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Homer’s Usage of Simile in the Iliad

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Just as some writers prefer using metaphors over similes in their literary works, Homer prefers using similes in his. In his epic story, The Iliad, one of the major themes which can be found throughout the entire book is power; the power the gods possess, and the power the warriors have over each other. Homer makes use of similes when it comes to making descriptions and comparisons. One of the similes is used in book 22 to make a comparison of Achilles’ shield to something related to nature, and the description given to the shield works as a metaphor to describe Achilles and his power.

By using similes, Homer is able to give his readers a vivid description of things or compare events that occur in The Iliad. One of Homer’s many significant similes- translated by Richard Graves- which are used in his story, can be found on page 343 of book 22. On this page, it says, “He resembled the formidable God of War, and his bronze armour flashed like a bonfire, or a sunrise.” Here, the armour is a representation of Achilles. In this part of book 22, Hector wants to fight Achilles, but when he sees Achilles he is frightened and flees. Homer compares Achilles’ shield to both fire and sunrise. In some cultures, fire is a symbolic meaning for anger, fear and destruction; it can also symbolise power. Sunrise, which is associated with light, can also be a symbol for greatness and power. Hector running away from Achilles when he catches sight of how superior he looks as he is being approached, signifies fear being imposed upon him, and the greatness or the power Achilles has over him at that instance. Hector is aware that Achilles could easily destroy him at this point. It also describes Achilles as a mighty being. The shield being associated with fire could also represent the anger and hatred Achilles has for Hector as a result of Hector murdering his friend, Patroclus, who he loved very much.

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Why does Homer have to describe the armour using a simile? As mentioned earlier, Homer uses similes to create a vivid description or comparison. Comparing the shield to a bonfire or a sunrise in the form of a simile makes the picture the readers get in their minds of the shield a lot more detailed; it enhances the description and creates a contrast between the shield and the bonfire or the sunrise. You can imagine the bright glow of the shield. The simile makes the description less boring, although it adds a slight exaggeration to it. If Homer describes the shield with an adjective, the description becomes plain. For example, it would have been very boring if he had described the shield as simply ‘bright’, and the shield wouldn’t fit as a metaphor to describe Achilles.

In The Iliad, Achilles is the greatest warrior, despite his pride and fury when he feels offended. By knowing what his “bronze armour” which “flashed like a bonfire, or a sunrise” symbolises, and how Hector, the greatest Trojan warrior, flees after seeing him, one can tell how significant Achilles is. Homer even talks about how he resembles the God of War, Ares. Ares is the god who represents violence in war. For Achilles to be compared to him, it explains the fear casted upon Hector, causing him to flee; he has a violent and frightening energy around him. He is powerful. He is god-like and great; undefeatable – yet. Since what the shield is compared to is basically a description of him, it shows how he is perceived as an Achaean warrior. In addition to that, he is described as being “…Zeus’ representative on Earth” on page 46 of book one. Being considered as a representative of the king of the gods sums up to his significance.

Although Homer tries to avoid the use of metaphors in his works when making descriptions, the similes he uses to describe objects and events end up functioning as metaphors in some cases. The description given to Achilles’ shield means it is great, representing the greatness of Achilles.


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