The Inevitable Inferno of Ilion: an Analysis of Epic Similes Which Foreshadow the Burning of Troy

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Since the birth of prose, various literary techniques such as tone, imagery, similes, and foreshadowing have been used by authors to engender specific impressions upon their audience. Like an artist's pallet of paint, authors color their words with vibrancy through the use of these literary tools. In the Greek work the Iliad, Homer skillfully utilizes similes and foreshadowing in an innovative way. Rather than approaching them as separate entities, he notably combines them by foreshadowing in the form of a simile about what will come to pass. Though the fall of Troy may not be told directly in the Iliad, numerous comparisons are drawn between the element of fire and Ilion, alluding to its anticipated and foreseen demise. Through critical analysis of three specific epic similes, it is apparent that the functions which Homer's similes serve not only surpass extravagant imagery, but also heighten anticipation about an expected occurrence and expand the descriptive power of each scene in which they appear. As Book 11 unfolds, an eventful day of battle begins; Agamemnon leads the Achians into forcing the Trojans to retreat back to their city wall. Homer masterfully compares the defeat of the Trojans to a raging forest fire: "They killed… As when obliterating fire comes down on the timbered forest (11.154-157)." This comparison to fire is important to note, for Homeric similes range from animal to elemental images, all with a preconceived reason for contrast. Homer specifically and conspicuously chooses to compare the Trojans to fire, ultimately laying the groundwork for the burning of Troy. Although at first the fighting wavers between the two sides, the Trojans soon take the upper hand with Zeus' aid. As the best Greek warriors are wounded one by one, they soon have no one left to lead their troops. Homer compares the revitalization of the Trojans to an advancing inferno, as he writes, "So they fought on in the likeness of blazing fire (11: 591-595)."...
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