Appendix 1. Space in the Similes of the Iliad: The Visual Units

In this appendix I offer a presentation, with very brief comments, of the organization and function of the system of visual units in the similes of each Iliadic book (with the exception of Iliad II, V, XI, and XVI, which were analyzed in detail in part 3).

Iliad III

Visual unit 1
2: (N1) plain / (S1) sky
10: (N2) plain / (S2) mountains
23: (N3) plain / (S3) [mountains]
34: (N4) plain / (S4) mountains
[60: Speech]
Visual unit 2
151: (N5) walls / (S5) woods, tree
[196: Speech]
Iliad III contains two visual units of extended similes: in the first, four distinct similes are grouped together, which correspond to four phases of the action that takes place on the plain. The space of the similes is that of height (sky and mountains). When the action is carried to the walls of Troy, then the simile used changes spatial coordinates as well. The Trojan elders are compared to cicadas sitting on a tree (152 δενδρέῳ ἐφεζόμενοι).

Iliad IV

Visual unit 1
74: (N1) Olympos > plain / (S1) sky > sea or land
Visual unit 2
130: (N2) the secluded χῶρος where the duel between Menelaos and Paris took place in Iliad III (Menelaos is still standing where the narrator left him in Iliad III) / (S2) room (where a baby’s cradle is)
Visual unit 3
141: (Ν3) the same as previous / (S3) chamber
[243: Speech]
Visual unit 4
275: (N4) plain / (S4) lookout > sea
Visual unit 5
422: (N5) plain / (S5) beach, sea
Visual unit 6
433: (N6) plain (Trojans) / (S6) sheep pens
Visual unit 7
452: (N7) the secluded χῶρος where the battle will take place (see 130) / (S7) mountains > meeting of streams
Visual unit 8
482: (N8) banks of Simoeis / (S8) marsh, river-banks
Similes in Iliad IV are visualized in six groups, each containing a single simile for a single location in the narrative. The low percentage of pairings within the context of a “fighting” book makes it evident that the narrator visualizes different parts of the area where the battle takes place. In this respect, similes in Iliad IV contrast with those attested in Iliad III: whereas the latter, in the manner of their narrative context, were concentrated on the same space, the former display a considerable variety, perhaps reflecting the effort on the part of the storyteller to create ποικιλία and enhance ἐνάργεια in the first book of massive fighting in the epic.

Iliad VI

Visual unit 1
506: (N1) high chambers > city > place where Hektor stands / (S1) manger > plain > river with other horses
Iliad VI contains only one extended simile, which is striking for its inclusion of multiple places: Hektor is like a horse leaving the stable and running across the plain until it reaches the river where other horses are watered. The shifting locations of this simile allow the narrator to tour in his mind’s eye the movement of Hektor inside the palace and the city. Movement, as an aspect of space, is also a strong cue to mental recall. [1] In this way, the storyteller is able to pin Hektor down to specific locations and “follow” him inside the vague and uncharted area of the palace, which he does not need to visualize in detail: the simile has performed this role on a different register.

Iliad VII

Visual unit 1
4: (N1) ranks of Trojans in the plain / (S1) sailors at sea
63: (N2) ranks of armies in the plain / (S2) sea
Visual unit 2
208: (N3) battlefield / (S3) battlefield
Iliad VII contains three extended similes organized in two visual units. In the first unit, the storyteller uses the image of the sea as a concrete location that will allow him to locate the action taking place in the ranks of the armies. Given that he has a rather vague idea about exactly where the ranks are, he resorts to the space of the simile, which is more easily pictureable than the narrative space. In the second visual unit, it is not only Ajax and Ares who are compared, but also, and significantly so, their proper actions, that is to say, their marching to war. Size, lying at the very center of this comparison, is another aspect of space, [2] which facilitates the mental coordination between narrative and simile by effectively straddling their notional border. Being familiarized with the image of the huge god of war moving fast on the battlefield, the audience can thus “view” Ajax doing the same thing in the plot.

Iliad VIII

Visual unit 1
306: (N1) head of Gorguthion / (S1) garden (head of a poppy)
Visual unit 2
338: (N2) behind / (S2) behind
Visual unit 3
555: (N3) watchfires of the Trojans between ships and streams of Xanthos / (S3) sky, around moon > high places, ravines
The three extended similes of Iliad VIII correspond to three separate visual units. In the first unit, the narrator helps the audience visualize Gorguthion’s head falling to one side through the concrete and familiar image of the drooping of a poppy’s head. In this case the storyteller follows a twofold process: he not only employs the imagery of the poppy’s head, which is itself based on the exploitation of space, but also takes pains to locate the poppy “in space,” within a garden. Encapsulating a smaller locus (head of a flower) into a larger locus (poppy) and then an even larger space (the garden) reinforces the clarity and mental visibility of the narrative context: now the mind’s eye of the listener can discern, among the mass of warriors on the battlefield (first-level location), a single hero (second-level location), whose head droops to one side (third-level location). Space works here not only as a cue to visualization and recall, but also as an advance mention of a spatial factor that will be developed in the narrative. In fact, the storyteller refers to Gorguthion’s head only after he has visualized the poppy’s head. [3] In this light, it is fair to say that, in simile-based parlance, the vehicle (base domain) has spatially shaped the tenor (target domain).
In the second visual unit, space is organized on the basis of what I would call relative positioning. By this term I refer to the Iliadic storyteller’s tendency to indicate space not in absolute terms, by designating a given place, but by a person’s position or location with respect to another person. In this realm of spatial features belong such expressions as “on the left” (ἐπ’ ἀριστερᾷ), “on the right” (ἐπὶ δεξιά), “in front of” (πρόσθεν), “behind” (ὀπίσσω), and “next to” (παρά). Hektor in the narrative and a dog in the corresponding simile are thus visualized in terms of relative positioning, by being mentally located behind those they are chasing: the former the Achaeans, the latter a boar or a lion (VIII 338–342).
In the third unit, the storyteller visualizes the night sky and the moon and stars, with their light falling upon the high places of the hills, the out-jutting shoulders, and the deep ravines. These concrete and well-known images give both narrator and audience a clear view, just as in the simile, of the Trojan watchfires blazing in the area between the streams of Xanthos and the ships, in front of Ilion. The space of the simile effectively conveys the vagueness of the Trojan landscape. No member of the audience could have an accurate map of the Trojan plain in his mind, the more so since the Iliadic topography was rather hazy for the storyteller’s listeners. The picture of the Trojan watchfires blazing between Xanthos and the city of Troy becomes clear as the space delineated by the vehicle of the simile shines strongly in their minds’ eyes. Moreover, since cognitive psychologists have recognized light as an important aspect of recall, it becomes clear why the shining feature enhances memorability and facilitates performance in both simile and narrative.

Iliad IX

Visual unit 1
4: (N1) plain [Achaeans] / (S1) sea-water
14: / (N2) plain [Achaeans] / (S2) rock, spring-water
[323: speech]
[481: speech]
Iliad IX contains two extended similes presented in a single visual unit. To foreground the space where the Achaean army stands and holds an assembly, the storyteller uses two, almost consecutive, [4] similes in his effort to fill a spatial gap in the narrative. [5] Since the narrator has no clear image in his mind about the place where the assembly should be located, he resorts to the world of the similes, which readily supplies him with spatial coordinates that help him mentally anchor his narrative. It is important to observe that, as the second simile of the rock and spring-water indicates, the storyteller performs this task “on the fly”: the spring-water in the second simile is, in all probability, a mental reflex of the powerful and more expanded image of the sea that dominates the first simile.

Iliad X

Visual unit 1
5: (N1) camp / (S1) sky, land, battlefield
Visual unit 2
183: (N2) place of the Achaean guard, Trojans in the distance / (S2) yard, mountains
Visual unit 3
351: (N3) area with corpses / (S3) harvest land
360: (N4) area with soldiers / (S4) spaces of the woods
485: (N5) area of Thracian soldiers / (S5) pasture land
The three visual units that organize the similes in Iliad X are of unequal length. The first is characterized by the multiple and shifting space of its vehicle. Sky, plowlands, and battlefield aim, within the pictorial vividness of the simile, at mapping the largest possible area, for the space of the narrative that the storyteller wants to locate must be expressed in terms of size and not of topographical accuracy. Thus the multiplicity and variability of the spaces contained in the vehicle leads to an effective visualization of a specific aspect of space, namely the size and extent of Agamemnon’s emotional turmoil. The second visual unit operates on two spatial levels, as the vehicle of its single simile includes two locations: the yard where the dogs are protecting the sheep and the mountains where a wild beast is moving. Movement, one of the most effective aspects of space, mentally ties the two levels together, since both the dogs in the yard and the beast in the mountains are restless. This spatially twofold simile concretizes the vague space(s) where the Achaean sentries and the Trojan army are located. The double spatial pointers in the simile counterbalance the complete lack of any spatial marker in the narrative. From this point of view, the spatial register of the simile creates the necessary foreground for the developing action. [6] The third visual unit presents the audience with a solid mental image of the episodes of Dolon and the horses of Rhesos. To this end, three extended similes are employed, which focus on animal space, be it cropland, woods, or pasture land. The visual grouping of the first two similes (belonging to the Dolon episode) with the third one (the Rhesos scene) reflects the direct connection between their narrative contexts, since it is Dolon who informs Odysseus and Diomedes about the Thracian king’s famous horses and chariot (X 436–438). Dolon’s revelation of where on the plain the Thracians and their king Rhesos are stationed (434–435: Θρήϊκες οἵδ’ ἀπάνευθε νεήλυδες, ἔσχατοι ἄλλων· ἐν δέ σφι Ῥῆσος βασιλεύς, πάϊς Ἠιονῆος) is reflected in the spatial unity of their corresponding similes.

Iliad XII

Visual unit 1
41: (N1) ditch and Achaean wall / (S1) hunting (mountains)
132: (N2) Achaean wall / (S2) mountains
146: (N3) Achaean wall / (S3) mountains
156: (N4) Achaean wall > ground / (S4) sky > earth
[167: Speech]  [7]
278: (N5) Achaean wall > ground; ground > Achaean wall / (S5) sky > mountains, out-jutting shoulders, low lands, cultivated areas
299: (N6) Achaean wall / (S6) mountains, sheep pens
Visual unit 2
421: (N7) closer to the rampart / (S7) cornfield
433: (N8) closer to rampart / (S8) scales
Visual unit 3
451: (N9) Achaean wall breaks / (S9) sheepfold
The τειχομαχία looms large in Iliad XII. The first visual unit contains no fewer than six extended similes, whose aim is to create a strong image of height, which is of course suitable for visualizing the space of the fighting from a wall. The space of the mountains, which is evoked directly or indirectly in the vehicles of all six similes, allows both narrator and audience to imagine clearly the Achaean wall and the fighting taking place around it. [8] The second visual unit contains two similes, which emphasize the measuring of a straight boundary line in a cornfield and of weighing wool on the scales. The oscillation of victory, now on the Achaean and then on the Trojan side as the armies fight fiercely around the rampart, acquires strong visual support, since it is tied to the spatial coordinates of the two similes that emphasize the idea of “even distance or space.” Hektor’s lifting a huge stone is visualized through the space delineated by a shepherd carrying a bundle of fleece. Height [9] is an aspect of space that allows the storyteller and the audience to see vividly what seems an almost superhuman effort, the lifting of a huge stone with great ease by a single man.

Iliad XIII

Visual unit 1
62: (N1) plain where Poseidon and the Ajaxes stand / (S1) rock > plain
[101: Speech] [10]
Visual unit 2
137: (N2) plain > dense battalions of the Achaeans / (S2) rock (forest) > flat land
Visual unit 3
178: (N3) body of Imbrios falling down / (S3) crest of a mountain
198: (N4) high up (body of Imbrios) / (S4) high off the ground (in the dense underbrush)
Visual unit 4
242: (N5) out of shelter of Idomeneus / (S5) Olympos
298: (N6) out of shelter of Meriones / (S6) out of Thrace
Visual unit 5
333: (N7) by the sterns of the vessels / (S7) pathways
Visual unit 6
389: (N8) (Asios) falls in front of his horses and chariot / (S8) tree
437: (N9) (Alkathoös) falling down / (S9) statue or tree
Visual unit 7
471: (N10) (Idomeneus) holding his ground alone against Aineias / (S10) mountain (deserted place)
492: (N11) companions leave crowded place and approach Aineias / (S11) leave pasture
571: (N12) Adamas trying to retreat into the crowd of his companions is killed by Meriones / (S12) mountains
Visual unit 8
588: (N13) hollow of Menelaos’ corselet / (S13) threshing-floor
Visual unit 9
703: (N14) (Ajaxes) fighting together before the vessels / (S14) fallow land
Visual unit 10
795: (N15) Trojan ranks within the Achaean camp / (S15) sea
Like all the fighting books, Iliad XIII is replete with extended similes. The general picture that emerges from the visualization of the long-lasting fighting near the Achaean camp consists of many brief snapshots and a few prolonged views of some key figures in this particular phase of the plot. Visual unit 1 is about Poseidon, who flies away from the spot where the two Ajaxes stand. The simile of a hawk taking off from a high rocky crag (63 ἀπ’ αἰγίλιπος πέτρης περιμήκεος ἀρθείς) makes the most of the spatial concreteness of the simile landscape, so that the audience can visualize the place where Poseidon and the two Ajaxes were standing until now. With the image of a stone rolling from a rock towards the flat land but being stopped in the forest (visual unit 2), the storyteller creates a solid image of Hektor trying to reach the Achaean ships and shelters but being stopped at the dense battalions. Visual unit 3 contains two similes that focus on the death of the Trojan Imbrios, and although the first one refers to his actual falling and the second to the lifting of his body by the two Ajaxes, they both use the space of “high ground,” either the crest of a mountain or “high from the ground” (200 ὑψοῦ ὑπὲρ γαίης). [11] Another snapshot, this time of Idomeneus and Meriones, who fight as a pair, is pictured by means of two similes (visual unit 4) that extend the spatial aspect of “origin,” that is, where somebody or something comes from. In order to visualize the two heroes emerging from their shelters, the storyteller refers first to a thunderbolt and then to two divinities (Ares and Terror) coming from Olympos and Thrace respectively. The concrete landscape of the similes intensifies the image of the two warriors as they enter battle. Visual unit 5 focuses on “picturing” the turmoil of battle: the simile of the clouds of dust uplifted by the winds along the roads creates a eusynoptic vision of the fighting, a compressed and memorable (εὐμνημόνευτον) image of the “fog of war.” [12] Visual unit 6 aims at helping the audience envision Asios’ and Alkathoös’ fatal encounters with Idomeneus. In the absence of any landmark sign or definite spot where these killings take place, the narrator uses the “space” of a “towering” tree or stele (390 πίτυς βλωθρή; 437 στήλην ἢ δένδρεον ὑψιπέτηλον) to imprint the vision of height. The listeners are thus invited to visualize the two men killed by Idomeneus as seen “from above,” and therefore experiencing their dramatic crash to the ground. Visual unit 7 is concerned with the battle of Idomeneus and his comrades against Aineias and a host of Trojans. Three similes make full use of the familiar images of mountains and pasture lands in order to locate the activity of the two fighting groups. When the storyteller’s camera-eye turns in a different direction across the vast fighting area, leaving Idomeneus and Meriones out of its field, it “pictures” three separate moments in the fighting (a hollow on Menelaos’ corselet, the Ajaxes struggling before the ships, and the masses of Trojans swarming the Achaean camp) by means of the spaces of three different similes (a threshing-floor, a fallow field, and the sea). If we follow the sequence of snapshots taken by the storyteller, it becomes obvious that Iliad XIII begins and ends with brief camera shots of different parts of the fighting area, whereas the central part of the book includes the activity of principal heroes on the battlefield.

Iliad XIV

Visual unit 1
16: (N1) two courses in Nestor’s mind / (S1) open sea
Visual unit 2
148: (N2) Achaean camp / (S2) war cry in battle
Visual unit 3
394, 396, 398: (N3) in front of the sea and the Achaean vessels / (S3) dry land, hills, oaks
Visual unit 4
414: (N4) Hektor falling on the ground / (S4) oak tree falling
The four extended similes of Iliad XIV are organized in four visual units: although Nestor’s pondering takes the form of a spatial metaphor, with two courses from which he has to choose, the storyteller uses the familiar image of the hesitant motion of the sea to create a clear mental picture and a solid location as a cue to recall (visual unit 1). Poseidon’s war cry lets the storyteller use sound, an important aspect of space, to make his audience feel that, like Agamemnon, they are inside the Achaean camp (visual unit 2). For the vivid visualization of the savage struggle between Achaeans and Trojans in front of the Achaean vessels, the storyteller makes use of three different images within the same simile: dry land, hills, and oaks offer multiple image mappings of the same area that allow the listeners to see clearly the place where the fighting is taking place (visual unit 3). In the last visual unit (4), the view of Hektor falling to the ground after being hit by a rock thrown at him by Ajax is visually translated into the falling of an oak tree under the stroke of Zeus’ thunderbolt. A global look at Iliad XIV verifies what we observed earlier: that the lack of a protagonist in the fighting scenes of any given book of the epic is reflected in the absence of simile-grouping under a single visual unit. [13]

Iliad XV

Visual unit 1
80: (N1) (Hera ascends to) Olympos / (S1) earth-journey
Visual unit 2
170: (N2) (Iris descends from) Ida > Ilion / (S2) cloud-journey (snow or hail falling)
Visual unit 3
263: (N3) (Hektor) entrance on plain / (S3) stall (river with other horses) > plain
Visual unit 4
271: (N4) (Achaeans) retreat from plain / (S4) rock and woods
323: (N5) (Achaeans) retreat from plain / (S5) pasture
Visual unit 5
358: (N6) ditch / (S6) spear-cast (measure)
Visual unit 6
362: (N7) Achaean wall / (S7) pile of sand at the seashore
Visual unit 7
381: (N8) (Trojans mount) wall (and Achaeans fight by) the ships’ sterns / (S8) waves on ship at sea
Visual unit 8
410: (N9) by the ships / (S9) carpenter’s workshop (cutting of a ship’s timber)
Visual unit 9
579: (N10) Antilokhos leaves the πρόμαχοι and moves forward / (S10) deer leaving its covert
586: (N11) Antilokhos retreats into the ranks of the Achaeans / (S11) pasture
Visual unit 10
605: (N12) mouth, eyes, and helmet of Hektor / (S12) mountains
Visual unit 11
618: (N13) place where the Achaeans stand / (S13) rock next to the sea
624: (N14) place where the Achaeans stand / (S14) sea
630: (N15) place where the Achaeans stand / (S15) marsh (watered place)
Visual unit 12
679: (N16) (Ajax) deck to deck / (S16) street
Visual unit 13
690: (N17) (Hektor) ships / (S17) river
Iliad XV contains seventeen extended similes, organized in thirteen visual units. Simile grouping is limited to units 4, 9 (two similes each), and 11 (three similes). In unit 1, the swift journey of Hera to Olympos is compared with the speed of thought in the mind of a traveler, who sees places with his mind’s eye before actually going there. This is a very interesting example of the relationship between space and mental visualization, the more so as it is attested in an oral epic like the Iliad. Given that “Homeric epic refers to itself as a path (οἴμη),” [14] we can say that this simile has an almost metapoetic coloring, and that the traveler resembles the epic storyteller, who travels within 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” (81–82). [15] The descending movement of Iris from Ida to Ilion is visualized by means of the falling of snow or hail from the clouds onto the earth (visual unit 2). In visual unit 3, the storyteller uses the image of a horse leaving its stall near the river, where it is in the company of other horses, to view Hektor’s entrance on the mentally vague plain. In visual unit 4, the Achaean retreat on the plain is mentally located by means of the space of wildlife (two similes). In visual unit 5, Apollo’s bridging a pathway over the ditch is “measured” by the distance covered by a spear-cast, whereas in unit 6 the Achaean wall is viewed via the mental image of sand piled up by a boy at the seashore. As far as unit 5 is concerned, cognitive psychologists have proved that measuring distance or size through drawings is faster and more effective than by means of words. [16] Moreover, as the storyteller’s constant reliance on the image of the spear-cast in “measuring similes” shows, the precision and clarity of a performance can be improved by repeatedly creating a mental image of an event or action. [17] In other words, repeatedly imagining the distance covered by a spear-cast is not only an effective way of viewing an action presented in the narrative, but also may have helped the narrator improve his performance by visualizing the course of his narrative in advance. [18] In visual unit 7, the massive Trojan attack on the wall is presented through the image of the waves covering ships at sea, while in unit 8, the balance between the two sides fighting in the narrative, that is, their inability to gain new space, is mentally mapped to the actions of a skilled carpenter who at the advice of Athena straightens the cutting of a ship’s timber. When the storyteller turns his attention to visualizing a different snapshot altogether (the conflict between Antilokhos and Hektor over Melanippos), he makes use of the familiar space of nature (a deer having left its covert and a pasture respectively) in order to facilitate the mental positioning of the two opponents on the battlefield (unit 9). In visual unit 10, the narrator employs the spatial aspect of “thickness” (by referring to the dense forests in the mountains) to create a clear mental image of the various parts of Hektor’s head squeezed inside his helmet. Visual unit 11 is the largest in Iliad XV. The Achaeans are pictured standing “somewhere close to the ships and the sea” through three similes whose brief narratives take place in or close to watery places, the sea or a marsh. The fact that these similes are heard one after the other further reinforces the visual effect of their pictorial content. [19] The book ends with two new snapshots, of Ajax crossing from deck to deck and Hektor making his attack on the ships. Visual unit 12 employs the space of a street, while visual unit 13 uses that of a river. At this point the storyteller sees these two activities separately, that is, he visualizes Ajax in a different spot from Hektor, an effective prelude to the great clash that is going to follow.

Iliad XVII

Visual unit 1
4: (N1) area around Patroklos’ body / (S1) pasture (mountains)
[20: Speech]
53: (N2) area around Patroklos’ body / (S2) lonely place in nature
61: (N3) area around Patroklos’ body / (S3) mountains
109: (N4) away from Patroklos’ body / (S4) farmstead
133: (N5) area around Patroklos’ body / (S5) woods
281: (N7) area around Patroklos’ body / (S7) mountains
657: (N12) area around Patroklos’ body / (S12) mid-fenced ground
725: (N14) area around Patroklos’ body / (S14) woods
Visual unit 2
263: (N6) sound, area around Patroklos’ body / (S6) mouth of a river next to the sea
Visual unit 3
389: (N8) a small space around Patroklos’ body / (S8) circle
Visual unit 4
434: (N9) (Achilles’) horses away from the battle / (S9) stele on a grave
Visual unit 5
520: (N10) back of Aretos / (S10) back of oxen
Visual unit 6
547: (N11) sky > ranks of the Achaeans / (S11) sky > earth
674: (N13) ranks of companions / (S13) sky, shaggy bush
Visual unit 7
737: (N15) war / (S15) city, houses on fire
Visual unit 8
742: (N16) from battle to the ships / (S16) from the mountains > steep stony trail
Visual unit 9
747: (N17) Ajaxes standing fast / (S17) dike on a plain
Visual unit 10
755: (N18) screaming of Danaans / (S18) screaming of birds
Iliad XVII contains the largest grouping of similes in a single visual unit (unit 1), one that views the space where the fierce fighting about Patroklos’ body takes place. [20] This extremely powerful visual unit includes no fewer than eight extended similes, whose sequence is twice interrupted by the shift of the narrator’s eye to different locations, only to return again to the same spot both in the narrative and in the special register of the similes. In this light, a series of five similes is interrupted by another visual unit (2: S6) focusing on the sound of fighting, but is then visually “renewed” (S7), then interrupted again by three separate visual units (3: S8; 4: S9; 5: S10) and a fourth (6: S11) that is internally interrupted by a “visual return” to visual unit 1 (657: S12), then interrupted again by the second part of visual unit 6 (674: S13), until it is completed (725: S14). This visual dovetailing [21] is the most complex and complicated type of imagery organization in the entire epic. Its effect is remarkable: by canceling and renewing the storyteller’s interest in the fighting around the body of Patroklos, it increases suspense, creates expectations on the part of the audience, and keeps the end of the fighting for Patroklos’ body postponed, reinforcing the dramatic tension. On the contrary, visualization is effected in single camera shots in the rest of this book, with four visual units containing four separate similes that mentally locate the activity of other warriors or groups of soldiers. From this perspective, Iliad XVII is a striking example of the close link between dramatic tension on the battlefield and the spatial organization of imagery.


[110: Speech]
Visual unit 1
161: (N1) plain, around the body of Patroklos / (S1) pasture
Visual unit 2
207: (N2) Achilles’ helmet / (S2) high in the air
Visual unit 3
219: (N3) Achilles’ voice / (S3) high in the air
Visual unit 4
318: (N4) Achaean camp, around Patroklos’ body / (S4) woods
Visual unit 5
600: (N5) palace of Hephaistos / (S5) potter’s workshop
Iliad XVIII contains only five extended similes, organized in four visual units. This pictorial economy is effectively counterbalanced by the long ecphrasis on Achilles’ shield that occupies (together with Thetis’ journey) the second half of the book. It can also be explained by the fact that this is not a fighting book, but one of grief for the death of Patroklos. In visual unit 1, the space of a pasture, where herdsmen cannot chase a lion away from a carcass, helps the narrator imagine the spot where the two Ajaxes were standing, unable to scare Hektor. Visual unit 2 plays on height as a spatial cue: both the ascending movement of the smoke signal going up to the sky, as Athena’s blazing fire shoots up from Achilles’ helmet into the air, and the sound of the trumpet, like the clear, rising voice of Achilles, emphasize the same aspect of space. [22] In visual unit 3, the familiar space of the woods is used to visualize the place where Achilles is standing and speaking to the Myrmidons. Finally, visual unit 4 includes a simile that is placed within the ecphrasis on Achilles’ shield. The light dancing of girls and boys in the wide spaces of Knossos is compared with the smoothly turning wheel in a potter’s workshop.

Iliad XIX

Visual unit 1
357: (N1) helmets and shields by the ships / (S1) height
375: (N2) shield of Achilles by the ships / (S2) height (sheepfolds in mountains) seen from the sea
The two extended similes of Iliad XIX are organized in a single visual unit emphasizing height. The brightly shining helmets and shields of the warriors by the ships and the shield of Achilles are captured in the storyteller’s imagination through activities that take place on high ground. This is because he intends to guide his listeners toward his own visualization of the way the helmets and armor are shining: what he wants them to imagine is the radiant, blazing light of armor rising high into the air.

Iliad XX

Visual unit 1
164: (N1) plain (Achilles against Aineias) / (S1) hunt
[252: Speech]  [23]
Visual unit 2
403: (N2) bellowing of bull / (S2) bellowing of Hippodamas
Visual unit 3
490: (N3) earth / (S3) deep wooded valleys on a dry mountainside
Visual unit 4
495: (N4) Achilles’ chariot / (S4) threshing-floor
Iliad XX includes four extended similes, which are grouped in four separate and completely distinct visual units. In unit 1, the visual space of the hunt helps the narrator locate the encounter between Achilles and Aineias on the plain. Visual unit 2 employs sound, an important aspect of space, to create the illusion of proximity, of “being there,” at the spot where Hippodamas is fatally wounded by Achilles. By aural reference to the heavy sound produced by the bellowing of a bull, the storyteller is able to reinforce the audience’s participation. This social aspect of sound is crucial to oral performance, for sound exists “when it is going out of existence,” [24] that is, in the presence of a narrator and a group of listeners. Sound in oral performance is space in absentia. Achilles’ sweeping movement on the battlefield is visualized by means of the mental image of fire sweeping through the deep ravines of a parched wooded mountainside. Here it is the number of valleys, situated within a wider framework (the mountain), that helps the storyteller picture the sweeping movement of Achilles on the plain. In visual unit 4, the area covered by the bodies and the dead men and shields lying on the ground is pictured in the narrator’s mind as the space of a threshing-floor: the movement of the yoke that crushes the barley creates a concrete spatial background, whose analogy with Achilles’ chariot trampling corpses and shields enhances visualization, and by extension emotional involvement, on the part of the audience. [25]

Iliad XXI

Visual unit 1
12: (N1) river / (S1) river
22: (N2) along the course of the river, bluffs / (S2) deepwater harbor
257: (N3) crest of the river / (S3) water rushing in a steep place
[282: Speech]
346: (N4) plain with corpses / (S4) watered garden becoming dry
Visual unit 2
493: (N5) sky / (S5) rock hollow or cave
Visual unit 3
522: (N6) plain / (S6) burning city > sky
Visual unit 4
573: (N7) in front of the city / (S7) timbered cover
Although Iliad XXI includes seven extended similes organized in four visual units, only unit 1 is marked by a dense grouping of similes. Moreover, the space employed in the four similes of this first unit virtually duplicates the narrative space of their corresponding scenes. The visualization of the fighting in the river, which is the centerpiece of this Iliadic book, is mentally reinforced by being doubled, that is, by means of the same simile space that offers visual variants of river images. [26] Visual units 2, 3, and 4 are focused on different snapshots of the narrative, with no special interest. Iliad XXI is a good example of how simile-grouping reflects the storyteller’s main narrative preoccupation: his need to create powerful visualizations of his events in terms of location and positioning results in multiple viewings of target areas through the rich spatial imagery of the similes.

Iliad XXII

Visual unit 1
22: (N1) plain / (S1) racehorse in plain
26: (N2) plain / (S2) sky
Visual unit 2
93: (N3) close to the jutting tower / (S3) hole in the mountains
139: (N4) plain, close to the jutting tower / (S4) mountains
Visual unit 3
162: (N5) plain / (S5) racehorses in plain
Visual unit 4
189: (N6) plain / (S6) covert in mountains
[262: Speech]
Visual unit 5
308: (N7) springs (Hektor attacks) / (S7) sky > plain
Visual unit 6
317: (N8) springs (Achilles attacks) / (S8) sky
Iliad XXII includes eight extended similes belonging to six visual units, two of which group together pairs of similes. The narrative space is the plain of Troy, where Achilles’ pursuit of Hektor and the fatal encounter between these two heroes takes place. In visual unit 1, the narrator and audience view Achilles through images of a racehorse running on the plain and of the dog star, seen from the vantage point of men looking at it from the ground. In visual unit 2, while Achilles is chasing Hektor on the plain, close to the outthrust bastion of a tower, the storyteller sets his two similes on the mountains as a spatial cue that enhances clarity and precision. Referring to the space of nature, so familiar for fighting scenes, allows the storyteller to view the actual chase as a form of fighting, although the most elementary requirement for such a characterization, namely a common space, is not fulfilled. Visual units 3 and 4 testify to the basic tendency of the Iliadic account of war to be given in frame-by-frame visual shots, where one camera shot follows another. Visual unit 6 refers to Hektor’s actual attack on Achilles. The storyteller constructs the penultimate phase of the duel through spatial verticality, since Hektor is presented as attacking from above, down onto the plain. Finally, in visual unit 6 the storyteller employs the spatial aspect of height by comparing the shining effect of Achilles’ spearhead with the light of the star Hesperos in the sky. [27]


Visual unit 1
222: (N1) Patroklos’ funeral, Achaean camp / (S1) funeral
Visual unit 2
431: (N3) horse-race / (S2) range of a discus (measure, athletic contest)
Visual unit 3
517: (N3) space between Menelaos and Antilokhos, horse-race / (S3) space between wheel and horse (measure, athletic contest)
Visual unit 4
598: (N4) Menelaos’ heart / (S4) field
Visual unit 5
692: (N5) boxing place / (S5) beach-break by the sea
Visual unit 6
712: (N6) middle of a circle / (S6) roof of a high house
Visual unit 7
845: (N7) area of weight-throwing / (S7) entire field
Iliad XXIII contains six extended similes belonging to six visual units. Achilles, who does not participate in the funeral games, lacks extended similes, most of which belong to different visual snapshots centered around the various athletic contests in honor of Patroklos. What is worth noting here is that a significant number of these similes employ an aspect of space—namely measuring—that is rather rare, at least according to Iliadic practice. Within the athletic context of this book, it may be plausibly argued that the storyteller aims at helping both himself and his audience visualize the spatial features of distance and size by means of measuring. This does not mean that he does not also resort to more traditional simile spaces, as in visual unit 7, where the area of weight-throwing is viewed by reference to the image of a vast field. [28]

Iliad XXIV

[41: Speech]
Visual unit 1
80: (N1) sea / (S1) sea floor
Visual unit 2
317: (N2) eagle’s wings / (S2) door of a chamber (measure)
Visual unit 3
480: (N3) Achilles’ hut / (S3) foreign land
Iliad XXIV contains three extended similes organized in three visual units. Iris’ visit to Thetis’ abode in the depths of the sea is visualized by the descending movement of “a lead weight which, mounted / along the horn of an ox who ranges the fields, goes downward / and takes death with it to the raw-ravening fish” (80–82). The spatial aspect that the storyteller uses as a mental “guide” in his aim to create a vivid image of Iris’ movement is the descending course of the lead weight. [29] The next visual unit pictures the size of the wings of Zeus’ eagle. While it is true that the image of an eagle occupying a huge space with its outspread wings should be known to the audience and that there was no real need for a simile, the crucial detail is that this eagle is Zeus’ own. In fact, the storyteller, in trying to imagine the vast size of this divine eagle, devotes almost two lines to the bird’s description: “he sent down the most lordly of birds, an eagle, / the dark one, the marauder, called as well the black eagle.” [30] The familiar image of the size of a huge door in a man’s house gives “the measure,” that is to say, an aspect of space, for a clear mental image of the size of Zeus’ divine eagle. The last unit offers a vivid visualization of the amazement Achilles and his comrades feel when Priam enters his hut. The simile of a murderer leaving his own land and coming to the land of others seems inaccurate—to say the least—for Priam, but the feeling of amazement is what really matters here. Part of this amazement is the new space Priam has entered, the forbidden space occupied by the murderer of his son. The reversal of roles expressed in the vehicle of the simile must be interpreted within the context of the point made above about the function of space: Priam, who has left his own world, has moved into “a new country,” that of the hut of Achilles, whose comrades look at him in sheer wonder, as the audience looks in amazement on the old Trojan king, carrying with him the spatial framework of the simile’s vehicle.


[ back ] 1. See Rubin 1995:61–62.
[ back ] 2. See Bal 1997:133–135.
[ back ] 3. On similes as advance organizers, see Mayer 1983; Minchin 2001:137.
[ back ] 4. It must be observed that sometimes sequences of similes aim at drawing attention to a picture before the poet turns to the particulars of a new scene. This is the case with the Catalogue of Ships in Iliad II, which is preceded by a long sequence of successive similes (Iliad II 455–483) placed before the invocation to the Muses (484–493). On these similes, see Moulton 1977:27–33.
[ back ] 5. On filling lexical items as a basic function of the Homeric similes, see Minchin 2001:138.
[ back ] 6. On foregrounding as one of the basic functions of similes, see Minchin 2001:138–139.
[ back ] 7. This is one of the only four extended similes attested in character text in the Iliad that contain spatial references; see Appendix 2.
[ back ] 8. On the Achaean wall, the various problems linked to its presentation, and the great fighting in Iliad XII, see Clay 2007:234–250 passim. On related issues, with emphasis on mapping the battlefield, see W. Andrae (fig. 1) in Schuchhardt 1928; Cuillandre 1944; Mannsperger 2001. Clay observes that “critical to our understanding of the Iliad’s action is the realization that its orientation of right and left remains constant throughout and is always seen from the perspective of a narrator situated in the center of the Greek camp facing the Trojan plain” (2011:45; the emphasis is mine).
[ back ] 9. Height belongs to one of the three dimensions of human orientation that are reflected in the mental organization of space. These dimensions include verticality (above-below), sagitallity (front-back), and laterality (right-left). See Nöth 1996:604–605.
[ back ] 10. See Appendix 2.
[ back ] 11. On verticality, see visual unit 3 in the same book, and Nöth 1996:604–605.
[ back ] 12. See Purves 2010a:24–64.
[ back ] 13. For the opposite effect, i.e. high simile-grouping under few visual units when the plot includes one or a few protagonists, see my analysis of Iliad XVI in chapter 5 above. [ back ]
[ back ] 14. Rubin 1995:62.
[ back ] 15. See “Metaleptic space” in chapter 6 above.
[ back ] 16. Paivio 1975.
[ back ] 17. See also Shepard 1978.
[ back ] 18. See Neisser 1983.
[ back ] 19. On the function of successive similes, see Moulton 1977:27–33.
[ back ] 20. On the use of Patroklos’ body as a focal point around which the fighting takes place, in sharp contrast with the multiple military fronts in Iliad XII–XIII, see Clay 2011:90–95. This spatial anchoring of the action is, of course, a vehicle for the necessary conceptual dramatization of the plot.
[ back ] 21. I have coined the term visual dovetailing on the model of metrical dovetailing, for which see West 1982 (index).
[ back ] 22. Height belongs to the vertical dimension of space; see Nöth 1996:604–605. Verticality (above-below) is much more often used than sagitallity (front-back) or laterality (right-left) within the framework of a Homeric simile. The reason for this spatial imbalance may be that when dealing with imagery, storytellers show a preference for spatial maps (which employ vertical mental views) over spatial tours (which employ horizontal mnemonic strategies, such as sagitallity and laterality). On cognitive maps and narrative space, see Ryan 2003.
[ back ] 23. See Appendix 2.
[ back ] 24. Ong 1982:32. On sound in oral traditions, see Lord 1960 [2000]; Havelock 1978; Ong 1982; Rubin 1995:65–89.
[ back ] 25. On emotional involvement in epic similes, see Minchin 2001:137–139.
[ back ] 26. This doubling of space enhances memorability because the vehicle it refers to is not only readily pictureable, but a mirror image of the narrative space it is compared with. See Goatly 1997:164–165, who states that the economy of information carried by an item is reversely proportional to its predictability; in other words, the more conventional a comparison is, the more strongly it enhances the meaning of its corresponding narrative passage. In this light, doubling of space reinforces mnemonic recall and visual clarity. Goatly’s findings concerning metaphor are also applicable to the simile, for—as the work of Ortony (1979b) has shown—similes and metaphors are more closely associated than was thought in the past.
[ back ] 27. For a detailed analysis of the similes in Iliad XXII, see Tsagalis 2008b:272–284.
[ back ] 28. On the importance of size in imagery as far as making judgments in other areas of perception is concerned, see Rubin 1995:41–46. Paivio’s work (1975) has convincingly shown that the analog nature of imagery often involves size judgments. In this light, the space of a vast field employed in the last simile of Iliad XXIII allows both storyteller and audience to monitor very quickly the size of the area of weight-throwing referred to in the narrative.
[ back ] 29. Cf. Iliad XI 237 on Iphidamas’ spear; see Leaf 1902:484 on Iliad XI 237–238; Moulton 1977:97.
[ back ] 30. Iliad XXIV 315–316 αὐτίκα δ’ αἰετὸν ἧκε, τελειότατον πετεηνῶν, / μόρφνον θηρητῆρ’, ὃν καὶ πέρκνον καλέουσιν.