Homeric or Epic Similes

A simile is a short comparison using "like" or "as":  "His words beat down on Patroclus like dark wings" (Iliad, XVI, ll. 870).

Like any metaphor, the simile or analogy mostly compares an unknown with a known, to clarify the unknown: you can't know how Hector's voice was heard by Patroclus (this is the unknown) but we all know what beating wings sound like;  "dark wings" adds the added symbolic depth of darkness, which is itself a common metaphor (for death).

A Homeric Simile is the same thing but longer, usually running around four to six lines, and working as an analogy (long similes) usually comparing a character or action to a natural event.

Some of the more profoundly moving moments in The Iliad and The Odyssey revolve around these analogies.  See Patroclus' death,  Iliad XVI, lines 785-870.

Homeric similes (analogies) have the added effect of:

    a) Injecting lyrical, image-based poetry or abstraction into the concrete action (things don't just happen; they happen with poetic depth)

    b) Thus elevating the action, the plot from things simply happening (Hector speaking) to things happening beautifully, majestically, with dramatic import and universal significance

          c) Providing symbolic points of reference for the action: comparisons to lions, boars and deer, eagles etc would have had deep, significant and even spiritual resonance for the original Greek audience, who associated each of these animals with specific symbolic qualities (some of which still resonate with us); a lion was always violent, a deer always passive, bird-flight a sign from the gods and certain birds and animals associated with the presence of specific gods (Hector's words thus beat down on Patroclus as the portent of Patroclus' impending death)

         d) Suspending time: as we read, our attention shifts from imagining the immediate action – the Greek soldier taking a spear in the gut – to the image offered by the simile, and for a second time seems tostop. This pause, and the attending incursion of the analogous image, slows the action down and:

         e) Ultimately, in conjunction with all the other factors, elevates the action toward a far deeper, possibly spiritual, significance:  we are no longer in the realm of action but rather in the realm of meaning

These similes give us these concepts as an experience: the narrator doesn’t “tell us” that an event has cosmological significance; we experience that significance directly as our imagination lifts from the specific moment in the scene – the action – and lingers on a timeless image, and then it drifts back to the scene; our imagination is transported to another realm, the realm of the universally “true”.