Notes on The Iliad Themes

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The Iliad Topic Tracking: Nature Imagery

Books 1 - 4

Nature 1: The gathered armies are compared to flocks of birds. In this comparison, Homer intends the image of a mass of birds rather than a careful formation of flight. The armies are gathered in mass groups and the sound of the voices and weapons are similar to the squawking and flapping of birds. The warriors are difficult to distinguish from each other. The juxtaposition of a nature simile for a host of fighting men further evokes the chaos of battle.

Nature 2: The moving armies are compared to the ocean in terms of size and sound. The sides clash like waves.

Books 5 - 8

Nature 3: Diomedes is compared to a lion attacking cattle as he rampages through the Trojan line. In this comparison, Diomedes is the predator and the Trojans are helpless herds. They have no means to stave off the fangs and claws of their attacker.

Nature 4: Hector and Telamonian Ajax are compared to lions and boars as they fight. This continues the hunt metaphor begun with Diomedes. These two wild animals clash in the natural realm as Hector and Ajax clash on the battle field. The comparison augments the fierceness and desperation of their battle.

Nature 5: Zeus sends the Greeks a signal to restore their faith: an eagle drops a young deer at an altar dedicated to himself. This signal, using natural event, inspires the Greeks to rally and attack.

Books 9 - 12

Nature 6: The Greek troops in panic are compared to water whipped by the wind. Homer elaborates the water simile from the earlier books. The strong yet predictable ocean is altered by the wind and sent into confusion.

Nature 7: Diomedes and Odysseus are compared to lions as they sneak into the Greek camp. Once again warriors are compared to hunting beasts. The sleeping Trojan allies are their prey.

Nature 8: Diomedes and Odysseus are compared to lions killing sleeping sheep as they kill sleeping Trojan allies. Homer elaborates the hunting lions simile and turns the Trojan allies into helpless herd animals, unprotected by shelter or shepherd. Herding sheep and goats was one of the primary source of food and income for many Greek peasants; such a simile would have been quite recognizable by Homer's audience.

Nature 9: As Agamemnon attacks, he is compared to a lion that kills young deer. The Greek king is made into a fierce lion which chases after the young of his prey. He is so fierce that the Trojans can not defend themselves against him. They can merely try to run away from the rampaging king.

Nature 10: Surrounded by the enemy, Odysseus fights like a boar in a thicket. The Trojans are transformed into human hunters and Odysseus is a wild beast who turns and fights his attackers. Odysseus is in a thicket because he is making a stand in his realm lashing out at the hunters who expected him to continue fleeing.

Books 13 - 16

Nature 11: The chaos of battle is compared to dust whipped up by a blowing wind. Once again the force of the wind is evoked to create a chaotic scene. Like water in the early passage, dust is still until being whipped up by a force. The battle is so chaotic that no one can see through the confusion. It rises from the ground upward and swirls into the air.

Nature 12: Idomeneus is compared to a mountain boar struggling with hunters as he fights off Trojans. The boar is an animal that forages and fights on its own. Just as Odysseus is compared to a boar who has turned on his pursuers, Idomeneus fiercely stands against his Trojan assailants.

Nature 13: The sound of the battle clash is compared to a roaring surf or a fire. This simile is evocative of the water and dust comparison in earlier books. The battle whirls under its own strength and creates a chaotic din.

Nature 14: Hector is compared to an eagle as he swoops down on the Greeks, who are described as a flock of birds. This simile reflects the bird comparisons of Book 1 with a significant alteration. The Greeks are not birds of prey, but a confused flock of birds. Hector is a lone eagle picking off the distracted birds as they fly around in confusion.

Books 17 - 20

Nature 15: Menelaus is compared to a mother cow protecting her young as her stands over the body of Patroclus. Ajax is compared to a lion over his cubs when he does the same thing. The body of Patroclus is thus rendered as precious as a creature's young. Menelaus is given a maternal aspect as he fends off attackers with his own body. Ajax lashes out and keeps the Trojans at bay.

Nature 16: The Greeks and the Trojans fight like a swirl of fire. Automedon is compared to a vulture in a flock of geese. The swirl of fire invokes the sound simile mentioned earlier. The fire is uncontrolled and it rages over the battlefield flaring up in some places and dying down in other. For ashes, there are only corpses littering the field. The bird of prey and flock simile is revered from a Trojan to a Greek predator. Automedon turns on the confused Trojans and attacks at will.

Nature 17: The Greek troops are compared to a thick blanket of snow as they move back onto the battlefield. This simile starkly contrasts earlier similes. Unlike the chaotic fire and wind-whipped ocean, blanketing snow is a calm image. There is an even covering of troops across the battlefield, invoking an image of an absolute and silent taking of the land.

Nature 18: As he rages, Achilles is compared to a fire in mountain gorges. Unlike the other similes, this fire comparison entails only one man as he sweeps through the peaks and pitfalls of battle destroying everything in his path.

Books 21 - 24

Nature 19: Hector is compared to a poisonous snake as he awaits Achilles. A snake is not aggressive like a lion or an eagle, but it waits patiently for its prey. This simile also reflects the reality of Hector's eventual attack. Like a snake, Hector is going to strike once with his spear from a distance, intending to retreat, or recoil.

Nature 20: Achilles denies Hector's request for a truce over their corpses, saying that men do not make oaths to lions, and wolves do not seal pacts with lambs. In this comparison each man is at once several things. Hector is deprived on humanity as he retains the lion simile. He is a wounded predator whose human hunter will allow him no respite. As a lamb, he is completely vulnerable to his assailant. Achilles is the wolf, a predator who has left his pack to take his own victim. There will be no pacts between these creatures.

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