Rather than isolate Achilles' prayer to Zeus in Book 16 of the "Iliad" from its immediate context, this paper analyzes the passage as an integrated whole. Recent work on the Homeric simile shows that Homer links images by an "associative technique," sometimes in the service of characterization. Additionally, Phillip Stambovsky's study of literary imagery suggests that such imagery often contributes to characterization insofar as it "presentationally depicts" (at a "prediscursive" level of an audience's awareness) important themes of the literary work. I argue that indeed the imagery in the passage of Achilles' prayer dramatizes a great theme connected with his characterization: his indecision between desire for warfare and desire for safety. The elements of the passage repeatedly refigure Achilles' dissonant state of mind. The wolf simile, for example, opposes pure and defiled, to point proleptically to the combat that destroys Patroclus after Achilles dispatches him, the very outcome Achilles wishes to avert through ritual and prayer. The Myrmidon catalogue juxtaposes its first two entries, those of Menesthios and Eudoros, to highlight Eudoros' lack of a human father and alienation from his mother, a scenario which recalls Achilles' experience. Thus the catalogue reconstitutes in a separate fiction Achilles' own personal history in order to expose the sources of conflict there. Finally, the wasp simile, when contextualized according to the characterization of Achilles, also figures oppositions like those Achilles enacts when he urges on the war while at the same time seeking to mitigate its violence. The passage's imagery is itself a vivid narrative depicting Achilles' strenuous attempt to resist the violence of heroic combat as well as his own imminent death within it.
Research Article| October 01 1995
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Timothy P. Hofmeister; "Rest in Violence": Composition and Characterization in "Iliad" 16.155-277. Classical Antiquity 1 October 1995; 14 (2): 289–316. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/25011024
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