Chapter 12. Mapping the Hypertext: Similes in Iliad XXII

In spite of the fact that Homeric similes have undergone exhaustive analysis, interest in them has been renewed in recent years, though the focus of research has shifted from studying their classification [1] to exploring their oral function [2] and the way they generate meaning. [3] Drawing both on the rich groundwork done on the field of simile categorization and on the solid foundations of narrative semiotics [4] and oral poetics, I will attempt to present the complex process by which Homeric poetry uses similes to create unexpected intratextual allusions. Martin has recently suggested that Homeric similes belong to a distinct rhythmic and narrative level. [5] Their special rhythmic characteristics need not be confused with metrical parameters. In fact, epic poetry has resorted to particularly refined ways of differentiating rhythm (as with the use of material with lyric undertones or with features pertaining only to the main narrative or to the speeches). Martin’s interpretation rightly stresses the fact that, given the metrical exigencies and the restrictions of the dactylic hexameter, epic poetry virtually needed to ‘invent’ intricate methods for creating rhythmic variation. Operating on a special rhythmic and narrative register distinguished from that exclusively controlled by the omnipresent external narrator, the similes invite the audience to listen to an intradiegetic commentary on the central themes unraveled by the plot. Within this special universe, similes constitute a special phenomenon of epic language. Their formularity depends not on verbatim repetition of phrases filling certain metrical slots in the hexameter verse, but on their placement in given narrative junctures. The fact that similes never appear in speeches may be seen as a reflex of the formulaic nature of Homeric language on the level of dictional units larger than the formula. To gain as much as possible from the full range of the similes’ referentiality, the audience needs to listen to them on a different key than the rest of the narrative. In this way, certain events, such as the fated conflict between Achilles and Hector in Iliad XXII, are presented on a register distinct from the plot, suggesting a level of sophistication devised with remarkable effectiveness by epic song.
Building on Goatly’s theory on the function of metaphor, [6] Minchin [7] has recently suggested that the principle functions of the simile are as follows: (a) explanation and modeling of abstract or unfamiliar concepts; (b) reconceptualization, i.e. bringing forward covert meaning or obfuscatory associations in the narrative; (c) filling lexical gaps when “there is no word or form of words available to us to describe an action or an event—or, if there is, we cannot recall it at the moment we need it;” [8] (d) expressing emotional attitude; (e) decoration and hyperbole; (f) cultivation of intimacy between speaker and audience, when the examples selected by the speaker refer directly to the experience of his listeners; (g) textual structuring; (h) enhancing memorability, foregrounding, and informativeness; and finally (i) prolonging the audience’s pleasure.
The cognitive basis of this classification has to its advantage, aside from its comprehensiveness, its emphasis on memory and conception. In this light, I maintain that the distinct performance register of the similes is also a mental pathway leading listeners to multiple conceptual strata. One result of the similes’ different experiential loads is that they make available to the audience a hypertextual world of multiple image-mappings. In fact, the similes are equivalent to HTML, a ‘Hyper Text Markup Language’, employing effective formats, which (re)activate a sequence of images on a level distinct from the main narrative. [9] The cognitive background of the similes is of particular importance for understanding how they operate. Since the singer expects from his audience an evaluation of the similes’ content, it is to be expected that this form of internal involvement by the listeners will entail the whole nexus of experiential multiformity and variety encoded in personalized visual images of familiar scenes of life. In this way, the condensed and highly fragmented picturing of the simile will conjure in the minds of the listeners a sequence of images defying both diachronic layering and language-oriented storage techniques, such as those employed in type scenes. The hypertextual world of similes is based on the power of image, not on words. The performance availability of similes and their hypertextual function was particularly helpful for the singing bard. After all, he did not need to repeat them accurately, as is the case with the constituent elements of type scenes. His audience would recognize their special performance register and become personally involved in their interpretation, their visualization. In the end, it was precisely the special rhythmic frequency of the similes to which both singer and audience would have to be attuned.

Similes as a ‘Dramatic’ Summary of the Main Narrative

Iliad XXII stands as the culmination of the entire epic, in which the dramatic conflict between Achilles and Hector finally takes place. This is in fact the epic’s telos, the goal toward which the plot has been moving since its very beginning. It is no surprise then that the duel between the best of the Achaeans and the best of the Trojans that occupies the entirety of Book XXII includes no less than nine extended similes. [10]
ὣς εἰπὼν προτὶ ἄστυ μέγα φρονέων ἐβεβήκει,
σευάμενος ὥς θ᾿ ἵππος ἀεθλοφόρος σὺν ὄχεσφιν,
ὅς ῥά τε ῥεῖα θέησι τιταινόμενος πεδίοιο·
ὣς Ἀχιλεὺς λαιψηρὰ πόδας καὶ γούνατ᾿ ἐνώμα.

He spoke, and stalked away against the city, with high thoughts
in mind, and in tearing speed, like a racehorse with his chariot
who runs lightly as he pulls the chariot over the flat land.
Such was the action of Achilleus in feet and quick knees.
Iliad XXII 21–24
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
ὡς δὲ δράκων ἐπὶ χειῇ ὀρέστερος ἄνδρα μένησιν
βεβρωκὼς κακὰ φάρμακ᾿, ἔδυ δέ τέ μιν χόλος αἰνός,
σμερδαλέον δὲ δέδορκεν ἑλισσόμενος περὶ χειῇ,
ὣς Ἕκτωρ ἄσβεστον ἔχων μένος οὐχ ὑπεχώρει,
πύργῳ ἔπι προύχοντι φαεινὴν ἀσπίδ᾿ ἐρείσας.

But as a snake waits for a man by his hole, in the mountains,
glutted with evil poisons, and the fell venom has got inside him,
and coiled about the hole he stares malignant, so Hektor
would not give ground but kept unquenched the fury within him
and sloped his shining shield against the jut of the bastion.
Iliad XXII 93–97
ἠΰτε κίρκος ὄρεσφιν, ἐλαφρότατος πετεηνῶν,
ῥηϊδίως οἴμησε μετὰ τρήρωνα πέλειαν,
ἣ δέ θ᾿ ὕπαιθα φοβεῖται, ὃ δ᾿ ἐγγύθεν ὀξὺ λεληκώς
ταρφέ᾿ ἐπαΐσσει, ἑλέειν τέ ἑ θυμὸς ἀνώγει,
ὣς ἄρ᾿ ὅ γ᾿ ἐμμεμαὼς ἰθὺς πέτετο, τρέσε δ᾿ Ἕκτωρ
τεῖχος ὕπο Τρώων, λαιψηρὰ δὲ γούνατ᾿ ἐνώμα.

As when a hawk in the mountains who moves lightest of things flying
makes his effortless swoop for a trembling dove, but she slips away
from beneath and flies and he shrill screaming close after her
plunges for her again and again, heart furious to take her;
so Achilleus went straight for him in fury, but Hektor
fled away under the Trojan wall and moved his knees rapidly.
Iliad XXII 139–144
ὡς δ᾿ ὅτ᾿ ἀεθλοφόροι περὶ τέρματα μώνυχες ἵπποι
ῥίμφα μάλα τρωχῶσι, τὸ δὲ μέγα κεῖται ἄεθλον,
ἢ τρίπος ἠὲ γυνή, ἀνδρὸς κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὣς τὼ τρὶς Πριάμοιο πόλιν πέρι δινηθήτην
καρπαλίμοισι πόδεσσι·

As when about the turn posts racing single-foot horses
run at full-speed, when a great prize is laid up for their winning,
a tripod or a woman, in games for a man’s funeral,
so these two swept whirling about the city of Priam
in the speed of their feet.
Iliad XXII 162–166
ὡς δ᾿ ὅτε νεβρὸν ὄρεσφι κύων ἐλάφοιο δίηται
ὄρσας ἐξ εὐνῆς διά τ᾿ ἄγκεα καὶ διὰ βήσσας,
τὸν δ᾿ εἴ πέρ τε λάθησι καταπτήξας ὑπὸ θάμνῳ,
ἀλλά τ᾿ ἀνιχνεύων θέει ἔμπεδον, ὄφρα κεν εὕρῃ,
ὣς Ἕκτωρ οὐ λῆθε ποδώκεα Πηλείωνα.

As a dog in the mountains who has flushed from his covert
a deer’s fawn follows him through the folding ways and the valleys,
and though the fawn crouched down under a bush and be hidden
he keeps running and noses him out until he comes on him;
so Hektor could not lose himself from swift-footed Peleion.
Iliad XXII 189–193
ὡς δ᾿ ἐν ὀνείρῳ οὐ δύναται φεύγοντα διώκειν -
οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ὃ τὸν δύναται ὑποφεύγειν, οὔθ᾿ ὃ διώκειν -
ὣς ὃ τὸν οὐ δύνατο μάρψαι ποσίν, οὐδ᾿ ὃς ἀλύξαι.

As in a dream a man is not able to follow one who runs
from him, nor can the runner escape, nor the other pursue him,
so he could not run him down in his speed, nor the other get clear.
Iliad XXII 199–201
οἴμησεν δὲ ἀλεὶς ὥς τ᾿ αἰετὸς ὑψιπετήεις,
ὅς τ᾿ εἶσιν πεδίονδε διὰ νεφέων ἐρεβεννῶν
ἁρπάξων ἢ ἄρν᾿ ἀμαλὴνπτῶκα 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 on 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
οἷος δ᾿ ἀστὴρ εἶσι μετ᾿ ἀστράσι νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ
Ἕσπερος, ὃς κάλλιστος ἐν οὐρανῷ ἵσταται ἀστήρ,
ὣς αἰχμῆς ἀπέλαμπ᾿ εὐήκεος, ἣν ἄρ᾿ Ἀχιλλεύς
πάλλεν δεξιτερῇ, φρονέων κακὸν Ἕκτορι δίῳ,
εἰσορόων χρόα καλόν, ὅπῃ εἴξειε μάλιστα.

And as a star moves among stars in the night’s darkening,
Hesper, who is the fairest star who stands in the sky, such
was the shining from the pointed spear Achilleus was shaking
in his right hand with evil intention toward brilliant Hektor.
He was eyeing Hektor’s splendid body, to see where it might best give way.
Iliad XXII 317–321
The size of the similes is so limited in comparison to their narrative ‘mapping’, namely the area of the main narrative they cover, that the term ‘extended’ or ‘long’ simile is rather misleading. The use of this terminology is relevant only in relation to the ‘short’ simile, even though it is not at all certain that the ‘extended’ simile has originated by simply adding material to some preexisting form of ‘short’ simile. Muellner [11] has argued that Homeric similes are, from the point of view of the narrative, compact forms of speech with special morphological characteristics that remain on a separate narrative (and perhaps rhythmic) register. [12] They present a sort of internal commentary on the plot, by which the external narrator makes a gesture towards his audience, sharing his viewpoint with them in the form of a narrative pause.
The arrangement of the aforementioned similes is reflected in the structure of Iliad XXII and in the thematic classification of the material describing the dramatic conflict between Achilles and Hector. Schematically, the arrangement of similes can be better appreciated through their examination on both a horizontal and on a vertical axis. The horizontal (syntagmatic) axis runs as follows:
A. Introduction: Presentation of the two heroes:
1. ἀεθλοφόρος ἵππος (Achilles)
2. ἀστήρ (Achilles)
3. δράκων ὀρέστερος (Hector)
B. Body: The chase
1. κίρκος-πέλεια (Achilles—Hector)
2. ἀεθλοφόροι ἵπποι (Achilles—Hector)
3. κύων-νεβρὸς ἐλάφοιο (Achilles—Hector)
4. ὄνειρος (Achilles—Hector)
C. Epilogue: Clash of the two duelists
1. αἰετός—*ἄρς/ λαγωός (Achilles—Hector)
2. ἀστήρ (Achilles)
This horizontal classification, following the deployment of similes in the main narrative, reflects an abbreviated form of the action in Iliad XXII. Before embarking on an examination of the similes’ function, let us see how they may be organized on a vertical (paradigmatic) axis, where the similes are grouped according to the information they provide (see the table on the next page).
The vertical classification of similes shifts the point of interest from their linear arrangement to their thematic proximity, from the way they are placed to the way they overlap and connect. [13] If we attempt to ‘read’ these similes as a single thematic whole, we will find that the main theme of Iliad XXII, the death of Hector, is presented on four different levels: a) as a race; b) as a highlighting of the strength of Achilles; c) as a bestial, disastrous conflict; and d) as a necessity that is agonizingly prolonged.
ἀεθλοφόρος ἵππος (Iliad XXII 21–24) ἀστήρ (Iliad XXII 25–32) δράκων – ἀνήρ (Iliad XXII 93–97) ὄνειρος (Iliad XXII 199–201)
ἀεθλοφόροι ἵπποι (Iliad XXII 162–166) ἀστήρ (Iliad XXII 317–321) κίρκος – πέλεια (Iliad XXII 139–144)  
    κύων – νεβρὸς ἐλάφοιο (Iliad XXII 189–193)  
    αἰετός – *λαγωός (Iliad XXII 308–311)  

Intratextual Sequences and Hypertextual Imaging

The comparison of both Achilles (Iliad XXII 21–24) and of the two duelists (Iliad XXII 162–166) to racing horses forms an interpretive framework that encompasses all of Iliad XXII. This second dramatic ‘Teichoscopia’, with its carefully rendered staging, presents the best of the Achaeans and the best of the Trojans, who will soon fight for their lives before the entire Achaean and Trojan public. The battlefield becomes the scene where the fated conflict will unfold, while Hector’s relatives on the walls of Troy and the Achaean army watching at a distance symbolize an internal audience following the unraveling of the plot. A careful analysis of the scope of these two similes shows how one small element relating one (Achilles) or two (Achilles and Hector) characters to horses has been skillfully elaborated with the addition of thematic material. This amplification technique results in a profound shifting of the focus of the aforementioned similes. The singer invites his listeners to get involved in the interpretive process and evaluate the simile for themselves. [14] In turn, realizing that the storyteller has situated them on a register distinct from that of the main narrative or diegesis, the listeners may use the simile as a hypertextual gateway that opens only to lead them into a universe of relevant but multiple personal image-mappings, which they will subsequently fuse into the condensed visualization offered by the singer, who tries to guide [15] or at least limit the scope of the interpretation. While the singer aims, using sequences of similes, to ‘control their meaning’, or, rather, to lead his audience into adducing for themselves the meaning that suits the epic’s plotline, similes defy strict interpretation. While staring through this hypertextual window, the audience will have to discover for itself the covert message of the simile: why are Achilles and Hector compared to racing horses (ἀεθλοφόροι ἵπποι) and not to regular ones? Since listeners have different perceptions of racing horses and their image-mappings of such a scene will be colored by personal experience, it is fair to say that there are as many answers as there are listeners. First, the allusion to chariot horses accentuates the speed with which they move onto the battlefield. [16] Second, the similes of racing horses are presented to offset the tragic nature of the circumstances, that is, the fact that the conflict will directly impact on Hector’s life. Third, these similes constitute a cross-reference to Iliad IX 123–124, in which Agamemnon promises that he will offer Achilles twelve racing horses as gifts in the event that the son of Thetis returns to battle. The gift-offering theme (seven tripods, ten talents of gold, twenty shining cauldrons), which is directed towards the restoration of Achilles’ honor, comes to a rest only towards the end of the Iliad. Occurring after Patroclus’ death, gift-offering simply looses the importance it might have had in the case of Achilles’ earlier potential return to the battlefield. Agamemnon’s promised gifts are finally given to Achilles only at the end of the poem, at a point when they are quite overdue, since Achilles’ honor has been restored through the replacement of his μῆνις against Agamemnon by an even greater μῆνις against Hector. Achilles will acquire Agamemnon’s racing horses too late, not as a persuasive means for his return to the war but as a reminder of the Fates’ tragic ploy. In this light, it is all the more important that Achilles himself become a prize-winning horse in a race destined to finally lead to his doom. Expressed on a special narrative register, these two similes retrieve a prima facie trivial detail that has remained suspended and, thus, draw it out again. The study of similes in Iliad XXII centered on the racing horses shows that the battle between Achilles and Hector, which was ultimately fought for the prize of human life, is presented as a battle of special importance. As the heroes who participated in the struggle are not ordinary ones, but the best of both the Greek and the Trojan side, so the horses to which they are compared are not regular, but racing, prize-winning horses.
The second category of similes (according to their placement on the vertical axis) includes two circumstances in which Achilles is compared to a star outshining the others in the night sky. In the first instance the star is considered to be the constellation of the Dog Star, in the second that of the Evening Star. In chapter eight, I have argued that the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ, which forms part of both of these similes, constitutes an implicit reference to the contrast between light and darkness. Since the aforementioned formula stands for a symbol of imminent danger with catastrophic consequences for those involved, the distinction between the constellations of the Dog Star and the Evening Star (Iliad XXII 25–32 and 317–321) is virtually blurred. What matters is not their astronomical accuracy but their thematic affiliation. Achilles is distinct, just as are the above-mentioned stars in the night sky. His brightness is a sign of disaster (Iliad XXII 31) or a foreshadowing of the fated blow of the spear that will strike the exposed portion of Hector’s body, that not protected by his armor (Iliad XXII 319–321). Just as in the previous group of similes, the main theme is a combination of a covert reference to Achilles’ preeminence in the battlefield and an allusion to Hector’s impending death. By using the abbreviated form of the two similes, the singer aims at limiting the wide range of images drawn from the audience’s common experience. At the same time, since both the Dog Star and the Evening Star would no doubt have conjured multiple visual memories of the night sky in the listeners’ minds, the listeners would immediately evaluate the specific visualization offered by the storyteller. In contrast to the heroes of the past, for whom the audience had to rely on the singer’s performance, the intimacy with the world described in the similes allowed listeners to freely exploit the plethora of personal image-mappings and to subsequently compare the singer’s imagery to their own mental pictures. Some of the listeners would certainly have diverged from the bard’s imagery, especially those whose mental storage of the ‘night sky’ was based on a very strong and clear mental pattern. In cases like these, however, the tradition might have welcomed ‘visual interpolation’, since the listener would have reappropriated the simile according to his personal imaging code and added or subtracted details tailoring the singer’s ‘guidelines’ to his own experience.
The third group of similes is perhaps the most interesting, though the most problematic with respect to the ways in which it can be interpreted. It includes four similes (Iliad XXII 93–97, Iliad XXII 139–144; Iliad XXII 189–193; Iliad XXII 308–311), which all relate to scenes that come from the world of animals. The first simile is about a snake lying in wait in his lair. It digests poison and curls up inside its mountainous nest, sending vengeful glares toward its enemy as it watches him. Likewise, Hector, with unquenched anger inside him, does not retreat but waits for Achilles. The simile takes great pains at emphasizing (XXII 93: δράκων; XXII 95: δέδορκεν) the piercing glare of the snake. In order for the interpretive interplay to become fully comprehensible, this simile must be connected to a preceding one, placed before the supplication speeches of Priam and Hecuba and the internal monologue of Hector. At that point, the narrative had been interrupted by the presentation of the gleaming Achilles in a simile comparing him with the star shining brighter than the others in the night sky. The Iliad slightly postpones Hector’s presentation (with the insertion of three speeches [17] at the beginning of Iliad XXII), by employing a simile that stresses the very same characteristic emphasized in the case of Achilles, i.e. his radiant gleam. This shine is surely connected with Hector’s bitter wrath, an element that is justifiably surprising. If anyone were possessed by such fury, then it would surely be Achilles, who sought revenge for the death of Patroclus. The projection of the characteristics that suitably describe Achilles onto Hector represents a deliberate attempt to make the two appear similar as they approach their fated doom. The fact that in one of these similes the snake is placed in the mountains results in the tragic assimilation of the two heroes. Just as Achilles stands out like a bright star in the vast night sky, so Hector is like a snake secluded in the mountains but endowed with a piercing glare.
The second simile (Iliad XXII 139–144) describes a hawk in the mountains attacking a frightened dove that desperately tries to survive. The hawk’s aggression, which forms the focal center of the simile, is manifested in the readiness by which the hawk’s attack is effectuated (Iliad XXII 140: ῥηϊδίως), in the dove’s fear (Iliad XXII 140: μετὰ τρήρωνα πέλειαν), in the frequency of the hawk’s attacks (Iliad XXII 142: ταρφέ᾿ ἐπαΐσσει), and last but not least in the predator’s intense desire to capture the dove (Iliad XXII 142: ἑλέειν τέ ἑ θυμὸς ἀνώγει).
The third simile (Iliad XXII 189–193) refers to the pursuit of a deer’s fawn by a dog. The simile implies the weakness of the fawn while overtly underscoring the dog’s persistence in trailing the helpless animal. The simile’s tenor reveals an interesting focalization-inversion, as the subject of the action is shifted from Achilles to Hector, in direct contrast to the simile’s vehicle. [18] The change of focal subject must be mainly interpreted in relation to the subsequent simile of the dream, in which neither the attacker is able to catch his prey nor the prey to escape. This endless chase, in the form of a narrative ring, [19] is supported by the continuous shifting of emphasis. In Iliad XXII 93–97, the focal center is Hector, then Achilles (Iliad XXII 139–144), then first Achilles and then Hector (Iliad XXII 189–193), and finally Hector (Iliad XXII 308–311). In this last simile, Hector is compared to an eagle swooping down through the clouds, striking a tender ewe or a fearful hare. Here too the emphasis lies on the predator’s majestic movement (Iliad XXII 308: ὑψιπετήεις), the fear experienced by the animal under attack (Iliad XXII 310: ἄρν᾿ ἀμαλὴν ἢ πτῶκα λαγωόν), and the duration of the attack (Iliad XXII 309: ὅς τ᾿ εἶσιν πεδίονδε). The continuous shifting of focal center that characterizes the similes of this group shows that, in the vertical axis, the interchanging roles of the conflict’s two protagonists may well indicate their dramatic assimilation on the narrative level. [20]
This third group, containing four animal similes, is the best represented within the simile sequence in Iliad XXII. This comes as no surprise, as animal similes constitute one of the largest categories of similes in the entire poem. The mental image the storyteller tries to bring up in his listeners’ minds belongs to different phases of a single preverbal Gestalt. [21] Although the conceptual template is that of ‘predator against prey’, the snake simile pictures the initial phase of this mental pattern, the hawk and dog similes visualize the second phase, i.e. the pursue or chase, while the eagle simile zooms in on the final clash between predator and prey. [22] In this case, when the sequence of homologous similes is completed, the audience may reactivate in their memory this chain of image-mappings and interpret them sequentially. Under this scope, visual interpolation by the audience will ‘correct’ itself at the end, once multiple realizations of the mental pictures stimulated by the similes finally ‘yield’ to the sequential interpretation implicitly suggested by the storyteller.
The single dream simile belonging to the fourth simile group (Iliad XXII 199–201) is consonant with the aforementioned interpretation. By combining all the previously explored focal centers (the race, the imminent catastrophe, and the intentional shifting of roles), the dream simile encompasses the tragic character of the entire episode on a different narrative level: Achilles and Hector, without understanding that they are chasing and being chased by death, take on the roles of attacker and prey interchangeably, until they realize too late the final moment of defeat. The verbal repetitions that form the framework of the representational re-narration of the fated conflict in Iliad XXII 199–201 condense this last simile even further (A: οὐ δύναται, οὔτ᾿ … δύναται, οὐ … δύνατο, B: φεύγοντα, ὑποφεύγειν, οὐδ᾿ … ἀλύξαι, C: διώκειν, οὔθ᾿ … διώκειν, μάρψαι ποσίν). The image of the dream creatively unravels the theme of the endless chase and, by blurring the roles and significance of the characters, converges the two heroes’ fates, as they are both found in a dramatic deadlock. The emphasis given by the storyteller on verbal repetitions creates an almost single pathway for his listeners to follow in the visualization of the dream. The stress placed on never-ending pursuit would be particularly relevant to any listener’s mental template of an agonizing dream. It is, perhaps, reasonable to argue that in this particular case the storyteller might have effectively directed his audience’s visual imaging according to his own will.
I do not claim to have exploited the full semantic potential of the wide array of similes in Iliad XXII. By focusing my attention on their similarities, I have attempted to show that they represent a visual scope much wider than their limited size. In that respect, the extended simile is, narratively speaking, an abbreviated simile, [23] representing a ‘summary’ that designates “the textual compression of a given story-period into a relatively condensed statement of its main features.” [24] I am not arguing for an acceleration of the narrative ‘pace’, as is the case with ‘summaries’ in pure narratological terms, but of a process of engaging the audience in filling in the necessary gaps in order to complete the comparison at hand. 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, [25] 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.
In this way, hypertextuality, as a form of multilevel intertextuality, disrupts the conventional ‘linearity’ of song. What is perceived as a simile sequence throughout the performance is in fact a special rhythmic template that encourages the audience to make the leap to other sequences of image-mappings, regardless of intertextual or intratextual location. In this light, similes do not ‘assimilate’ the world of the main narrative to physical imagery. They rather allow the audience to conjure up the multiple visual worlds of mental images, engaging them in the most active evaluation of the performance and inviting them to erase and (re)write the oral palimpsest of epic song.


[ back ] 1. Fränkel 1921; Coffey 1957:113–132; Lee 1964; Bowra 1952:266–280; Scott 1974; Moulton 1977; Edwards 1987:102–110.
[ back ] 2. Muellner 1990:59–101; Martin 1997:138–166; Bakker 2001a:1–23.
[ back ] 3. Minchin 2001a:25–52 (= 2001b:132–160).
[ back ] 4. For the semiotics of narration and its applicability to the Homeric epic, see Nimis 1987.
[ back ] 5. 1997:138–166.
[ back ] 6. Goatly 1997.
[ back ] 7. Minchin 2001b:138–139.
[ back ] 8. Minchin 2001b:138.
[ back ] 9. For a hypertextual version of Homer, see Kahane 1997:333.
[ back ] 10. Only the extended or long similes in Iliad XXII will be examined in this study. I will not deal with ‘short’ similes characterized as such by a single point of comparison (tertium comparationis).
[ back ] 11. Muellner 1990:59–101.
[ back ] 12. The similes display a significant number of new forms, but this should in no way be interpreted as a sign of late-composition. The views of Shipp 19722:7–144, 208–222 have been convincingly refuted by Chantraine 1955:73.
[ back ] 13. See Danek 2006:41–71, who has argued that ‘Homer’ aimed at a synchronization of two types of similes, the traditional or Grundform, with its objectified content and the innovative, ‘Homeric’ one with its subjective, plot-dependent overtones.
[ back ] 14. See Minchin 2001b:143.
[ back ] 15. See Nannini 2003:121.
[ back ] 16. Interestingly enough, in Iliad XXII 162, the racing horses (ἀεθλοφόροι ἵπποι) are called single-hoofed (μώνυχες). Chariot horses are not hoofed in order to be able to run faster.
[ back ] 17. Priam (38–76), Hecuba (82–89), Hector (99–130).
[ back ] 18. For the relative (Wie-Satz) and the deictic (So-Satz), see Fränkel 1921, where the two parts of the extended Homeric simile are distinguished for the first time.
[ back ] 19. The simile of the dream (Iliad XXII 199–201) has the form: ABC (199) – ABC (200) – ACB (201), if A: οὐ δύναται, οὔτ᾿ … δύναται, οὐ … δύνατο, B: φεύγοντα, ὑποφεύγειν, οὐδ᾿ … ἀλύξαι, C: διώκειν, οὔθ᾿ … διώκειν, μάρψαι ποσίν.
[ back ] 20. On some reverse similes in the Odyssey, see Maronitis 1971:205–232 (especially 215–217) and Heubeck 1992:338–339 with further bibliography.
[ back ] 21. See Nagler 1967:269–311; 1974:8.
[ back ] 22. See chapter 9.
[ back ] 23. Muellner 1990:66; Minchin 2001b:143–148.
[ back ] 24. Markantonatos 2002:7–8.
[ back ] 25. The term story designates all the elements of myth as they become distinguishable through a focalizer. See de Jong 1987:31–32, 35.