in a standard dictionary, all three similes begin by indicating the head of their base domain (cloud/wolves/cloud). Moreover, as a dictionary intended for speakers of both American and British English also gives the standard American pronunciation and spelling when it differs from British English, the similes try to cater to different audiences and even different members of the same audience; for this reason they aim at widening the scope of potential visualizations by presenting their audience with alternatives. In this light, the shift between cloud/wolves/cloud in the heads of the three similes and the alternatives lambs/young goats in the second stand for different simile-visualizations of the same location in the narrative, just as differences in spelling represent morphological or phonological variations of the same verbal item.
Similes include visual classification according to space, just as dictionaries classify entries according to traditional grammatical categories (“crew”: noun). All three similes cited above, offering mental views of the space of the mountains, belong to a larger category of similes, usually accompanying fighting scenes that take place in the mountains.
In a typical dictionary entry, meanings are separated by numbers, or when closely related by letters. Such grouping of meaning is paralleled in the similes by grouping of space: the mountains function like the letter-based division in a dictionary entry, indicating that these three similes are spatially and visually related. The entry “crew” quoted above contained a number of examples of the various senses or nuances of the word “crew.” What examples regularly do is to encapsulate a new term within a verbal chain consisting of easily recognizable words that the reader is expected to know. Examples where the new term is placed next to other difficult terms, potentially unknown to readers, would be unsuitable, and for this reason dictionary compilers systematically avoid them. Likewise, the three aforementioned similes rely on the familiar space of nature, and employ images that can be visualized with clarity and precision by the audience. In this way the mental viewing of a new scene occurring in the narrative (the fighting by the ships) begins to become clear in the listeners’ minds. [43]
Sometimes similes contain visualizations of related locations or aspects of a given scene, more or less in the manner of dictionary entries that include cross-references to related words. In the simile of the wolves cited above, the “thoughtlessness of the shepherd” and the lack of resistance on the part of the sheep attacked by wolves constitute visual cross-references to other “visual entries” where the same kind of scene is presented. One such case may be the following:
ὄφρα μὲν αἰγίδα χερσὶν ἔχ’ ἀτρέμα Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων,
τόφρα μάλ’ ἀμφοτέρων βέλε’ ἥπτετο, πίπτε δὲ λαός·
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κατ’ ἐνῶπα ἰδὼν Δαναῶν ταχυπώλων
σεῖσ’, ἐπὶ δ’ αὐτὸς ἄϋσε μάλα μέγα, τοῖσι δὲ θυμόν
ἐν στήθεσσιν ἔθελξε, λάθοντο δὲ θούριδος ἀλκῆς.
οἳ δ’ ὥς τ’ ἠὲ βοῶν ἀγέλην ἢ πῶϋ μέγ’ οἰῶν
θῆρε δύω κλονέωσι μελαίνης νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ
ἐλθόντ’ ἐξαπίνης σημάντορος οὐ παρεόντος,
ὣς ἐφόβηθεν Ἀχαιοὶ ἀνάλκιδες· ἐν γὰρ Ἀπόλλων
ἧκε φόβον, Τρωσὶν δὲ καὶ Ἕκτορι κῦδος ὄπαζεν.

So long as Phoibos Apollo held stilled in his hands the aegis,
so long the thrown weapons of both took hold, and men dropped under them.
But when he stared straight into the eyes of the fast-mounted Danaans
and shook the aegis, and himself gave a great baying cry, the spirit
inside them was mazed to hear it, they forgot their furious valour.
And they, as when in the dim of black night two wild beasts
stampede a herd of cattle or big flock of sheep, falling
suddenly upon them, when no herdsman is by, the Achaians
fled so in their weakness and terror, since Apollo drove
terror upon them, and gave the glory to the Trojans and Hektor.
Iliad XV 318–327
Note how the expressions ποιμένος ἀφραδίῃσι (“through the thoughtlessness of the shepherd”; XVI 354) and οἳ δὲ φόβοιο / δυσκελάδου μνήσαντο, λάθοντο δὲ θούριδος ἀλκῆς (“and these remembered / the bitter sound of terror, and forgot their furious valour”; 356–357) represent cross-references to the “visual entries” σημάντορος οὐ παρεόντος (“when no herdsman is by”; XV 325) and τοῖσι δὲ θυμόν / ἐν στήθεσσιν ἔθελξε, λάθοντο δὲ θούριδος ἀλκῆς (“the spirit / inside them was mazed to hear it, they forgot their furious valour”; XV 321–322) in the narrator’s mind.
In this respect, the similes constitute a highly dynamic, hypertextual dictionary, which aims at creating visual annotations of mentally uncharted locations mentioned in the narrative. The storyteller, and to a large extent the tradition he represents, have compiled this interactive system of tags and references by means of mental spatial paths. Seen from this angle, the extended simile paves the way for continuous navigation within a rich referential system of vistas that can be superimposed on the main narrative, and therefore activated and deactivated, at the storyteller’s will.

Reclaiming authority: Space, similes, and the hypertext

By keying the audience on a narrative register distinct from the external narrative, the similes allow the audience to participate in a dynamic interplay with their own experiential universe, which consists of multiple image-mappings, both converging on and diverging from the visualization suggested by any given simile. As a set of allusions to and comments on the story, similes constitute an elaborate, memory-oriented cognitive mechanism, allowing the audience to “look” outside the narrative window and to enjoy the imagistic richness of their own ability to construct pictures. [44]
This is how I have summarized in a recent work the hypertextual function of similes, which allow the audience to “erase and (re)write the oral palimpsest of epic song.” [45] The heavy experiential load of the extended simile, allowing for multiple image-mappings and leading more often to an implicit (rather than explicit) form of hypertextuality, sets the framework for reconsidering the boundaries separating storyteller and audience. [46] Whereas the omniscient external narrator retains complete authority over his narrative, similes present the listener with the ability to visually rewrite space, and in this sense to claim authorship. [47]
In order to explore the multiple ways this is effected within the delineated framework of the Homeric simile, I have adopted the following method: I consider the various means the storyteller employs to create integration, specificity, and familiarity as indicative of his effort to control the audience’s mental navigation, to restrict and guide their imagination to the particular visualizations of space he actualizes in his similes.
One such method is that of mapping alternatives. [48] Plurality operates here as visual disjunction, and therefore equilibrium, not as hypertextual multiplicity. The storyteller maps alternative visualizations of some subentries of the base domain, in order to limit his listeners’ tendency to create their own mental images and thus deviate from the visual spaces he tries to chart for them. If he does not feel able to completely control their visualization, he resorts to limiting it to two or at most three alternatives. Let us consider the following examples:
ἠΰτε πορφυρέην ἶριν θνητοῖσι τανύσσῃ
Ζεὺς ἐξ οὐρανόθεν, τέρας ἔμμεναι ἢ πολέμοιο
ἢ καὶ χειμῶνος δυσθαλπέος, ὅς ῥά τε ἔργων
ἀνθρώπους ἀνέπαυσεν ἐπὶ χθονί, μῆλα δὲ κήδει,
ὣς ἣ πορφυρέῃ νεφέλῃ πυκάσασα ἓ’ αὐτήν
δύσετ’ Ἀχαιῶν ἔθνος, ἔγειρε δὲ φῶτα ἕκαστον.

As when in the sky Zeus strings for mortals the shimmering
rainbow, to be a portent and sign of war, or of wintry
storm, when heat perishes, such storm as stops mortals’
work upon the face of the earth, and afflicts their cattle,
so Athene shrouded in the shimmering cloud about her
merged among the swarming Achaians, and wakened each man.
Iliad XVII 547–552
οἴμησεν δὲ ἀλεὶς ὥς τ’ αἰετὸς ὑψιπετήεις,
ὅς τ’ εἶσιν πεδίονδε διὰ νεφέων ἐρεβεννῶν
ἁρπάξων ἢ ἄρν’ ἀμαλὴν ἤ πτῶκα λαγωόν·
ὣς Ἕκτωρ οἴμησε τινάσσων φάσγανον ὀξύ.

… he made his swoop, like a high-flown eagle
who launches himself out of the murk of the clouds in the flat land
to catch away a tender lamb or a shivering hare; so
Hektor made his swoop, swinging his sharp sword …
Iliad XXII 308–311
In both these examples, the narrator aims at limiting his audience’s multiple image-mappings by offering two alternatives for visualizing a rainbow “to be a portent and a sign” and the victims of the attack of an eagle respectively. In the first example, he indicates which of the two alternatives he would prefer them to visualize. By extending only the last of the alternatives (the wintry storm but not the war), he implicitly designates his preference, since it is this alternative that he further develops and furnishes with details, thus reinforcing its vividness and visualization. This technique can also involve visual variants of the head of the simile’s base domain, especially where interchangeability has been conditioned by conventional context, a shared framed of reference for both audience and storyteller. [49]
Let me now turn to a single simile, one of the pictorial highlights of the entire Iliad, where three other techniques aimed at controlling image-mappings can be pinpointed and discussed:
τὸν δ’ ὁ γέρων Πρίαμος πρῶτος ἴδεν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν,
παμφαίνονθ’ ὥς τ’ ἀστέρ’ ἐπεσσύμενον πεδίοιο,
ὅς ῥά τ’ ὀπώρης εἶσιν, ἀρίζηλοι δέ οἱ αὐγαί
φαίνονται πολλοῖσι μετ’ ἀστράσι νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ,
ὅν τε κύν’ Ὠρίωνος ἐπίκλησιν καλέουσιν·
λαμπρότατος μὲν ὅ γ’ ἐστί, κακὸν δέ τε σῆμα τέτυκται,
καί τε φέρει πολλὸν πυρετὸν δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσιν·
ὣς τοῦ χαλκὸς ἔλαμπε περὶ στήθεσσι θέοντος.

The aged Priam was the first of all whose eyes saw him
as he swept across the flat land in full shining, like that star
which comes on in the autumn and whose conspicuous brightness
far outshines the stars that are numbered in the night’s darkening,
the star they give the name of Orion’s Dog, which is brightest
among the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil
and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals.
Such was the flare of the bronze that girt his chest in his running.
Iliad XXII 25–32
In order to limit variation and hypertextual activation of multiple spatial domains, the narrator insists on details that enhance specificity. Achilles is not like a star, but like a specific star that the storyteller presents in detail: it comes out in the autumn; its brightness surpasses all other stars in the darkest part of the night (νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷι); [50] finally it is a sign of great heat for mortals. Details such as these narrow the hypertextual horizon of image-mappings that the reference to a shining star opens to the audience, who would no doubt have conjured up many different images of a bright star in the night sky. These mental vistas are so familiar and powerful that they would tend to shape the listeners’ perception of the given spatial imagery according to their own store of experiential details. It is exactly the direction of such pictureability that the storyteller intends to place under his control.
A less effective mechanism, employed only occasionally, is the use of proper names designating visually incontestable identities that are generally lacking in pictorial variations according to individual mnemonic ability and experience. A constellation evokes multiple mental icons in an individual’s mind, but a specific star, Orion’s Dog, would narrow the possibilities for visual variation significantly. [51]
Last, the storyteller avails himself of generalizing mechanisms from the simile’s traditional dictional inventory. Ῥα ‘you see’ and τε ‘as you know’, which are not often rendered in English by translators, channel the listeners’ attention to the performance of epic song and remind them of their familiarity with the storyteller’s suggested image-mapping. Their strong metaleptic effect accentuates their role as devices that create vividness (ἐνάργεια) and promote intimacy between storyteller and audience. In this way, the storyteller attempts to bring his listeners to the reality of the performance and keep them away from the distracting visual pathways created by the hypertextually plural world of their familiar mental space, with which the extended similes are replete.
Operating on a special spatial register that fully exploits the audience’s knowledge of the natural world, the extended simile immerses listeners in a different mental cartography, where the narrator’s suggested view does not necessarily coincide with the visualization of space evoked in each member of the audience, depending on his individual mnemonic inventory. Given the mental accessibility of the simile’s content, listeners tend to follow their own navigational maps in the process of visual imaging. From the narrator’s vantage point, the simile embodies his attempt to enrich the audience’s view of the action, by adding to the description of the epic past an analogous, atemporal imagery that is shared by the average listener. This dissonance between the view suggested by the narrator and the multiple image-mappings of members of the audience creates a critical juncture that relativizes perspective: the simile, although it is an attempt to assimilate story space with a paratopic space, through its built-in pictureability leads to the creation of multiple mental spheres. Similes, after all, unlike their performers, cannot really be challenged. [52]


[ back ] 1. See Ben-Porat 1992. Ben-Porat belongs to the second generation of scholars of the Tel Aviv School of Narrative Poetics, who have made a serious impact on narrative theory on an international scale. Founded by Benjamin Hrushovski (later Harshav) in 1966–1967, this school, which ten years later became the theoretical mouthpiece of the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, exercised a considerable influence on literary theory, mainly through the journal Poetics Today. The school’s three main contributions to narrative theory, which are all relevant to the following analysis of the epic simile, can be summarized as follows: (1) units of meaning are linked through patterns, whether intraliterary (sound, analogy) or pertaining to reality-reflecting templates (scripts, schemata, etc.); (2) the role of the reader, who forms hypotheses and fills in gaps based on patterns and analogy, is of crucial importance in the narrative process; and (3) formalism and structuralism are important, but mainly to the extent that they help determine functional orientation (the study of the motivation of forms). On the Tel Aviv School, see McHale and Ron 2008.
[ back ] 2. For this terminology (with a slight variation between “base” and “source” domain), see Lakoff and Turner 1989:63–64.
[ back ] 3. This kind of multiformity is also known as the open simile, where the narrator does not provide his listener with all the information needed to interpret it; see Ben-Porat 1992:746–748.
[ back ] 4. Ben-Porat 1992:748.
[ back ] 5. Introduced in Homeric scholarship with his 1921 monograph on Homeric similes.
[ back ] 6. Rubin 1995:48; on transformational thinking, see Paivio 1971:28–33.
[ back ] 7. Iliad IV 277 μελάντερον ἠΰτε πίσσα ‘blacker than pitch’.
[ back ] 8. Ben-Porat 1992:745.
[ back ] 9. Ben-Porat 1992:746.
[ back ] 10. Iliad XIII 137–139 ὀλοοίτροχος ὣς ἀπὸ πέτρης, / ὅν τε κατὰ στεφάνης ποταμὸς χειμάρροος ὤσῃ, / ῥήξας ἀσπέτῳ ὄμβρῳ ἀναιδέος ἔχματα πέτρης.
[ back ] 11. Iliad XIII 140–141 ὕψι δ’ ἀναθρῴσκων πέτεται, κτυπέει δέ θ’ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ / ὕλη.
[ back ] 12. Iliad XIII 141–142 ὃ δ’ ἀσφαλέως θέει ἔμπεδον, ὄφρ’ ἂν ἵκηται / ἰσόπεδον· τότε δ’ οὔ τι κυλίνδεται, ἐσσύμενός περ.
[ back ] 13. Ben-Porat 1992:748.
[ back ] 14. Moulton 1977:63.
[ back ] 15. Ben-Porat 1992:748.
[ back ] 16. Critics have emphasized that a successful simile may compare in one aspect only, and that is all we need to achieve an effective comparison.
[ back ] 17. Ben-Porat 1992:750.
[ back ] 18. See Ben-Porat 1992:748.
[ back ] 19. On these principles, see Aristotle On Memory and Reminiscence 452a17–24; on order in image recall, see 451b10.
[ back ] 20. I follow the type of analysis of Ben-Porat 1992.
[ back ] 22. Tversky (quoted in Ortony 1979a:189).
[ back ] 23. Cf. the remark of the ancient grammarian Trypho (On Tropes [ed. L. Spengel] 3.201.17–26: παραβολή ἐστι λόγος διὰ παραθέσεως ὁμοίου πράγματος τὸ ὑποκείμενον μετ’ ἐνεργείας παριστάνων (“The simile is speech that refers to a similar thing and represents the subject while performing some activity”).
[ back ] 24. On detecting a number of formal features common to Homeric similes and lyric poetry with respect to diction and meter, see Martin 1997. Martin’s suggestion can be further strengthened by revisiting a neglected, but very important, observation made by Hogan, according to whom forty hapaxes in the Iliadic similes are attested one or more times in the narrative parts of the Odyssey (1966:228–233). Unfortunately, Hogan interpreted this feature as a result of the traditionality of Homeric diction. In my view, this observation may well be seen within the framework of the diffusion or dissemination of lyric features from Iliadic similes to the more “lyrical” Odyssean narrative. In other words, the lyrical tone that Martin detects in the similes tends to spread to the narrative of the more “lyrical” Odyssean version of epic song, which steadily moves away from the martial epic of the Iliad.
[ back ] 25. See Maehler 2004:21: “He [Bacchylides] tends to begin the narration in the middle of a myth, at a point from where its progression to the dramatic climax can already be anticipated.”
[ back ] 26. See Martin 1997.
[ back ] 27. On the history and use of the term μετάληψις ‘sharing’ by ancient rhetoricians and grammarians, see F. Wagner 2002:235–237; de Jong 2009:88 and n5. On modern discussions of metalepsis, see Genette 1980:234–237, 1988:58–59; McHale 1987; Herman 1997; Nelles 1997; F. Wagner 2002; Fludernik 2003a; Genette 2004; Pier and Schaeffer 2005; on metalepsis in Homeric epic, see de Jong 2009.
[ back ] 28. See Ryan 1990:874: “The narrative can cross a boundary, by selecting the ‘here’ and ‘now’ of the other side as points of reference, or can simply look through boundaries, by revealing what is beyond the line from the perspective of this side of the line. In this second case, the crossing of the boundary is only virtual.” Addison applies this observation to the Homeric simile: “This distinction is helpful in indicating what happens to the reader’s central focus as similes are extended. Whereas many short similes invite only a ‘virtual’ crossing of their boundaries, longer, especially Homeric-type, similes attempt to seduce the reader into a ‘real’ crossing, one that reorientates him/her into a different universe from that of the main story or discourse. Just as ‘literalness’ and ‘figurativeness’ are variable qualities, so some crossings may be ‘more real’ or ‘more virtual’ in comparison with others” (Addison 2001:499). See also Addison 1993.
[ back ] 29. On hesitation, see the discussion at “Androktasiai” in chapter 1 above; see also Fränkel 1921:104.
[ back ] 30. See Fränkel 1921:104: “Wenn der Sänger neben ein Stück der epischen Erzählung ein Gleichnis stellte, so schwebte seine Phantasie in einem Spannungszustand zwischen zwei verschiedenen, aber ähnlichen Bildern.”
[ back ] 31. See Addison 2001.
[ back ] 32. On the difference between the strongly temporal aspect of the example and the spatial dimension of the simile, see Rhetorica anonyma, “Prolegomena in artem rhetoricam” 6.34.26, and the discussion at the beginning of part 3 above.
[ back ] 33. On the poetics of the Homeric simile, see Nimis 1987:23–95.
[ back ] 34. Rubin 1995:62.
[ back ] 35. On similes and measurement, see Scott 1974:20–24.
[ back ] 36. Paivio 1975.
[ back ] 37. See also Shepard 1978.
[ back ] 38. See Neisser 1983. Improved performance is a desideratum for singers in oral traditions. This is a vast topic, the study of which requires a careful consideration of both ends of the communicative process. Singers no doubt measured their own performance skills and tried to improve them, but the choices they made, or at least some of them, may have been determined by audience expectations. Although the Panhellenic scope of Homeric epic would tend to obscure local differences, considering the “needs” of particular audiences may have guided the storyteller in making some choices. Oral corrections are often a feature of song, stemming from the storyteller’s need for positive evaluation from his audience. Improvement of performance is also a key aspect of rhapsodic competition; see D. Collins 2001.
[ back ] 39. On hypertext and literary theory, see Delany and Landow 1991; Hawisher and Selfe 1991; Joyce 1991; Kaplan 1991; Landow 1997; Kveim 1998; Gibson and Oviedo 2000; Joyce 2000; Joyce 2002; on “Homeric hypertextuality,” see Kahane 1997; Bakker 2001; Landow 2006:69–124; Tsagalis 2008b:272–285, 2010a.
[ back ] 40. On space and hypertextuality, see Bolter 1991; Strate 2000.
[ back ] 41. On orality and electronic editions, see Foley 2005.
[ back ] 42. See J. Lee 1996.
[ back ] 43. Sometimes dictionary entries are accompanied by visual illustrations in order to clarify a given term to the reader. To this extent, space-familiar images in the similes seem to correspond to the visual illustrations in standard dictionaries.
[ back ] 44. Tsagalis 2008b:284–285.
[ back ] 45. Tsagalis 2008b:285.
[ back ] 46. See S. Richardson 1990:66; Minchin 2001:43.
[ back ] 47. On “writing” space and hypertext, see Bolter 1991.
[ back ] 48. Although mapping alternatives refers to different attributes, i.e. predicates with a single attribute (e.g. shape, size, color) and not to relations, i.e. predicates with two or more attributes (in the manner of metaphors), similes also “feature rich source domain images which map onto or match up with complex relations in the target,” as Israel et al. emphasize (2004:131). On structure-mapping in similes, see Aisenman 1999.
[ back ] 49. See Muellner 1990:61–73 on two- and three-member groupings of simile-heads like “bees or wasps,” “lions or boars,” “geese, cranes, and swans,” “eagle, vulture, or falcon,” and “jackdaws, starlings, or rock-dove.”
[ back ] 50. On this formula, see Tsagalis 2008b:153–187.
[ back ] 51. The use of proper names is not the rule; cf. the following observations concerning the difference between example and simile (Rhetorica anonyma “Prolegomena in artem rhetoricam” 6.34.26): ὅτι τὸ μὲν παράδειγμα ἀπὸ προγεγονότων πραγμάτων παραλαμβάνεται· ἡ δὲ παραβολὴ ἐξ ἀορίστων καὶ ἐνδεχομένων γενέσθαι (“… that the example comes from things which have happened before, whereas the simile [comes from things] which are indefinite and can happen”).
[ back ] 52. This phrase plays upon Ong’s claim, following Plato, that “books, unlike their authors, cannot really be challenged”; see Landow 1997:83.