Homer’s epics are composed in dactylic hexameter, which became the standard for Greek and Latin oral poetry, and his verse is characterized by the use of extended similes and formulaic phrases, such as epithets, to fill out the verse form.
Extended similes (called epic similes) are employed at appropriate junctures in the story. Running into several lines, the epic simile is used to intensify the heroic stature of a character and offers a nice, decorative touch. An example from the Iliad:
“As when the shudder of the west wind suddenly rising scatters across the water,
and the water darkens beneath it, so darkening were settled the ranks of Achaians and Trojans in the plain.”
The simile makes an explicit comparison, often using “like” or “as” in order to reveal an unexpected likeness between two seemingly disparate things. The epic simile isn’t just a literary embellishment, but an important tool of thought, creating a new way of seeing the world. If prestige were attached to a literary device, the epic simile would have it. In its lengthy comparison, it allows complex comparisons between actions or relations. This creates contrast and helps amplify the theme. Here’s one more example from Aeneid:
“Here a whole crowd came streaming to the banks… as many souls as leaves that yield their hold on boughs and fall through forests in the early frost of autumn…”
Write a poem using epic simile to describe someone you feel is brave. Compare your hero to an unlikely object in the natural world (trees, mountains, weather phenomenon, etc.). Share your poem with us in the comment section below.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here is a poem from Rick we enjoyed, Invocation of the Moon:
Photo by Matt Ming. Creative Commons via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland