Appendix 2: Space in Similes Attested in Character Text

In part 3, I studied the function of space in Iliadic similes attested in narrator text. I have excluded from the main body of this book all similes found in character text, after carefully considering a number of factors, which I will now present and elucidate. Since my topic is space, I will then briefly focus on the only four Iliadic similes attested in character text that use spatial markers. [1]
In the study of similes, definitions and statistics have at times played an important role. Depending on how we define comparisons and similes and what subdivisions we are willing to accept, numbers can differ significantly. That said, I would like to begin by reconsidering some of them, the more so since they have significant implications for the way we treat similes, and may easily create false impressions. In my view, the fullest and most updated account is that given by Larsen (2007:5–63), who argues that comparisons and similes are two different concepts (with respect to external form, content, and sensuousness) [2] and as such they should be kept distinct and treated separately. Her statistics are much more comprehensive than those offered by D. J. N. Lee  [3] and Scott, [4] but she fails to include 7 more cases (3 of δέμας + genitive) [5] and 4 similes (2 short and 2 long). [6] Thus, the total number of comparisons and similes in the Iliad is 427, of which only 81 (19%) are found in character text. This number decreases considerably, though, when we examine only the similes: of the 288 Iliadic similes, only 48 (59.3%) are attested in the speeches. This last number can decrease even further if we consider only the Homeric similes par excellence, that is, the long or extended ones. In a recent study, Ready draws a line between similes and comparisons, and discusses all the variations along a spectrum ranging from less to greater similarity. [7] This distinction is a valid one, but I think that there is one more element that needs to be brought into the wider picture: very much unlike the comparison, the simile “is speech that refers to a similar thing and represents the subject as performing some activity.” [8] In contrast to the static nature of the comparison that is expressed in the default mode “A is like B,” the simile is a dynamic phenomenon that can expand so as to become a complex illustrative analogy between two situations, expressed in the form of an unfinished narrative snapshot. In this light, we may even distinguish between short and long similes, [9] the latter being what we usually call “the Homeric simile.” According to this classification, of the 48 similes attested in speeches in the Iliad, only 20 are long. In other words, among the 200 long (“Homeric”) similes found in the Iliad, only 20 (10%) belong to character text. Table 9 presents statistical data concerning the distribution of similes in character and narrator text in the Iliad on the basis of Larsen’s distinction between short and long comparisons and short and long similes. In parenthesis I also offer the relevant percentages: [10]

Table 9: Similes in the Iliad—character vs. narrator text

  SC and LC SS and LS Total
Subtotal 33 (40.8%) 48 (59.3%) 81 (19%)
Subtotal 106 (30.6%) 240 (69.4%) 346 (81%)
What these statistics show is that comparisons and similes should not be treated in the same way, since they constitute after all two distinct forms, [11] and that long similes used in speeches are only a small fraction (10%) of the entire number of long similes attested in the Iliad. I stress this last point because long similes lie at the very center of my research, since it is in them that spatial markers are employed in abundance. With respect to space, it is exactly at this critical fulcrum that the difference between character and narrator text is observed: only four long similes of the twenty found in the speeches contain any spatial references. These are the following:
“οἳ δ’, ὥς τε σφῆκες μέσον αἰόλοι ἠὲ μέλισσαι
οἰκία ποιήσωνται ὁδῷ ἔπι παιπαλοέσσῃ,
οὐδ’ ἀπολείπουσιν κοῖλον δόμον, ἀλλὰ μένοντες
ἄνδρας θηρητῆρας ἀμύνονται περὶ τέκνων,
ὣς οἵδ’ οὐκ ἐθέλουσι πυλάων καὶ δύ’ ἐόντε
χάσσασθαι, πρίν γ’ ἠὲ κατακτάμεν ἠὲ ἁλῶναι.”
“But they, as wasps quick-bending in the middle, or as bees
will make their homes at the side of the rocky way, and will not
abandon the hollow house they have made, but stand up to
men who come to destroy them, and fight for the sake of their children,
so these, though they are only two, are unwilling to give back
from the gates, until they have killed their men, or are taken.”
Iliad XII 167–172
“οἳ τὸ πάρος περ
φυζακινῇς ἐλάφοισιν ἐοίκεσαν, αἵ τε καθ’ ὕλην
θώων παρδαλίων τε λύκων τ’ ἤϊα πέλονται
αὔτως ἠλάσκουσαι ἀνάλκιδες, οὐδ’ ἔπι χάρμη.
ὣς Τρῶες τὸ πρίν γε μένος καὶ χεῖρας Ἀχαιῶν
μίμνειν οὐκ ἐθέλεσκον ἐναντίον, οὐδ’ ἠβαιόν·”
“they who in time past,
were like fugitive deer before us, who in the forests
are spoil for scavengers and wolves and leopards, who scatter
in absolute cowardice, there is no war spirit within them.
So before now the Trojans were unwilling to stand up
against the strength and hands of the Achaians, even for a little”
Iliad XIII 101–106
“ὢ πόποι, ἦ μάλ’ ἐλαφρὸς ἀνήρ· ὡς ῥεῖα κυβιστᾷ.
εἰ δή που καὶ πόντῳ ἐν ἰχθυόεντι γένοιτο,
πολλοὺς ἂν κορέσειεν ἀνὴρ ὅδε τήθεα διφῶν,
νηὸς ἀποθρῴσκων, εἰ καὶ δυσπέμφελος εἴη·
ὣς νῦν ἐν πεδίῳ ἐξ ἵππων ῥεῖα κυβιστᾷ.
ἦ ῥα καὶ ἐν Τρώεσσι κυβιστητῆρες ἔασιν.”
“See now, what a light man this is, how agile an acrobat.
If only he were somewhere on the sea, where the fish swarm,
he could fill the hunger of many men, by diving for oysters;
he could go overboard from a boat even in rough weather
the way he somersaults so light to the ground from his chariot
now. So, to be sure, in Troy also they have their acrobats.”
Iliad XVI 745–750
“ἀλλὰ τίη ἔριδας καὶ νείκεα νῶϊν ἀνάγκη
νεικεῖν ἀλλήλοισιν ἐναντίον, ὥς τε γυναῖκας,
αἵ τε χολωσάμεναι ἔριδος πέρι θυμοβόροιο
νεικέουσ’ ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι
πόλλ’ ἐτεά τε καὶ οὐκί, χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει;”
“But what have you and I to do with the need for squabbling
and hurling insults at each other, as if we were two wives
who when they have fallen upon a heart-perishing quarrel
go out in the street and say abusive things to each other,
much true, and much that is not, and it is their rage that drives them.”
Iliad XX 251–255
Of these four long similes, the one expressed by Poseidon in XIII 101–106 is a special case, since it constitutes an “analeptic” simile. Poseidon pictures in his mind’s eye and renders by means of a vivid image of a deer what the Trojans were doing in the past, when the Achaeans had the upper hand in the fighting. The spatial coordinates of this simile simply reproduce standard themes associated with deer similes. The nuclear image of bewildered frightened deer drinking water from a spring in the forest “feeds” two short comparisons (XXI 29, XXII 1) and one short simile (IV 243–246). [12]
With respect to the other three long similes mentioned above, my point accords with the basic thesis of Ready, who in his recent study of (mainly) Iliadic similes has argued that similes in character text are mechanisms and sites of competition either between characters or between characters and narrator. [13] The same observation applies to those long similes found in speeches that use spatial coordinates, that is, that locate in a given space the action described in the brief narrative snapshot of the base domain or vehicle. When long similes attested in character text are spatialized, they reproduce (like other features) the spatial location of the last-mentioned simile in the narrator or character text.
The designation of the wasps or bees as protecting their hollow houses at the side of the rocky way (XII 168 οἰκία ποιήσωνται ὁδῷ ἔπι παιπαλοέσσῃ) reproduces on a different pictorial register the picture used just before the beginning of the last-mentioned long simile in the narrator text: in XII 155–156 the narrator refers to the Achaeans’ fighting “in defense of themselves, and the shelters, / and the fast-running vessels” (… ἀμυνόμενοι σφῶν τ’ αὐτῶν καἰ κλισιάων / νηῶν τ’ ὠκυπόρων). Whereas Asios’ simile in XII 167–172 appropriates the language of tenacity employed in a series of previous similes attested in the main narrative, it reproduces only the space of the last long simile, the one that the storyteller uses as a cue to effect an intricate interplay between narrative and speech. [14]
The diver simile used by Patroklos in Iliad XVI 745–750 is built on two interwoven pieces of imagery: the vertical movement of a diver and that of an acrobat or tumbler. As Ready has shown, [15] the first image capitalizes on beliefs concerning short-term transactions in which the diver engages, while the second relies on “connections between the dance of war and choral dancing and on the opposition between fighting and choral dancing.” [16] The result is a remarkable simile, which surpasses the earlier short simile that presented Kebriones vaulting “to earth like a diver / from the carefully wrought chariot” (XVI 742–743). Without the elaborated expansion of Patroklos’ simile, the short simile employed by the narrator would have lost some of its expressive force. The highly elliptical nature of the image of a diver is presented in such a compressed way that the listener has to supply all the relevant information on his own. But at the very juncture between main narrative and the ensuing speech, the Iliadic storyteller indicates that he will bestow on Patroklos knowledge that only his listeners could possibly have. By apostrophizing him just before the beginning of his speech, the storyteller implicitly indicates that Patroklos—just for a moment—has been given the privileges of the external narratees, that is, the members of the external audience, who have heard the short diver-simile just employed by the main narrator. In a remarkable display of poetic technique, Patroklos listens and responds to the narrator’s offer by creating a beautiful long simile that expands and enriches the storyteller’s abbreviated imagery. Likewise with space: Patroklos builds on and expands the space of the sea (XVI 746 πόντῳ ἐν ἰχθυόεντι) that is unexpressed (but inherent in the imagery of the diver). [17]
In Iliad XX 251–255, Aineias uses a long simile referring to women who “go out in the street and say abusive things to each other” (254 νεικέουσ’ ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι). Scholars have noticed that the simile builds on the female space of the city (inherent in the mention of ἄγυια), [18] but have failed to observe that the space of “the middle of the street” (254 μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν) reproduces the narrative space attached to the last short simile used by Aineias, who complains to Achilles for the third time (as he has already done in XX 200 and 211):
“ἀλλ’ ἄγε, μηκέτι ταῦτα λεγώμεθα νηπύτιοι ὥς
ἑσταότ’ ἐν μέσσῃ ὑσμίνῃ δηϊοτῆτος·”
“But come, let us no longer stand here talking of these things
like children, here in the space between the advancing armies.”
Iliad XX 244–245
The “space between the advancing armies” (ἐν μέσσῃ ὑσμίνῃ) has been deeply rooted in the mind of the storyteller, since it is there that he has mentally placed the two heroes for the presentation of this episode. As early as XX 158–160, he has visualized Aineias and Achilles moving and taking a position between the two armies (δύο δ’ ἀνέρες ἔξοχ’ ἄριστοι / ἐς μέσον ἀμφοτέρων συνίτην μεμαῶτε μάχεσθαι, / Αἰνείας τ’ Ἀγχισιάδης καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς). This “initial” space is subsequently employed by Aineias himself at the very juncture between a short simile νηπύτιοι ὥς ‘like children’ and the main narrative (XX 244–245). This last time the simile, which has been repeatedly used in the same speech, has gained so much pictorial force that it allows the speaker, Aineias, to make a bold leap to the preceding narrative and create a vivid image that interweaves narrator and character text.
In the extremely few cases where the fully fledged Homeric similes are used in character text, visual spatialization abides by a system of remarkable economy that facilitates recall and effectively promotes vividness. By locating the action in the same spatial framework used by the previous simile, the Iliadic characters employ this special register of pictorial representation as a site for communication and rivalry. The paratopic nature of the similes shows that even when they are used in the speeches, they “build up a picture of a world outside, a world alongside” and that their “parallel world … is not entropic: its rhythms are there to stay.” [19]


[ back ] 1. XII 167–172; XIII 101–106; XVI 745–750; ΧΧ 251–255.
[ back ] 2. Ready (2011:14–16) uses dissimilarity between tenor and vehicle as the basic feature of similes, while he argues that what marks comparisons is similarity between the compared terms. I would replace the terms dissimilarity and similarity with situational analogy and analogy of subjects or heads. Though I agree with Muellner (1990) and Minchin (2001:144) that the distinction between long and short similes is misleading from a compositional point of view, since long similes are in fact compressed narrative snapshots marked by ellipsis, it is important from a cognitive perspective. See below on the ancient scholiasts’ use of the term παραβολή.
[ back ] 3. 1964; see also de Jong 1987a:135.
[ back ] 4. 1974:190–200.
[ back ] 5. XIII 673; XVII 366; XVIII 1.
[ back ] 6. V 487; XVI 745–750; XVI 752–754; XXII 126–128.
[ back ] 7. 2011:11–26.
[ back ] 8. παραβολή ἐστι λόγος διὰ παραθέσεως ὁμοίου πράγματος τὸ ὑποκείμενον μετ’ ἐνεργείας παριστάνων (Trypho On Tropes [ed. L. Spengel] 3.20.17–18).
[ back ] 9. The scholia make a distinction between short and long similes, but only the latter is given a name (παραβολή); see Snipes 1988:205–208. What is important is that the scholia do not use the term παραβολή for a short simile or any form of comparison. Nünlist (2009:284) notes that of 81 attestations of the word in the scholia, 77 times it refers to the long simile. Short and long similes are explicitly distinguished in both the treatise On Style (80 and 89), ascribed to Demetrius, and in [Herodian] On Figures 63–64 (Hajdú). While in the former the terminology employed is εἰκασία and παραβολή, in the latter it is ὁμοίωσις and παραβολή. In Pseudo-Herodian, the decisive factor for the distinction between short and long similes is ἀνταπόδοσις, “a phrase which follows the παραβολή and connects it with the action [sc. of the surrounding narrative]” (ἀνταπόδοσις δὲ φράσις ἐπαγομένη τῇ παραβολῇ καὶ συνάπτουσα τοῖς πραττομένοις αὐτήν). See Nünlist 2009:283.
[ back ] 10. Explanation of abbreviations: CT = character text, NT = narrator text, SC = short comparisons, LC = long comparisons, SS = short similes, LS = long similes.
[ back ] 11. According to Ready 2011:150–260, comparisons and similes of both types are associated with a system of cross-references that allows speakers to compete either among themselves or with the narrator.
[ back ] 12. On deer similes in Homer, see Scott 1974:71–72; on the traditional referentiality of this simile family, see Tsagalis 2008b:188–205.
[ back ] 13. Ready 2011:2.
[ back ] 14. See Ready 2011:190–192, who argues that Asios’ simile comparing the two Lapithai to wasps or bees holding their ground appropriates the language of tenacity used in the previous similes in order to create an ironic innuendo of Zeus’ trickery; for the notion of stalemate between the two armies in this simile, see Scott 2009:97.
[ back ] 15. 2011:160–165.
[ back ] 16. Ready 2011:165.
[ back ] 17. There have been various attempts to exploit the full interpretive potential of Patroklos’ simile: Rabel 1993; Di Benedetto 1998:9–10; Buxton 2004:151; Scott 2009:170; Ready 2011:160–165.
[ back ] 18. For the female space of the city, see Arthur 1981:27; Scully 1990:33–34, 64–68; Ready 2011:50.
[ back ] 19. Buxton 2004:152.