Alaṅkāras in Homer’s Iliad – 2



uktirarthāntaranyāsasyātsāmānyaviśeṣayoḥ | (C.L. – 119)

In Arthāntaranyāsa, a general statement is used to provide a rationale for a specific case or a specific case is used to justify a general statement.

Iliad – Book 1, lines 217-220

(Achilles says the following to the goddess Athene, who has been sent by the goddess Hera, has come down from the heaven to put a stop to his anger.)

Goddess, one must observe the words of you two, no matter how angry he may be at heart, for it is better so. Whoever obeys the gods, to him they gladly give ear.

Here, Achilles speaks of the prevalent situation and finds that it would be better for him if he listens to the words of the goddesses. This specific case of heeding to the words of the gods is justified by the general statement – ‘Whoever obeys the gods, to him they gladly give ear’. Achilles knows that the gods will listen to the prayers of a person, who obeys their dictum too and thus justifies his own action in the prevalent situation. This is classified as the first type of Arthāntaranyāsa (the general justifying the particular) by the commentators of C.L.



adhikaṃ pṛthulādhārādādheyādhikyavarṇanaṃ | (C.L. – 90)

In adhikālaṅkāraḥ, the thing which is compared is shown to be greater in intensity than the thing to which it is compared.

Iliad – Book 2, Lines 290-300

(Odysseus speaks to the Achaeans – Nine years have passed since the Achaean army left their home-land and sailed to the banks of Troy. They have not been able to capture the city of Troy yet and have grown impatient)

“To be sure there is toil enough to make a man go home disheartened. For anyone who is parted even one single month from his wife in his benched ship becomes impatient, especially if winter blasts and surging seas keep him away;

But for us the ninth year is at its turn, and we are still here; so I do not blame the Achaeans for becoming impatient beside their beaked ships…”

Here, the poet speaks through Odysseus (kavinibaddhaprauḍhokti 1) and justifies the impatience of the Achaeans. He says that it is natural for them to feel severely restless and home-sick, as a man who is parted from his wife even for a single month becomes impatient and they have been away for nine long years. The increase in the duration of separation increases the intensity in the feeling too.

The winter blasts and surging seas are employed by the poet as uddīpana-vibhāvas2 which intensify the sthāyi-bhāva3, i.e., longing of the seafarers for their wives.



 ābhāsatve virodhasya virodhābhāsa uchyate | (C.L. – 71)

Virodhābhāsa is when two seemingly contradictory statements are made about a certain person or a situation. This works similar to a paradox.

Iliad Book 1, line 231

(Achilles reprimands Agamemnon.)

People-devouring king, since you rule over nobodies!

Achilles rebukes – although Agamemnon is under the illusion that he is a powerful king ruling over many people, he is actually ruling ‘nobodies’, i.e., the people who he thinks he rules are in fact insignificant people (compared to Achilles himself) and one who is a king of such people is no king at all.


Mahopamā – Epic simile (Homeric simile)


An epic simile is a detailed comparison in the form of a simile which spans several lines and includes several imageries within it. It gives a complete parallel to an object or an event by comparing every aspect of it to another familiar object or an event. This can be seen historically for the first time in the epics of Homer, thus are called ‘Homeric similes’ too. These can easily be adopted in Sanskrit poetry and also in the poetry in regional Indian languages. K.V. Puttappa (Kuvempu) has coined the name ‘Mahopamā’ for such usage and has adopted it in his writings in Kannada [7].

Iliad – Book 15, lines 674-688
(The Trojans are heading towards the fortifications of the Achaeans and their ships. Aias, the Great, the son of Telamon alerts the Achaeans, i.e., the Danaans to get ready for war)

And as a man well skilled in horsemanship harnesses together four horses chosen out of many, and drives them in swift course from the plain toward a great city along a highway, while many marvel at him, both men and women, and ever with sure step he leaps, and passes from horse to horse, while they speed on, so Aias kept ranging along with long strides over the many decks of the swift ships, and his voice went up to heaven, as ever with terrible cries he called to the Danaans to defend their ships and huts.”

In the above passage, there are several sets of upamāna and upameya, with their respective sādhāraṇa-dharma. Aias (upameya) is compared to a man well skilled in horsemanship (upamāna), their sādhāraṇa-dharma being the skill in managing several things at once.
Four horses are compared to the many decks of ships, the plurality in number being their common feature.

The long strides of Aias are compared to the leaps that a horseman takes from one horse to the other, the difficulty in doing so being the common feature (sādhāraṇa-dharma) of the two. “So” is the connecting word, the vāchakashabda connecting the two activities. The poet thus creates a complete picture of the two activities.

In addition, the poet uses atiśayokti when he says that the voice of Aias went up to the heaven.

The following is a chain of epic similes, with more similes built within each simile and is also the longest in the Iliad.

Iliad – Book 2, lines 455-483
(The Achaean army gets ready for the war and is urged by Athena to fight without ceasing.)

Just as a consuming fire makes a boundless forest blaze on the peaks of a mountain, and from afar can the glare be seen, so from their magnificent bronze, as they marched out, went the dazzling gleam through the sky to the heavens.

And as the many tribes of winged birds, wild geese of cranes or long-necked swans on the Asian meadow by the streams of Caystrius, fly here and there, glorying in their strength of wing, and with loud cries settle ever onwards, and the meadow resounds, so their many tribes poured out of the ships and huts into the plain of Scamander, and the earth resounded terribly beneath the tread of men and horses. And they stood in the flowery meadow of Scamander, countless, as are the leaves and flowers in their season.

Just as the many tribes of swarming flies that buzz about the herdman’s farmstead in the season of spring, when the milk drenches the pails, in such numbers stood the long haired Achaeans in the plain against the men of Troy, eager to destroy them utterly.

And just as goatherds easily separate the wide-scattered flocks of goats, when they mingle in the pasture, so did their leaders marshal the men on this side and that, to enter into the battle, and among them lord Agamemnon, his eyes and head like Zeus who hurls the thunderbolt, his waist likes Ares, and his breast like Poseidon. As a bull in a herd stands out far the chiefest, since he is preeminent among cattle as they gather, such did Zeus make Agamemnon on that day, preeminent among many, and chiefest among warriors.

The poet gives the complete picture of the scene in which the Achaeans prepare themselves to fight. Several different aspects are considered and for each, an epic simile is provided. Imageries range from forest fire, wild birds, flowers, leaves, flies, domestic animals such as goats, cattle, bull and gods such a Zeus, Ares, Poseidon. The passages give an audio-visual treat to the reader in its totality.

The gleam of the bronze which covered the body of the soldiers in the form of armours and the bronze of their shields and spears is compared to a forest fire. The fire also indicates the rage of the soldiers and the boundlessness of the forest blaze suggests their large numbers. The gleam could be seen from a large distance too, which again helps us visualize the combined effect of presence of several warriors.

The next passage speaks of the din created by the soldiers and horses when they walk on the earth while getting ready for the war. It is compared to loud cries of winged birds which also echo in the meadow, giving us an auditory experience of the sound. The confusion and the chaos created when several men pour out from their ships and huts, is indicated by the tribes of winged birds ‘flying here and there’. Their large number is also indicated by the countless leaves and flowers which bloom in their season.

The large number of soldiers and their different native tribes is indicated by comparing it to the many tribes of flies in the spring season. One can also imagine the commotion created by the soldiers by associating it with the simultaneous buzzing of many tries of flies. (It is known from the Iliad that soldiers from different towns of Greece joined together to form the army of the Achaeans and they spoke different tongues.)

Next, to settle the confusion and to establish order among men, the leaders came out to marshal the mean, just like goatherds separate the flocks of goats. ‘Scattered flocks’ indicates the disorder and ‘easily separate’ indicates command that the leaders exercised on the men.

Each body part of Agamemnon is compared to those of the gods indicating his strength and power. He is also compared to a bull which is chiefly seen among a group of cattle, and also as the one who is the most powerful and preeminent.

In the above passage, by using earthly imageries such as birds, goats, flies, bull and cattle, which are commonly observed in day to day life, the poet helps us visualize the war scene, which one cannot see in everyday life. Thus, a common experience is used to help us visualize something uncommon. Furthermore, by using mythological imageries such as the eyes and head of Zeus, waist of Ares and breast of Poseidon, the surreal characteristics of the hero Agamemnon are suggested.



The article lists and broadly identifies nine alaṅkāras in the Iliad of Homer, by using the definitions from the Candrāloka. The Candrāloka defines over 100 varieties of alaṅkāras and the author does not deny the possibility of the existence of a few more among them in the Iliad. In several cases, however, it is hard to be scrupulous in identifying the alaṅkāras. Most of them, in general, fall under the broad category of atiśayokti and employ upacāra-vakratā. There is, at times, a simultaneous occurrence of two or more alaṅkāras in a single phrase of the poet. One can find not less than twenty examples in the Iliad for each of the identified alankāras and the number of examples for atiśayokti and upamālaṅkāra range a few hundreds.

Kāvyaliṅgālankāra (poetic justification) seems to be missing in the Iliad. Śleṣa or pun and play on word meanings is absent in the Iliad as is rare in the Rāmāyana of Vālmiki.  Also, due to the absence of kavi-samayas, i.e., standard poetic conventions in Greek literature, several more alaṅkāras do not exist in the Iliad.

The limit in the number of alaṅkāras and examples provided in this article are due to its restricted length.




I would like to thank Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh for helping me in the selection of the topic for this article and guiding me through it. Thanks to Prof. LV. Shantakumari, Hari Ravikumar and Shashi Kiran for going through the article and giving me useful inputs.



1 Kavinibaddhaprauḍokti: When a poet speaks through one of the characters in his work, it is called Kavinibaddhaprauḍhokti. (When the poet himself speaks, it is called Kaviprauḍhokti)

2 Uddīpana-vibhāva: The external factors which intensify the predominant emotion or mood of a person are called uddīpana-vibhāvas. For example, the thundering of a cloud acts as an external factor which intensifies the pangs of separation of a heroine, who is longing to see her lover.

3 Sthāyi-bhāva: The predominant emotion of a character is called the sthāyi-bhāva.



[1] ‘Alankāra-śāstra’ (Kannada), R. Ganesh, Bhavan’s Gandhi center, Bangalore (2000).
[2] ‘Vakroktijīvita’ of Kuntaka (Sanskrit), Chaukhama Sanskrit Sansthan, Varanasi (2005), abbreviated as ‘V.J.’ in the article.
[3] ‘Homer-Iliad’ (Greek, English), Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University press, English translation by A.T. Murray and Revised by William. F. Wyatt (1925)
[4] ‘Candrālokaḥ’(Sanskrit, Hindi), Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan, Varanasi (2014), abbreviated as ‘C.L.’ in the article.
[5] ‘Kuvalayānanda’ (Sanskrit), Vidyadisha Post-Graduate Sanskrit Research Center, Edited by Prof K.T. Pandurangi (2014).

[6] ‘Dārśanika Kāvyamīmāmse’ (Kannada) – pages 97-112, Kannada cultural Department, Edited by Ha.Ma.Nayak (1983) – A compilation of writings of K.V.Puttappa from the collection ‘Taponandana’


Arjun Bharadwaj alankaras in homer's illiad - 2 Alaṅkāras in Homer’s Iliad – 2 arjun b

Arjun Bharadwaj

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He is currently studying comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.
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