Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Homeric simile

At some point in my life I want to do (amongst many other things) an in depth study of Homer's similes. I've been dipping (re-dipping?) into the epic recently; the other day I was mightily struck (as if by a spear) by this example:

But the son of Atreus kept plying his attack along the rest of the Trojan line, with spear and sword and huge stones, as long as the blood still gushed warm from his wound. But when the wound started to dry and the flow ceased, then sharp pains began to overcome his strength of spirit. As when a woman in labour is taken with the sharp stab of piercing pain sent by the Eileithyiai, daughters of Hera, who bring the bitter pangs of childbirth, so sharp pains began to overcome the son of Atreus’ strength.
This is Agamemnon, King of the Achaeans, having been stabbed by Koön in the middle of battle; it’s a superimposition of the domestic onto the warlike, a reminder that the mightiest fighter is woman-born and also that women endure perhaps greater pain than that on the field; Agamemnon is the father of his people, so it seems apt that he is compared to a mother in the bloody throes of birth, as death is all around him and blood feeds the ground for a different reason. Homer is so good at showing us inversions of what's going on; always reminding us of other worlds, other lives, and of the endless cycle of generation and death.

(The translation is Martin Hammond’s fine 1987 version, published in a nifty Penguin paperback which I own that is sadly lacking a few pages from Book VI.) 

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