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Animals, Humans, and Poetry

In the Iliad and the Odyssey by the famous Greek poet Homer we find multiple references to animals, both domestic and wild. Let us take the cases of a dog, a horse, a pig, a deer, a lion, a wolf or wolves, and other wild animals to see how the people are characterized as similar to these beasts. The link is made on the basis of specific traits of character or nature, which is shared by animals and humans in some situations. For example, in the Iliad there are a lot of scenes where the men are fighting or chasing each other.

War can be compared to the hunt or chasing in the natural world. No wonder that Greek and Trojan warriors are compared to dogs, lions, deers and so on or to the strong predators and their victims. For example, in the Iliad we observe the scene where Sarpedon scorns Hector of the Trojans: “Where has your will to fight gone, Hector? / You used to say you could hold the city / Without any allies, just yourself / Backed by your brothers and sisters’ husbands. / I don’t see a single one of them now / Who’s not cringing like a dog before a lion.

/ The only ones fighting are us, the allies” (Iliad 5. 509-15. 97-8). A dog is known to be a brave domestic animal that is eager to defend its master and is used for hunting. However, a lion is stronger that a dog, and in the fighting with this beast a dog risks its life. Then, we may think that the Greeks are compared to lions in their powers and ferocity, while Hector’s relatives are compared to dogs being scared by such dangerous enemies. The way how dogs behave at the hunting is also described in relation to men in the following scene when the Trojans attacked Greeks.

“A dog goes after a wounded fawn a hunter hits / With unerring aim as it jumps from its lair. / That was how Antilochus leapt / At you, Melanippus, to strip off your armor” (Iliad 21. 607-10. 400), describes Homer the cruelty with which the Trojan warrior attacked the wounded enemy from the Greek camp. There is one more case, when a person is referred to as a dog for the goal of humiliating this person. To be specific, it is often when the Greeks and the Trojans call each other dogs – to scorn, like, for example, Achilles addresses Hector: “Don’t whine to me about my parents, / You dog!

” (Iliad 22. 382-3. 433). However, there is one original case, when the Greek warrior Teucer calls the Trojan Hector a “mad dog” (Iliad 11. 303. 208). I think the Greek here did not want to say that the Trojan hero is a coward or a second-rated creature. Quite on the opposite, Hector is so skillful in avoiding all the arrows the Greek shoots at him, the Trojan is so unpredictable, like a mad and dangerous dog that the reference to an animal here characterizes a man positively. The same goal of scorning a person when calling him “a dog” we meet in the Odyssey.

For example, in the scene where Odyssey is kicked by Melanthius, one of Penelope’s unhappy fiances, the swineherd will identify the master and starts talking to him, while Melanthius says: “Listen to the dog talk, with his big, bad notions” (Odyssey 17. 272. 264). Yet Melanthius is known to be a negative personage, who is later slaughted by Odyssey for his impudence. Melanthius wanted to mock at Odyssey and his servant, but ended even worse than a dog himself. It is interesting how the impudent, greedy and foolish Penelope’s unhappy fiances are compared to the animals themselves.

Telemachus addresses then: “Suitors of my mother – you arrogant pigs” (Odyssey 1. 389. 12) to show how deep he despises these men. In the Iliad there are no evidence of referring to men as pigs on the reason that there war is describes and pigs are domestic mostly. No wonder that the metonymy is used in the scenes of the Odyssey where the domestic life is described. To go back to a dog reference, this animal is referred in the Odyssey to as a brave, devoted and good animal. This is a point of contrast between the Iliad and the Odyssey.

For example, when Odyssey sees the alien men in his house who are eating his food and sleeping with his female-servants, he feels angry: “The way a dog standing over her pups growls / When she sees a stranger and digs in to fight – / So Odysseus growled at their [aliens’] iniquity” (Odyssey 20. 17-9. 309). Thus, a person is shown as devoted and brave as animal here. A wild “relative’ of a dog – a wolf is known as a very dangerous animal. Homer seems to refer to the beast when he wants to underline the similar dangerous for others traits in men:

Ravenous for meat. It is impossible To describe their savage strength in the hunt, But after they have killed an antlered stag Up in the hills and torn it apart, they come down With gore on their jowls, and in a pack Go to lap the black surface water in a pool Fed by a dark spring, and as they drink, Crimson curls float off from their slender tongues. But their hearts are still, and their bellies gorged. (Iliad 16. 167-75. 309-10) And so were the Myrmidon warriors being commanded by Achilles – cruel, atrocious, merciless and very dangerous.

It is often said in the Iliad that Greeks and Trojans fought “Battering each other like leaping wolves” (Iliad 4. 512. 79). The reference to other wild beasts is used to underline the fighting skills of humans. The Greek warrior says: The Trojans going for our ships. Up until now They’ve been like spooked deer that dodge through the woods To become dinner for jackals, panthers, and wolves, Totally defenseless, no fight in them. That’s how the Trojans have been with us, Unwilling to offer the slightest resistance.

But now they’re out fighting for our hollow ships (Iliad 13. 103-9. 242) In the Iliad there is a remarkable scene where a human does not pause to compare himself to a beast. Achilles and Hector are to fight in a mortal combat and the Trojan warrior wants to make a bargain. He suggests the winner letting the loser’s relatives take the body of a warrior who has been defeated. Achilles says: Don’t try to cut any deals with me, Hector. Do lions make peace treaties with men? Do wolves and lambs agree to get along? No, they hate each other to the core,

And that’s how it is between you and me. No talk of agreements until one of us Falls and gluts Ares with his blood. (Iliad 22. 287-93. 430-1) Homer seems to show that such remarkable warrior as Achilles and Hector can not leave each other in peace and can not make treaties like humans and beasts. Achilles compares himself to the lion, as merciless and blood-thirsty as this dangerous beast-hunter. In the Odyssey the main hero is also compared to a wild animal: With that Odysseus emerged from the bushes. He broke off a leafy branch from the undergrowth

And held it before him to cover himself. A weathered mountain lion steps into a clearing, Confident in his strength, eyes glowing. The wind and rain have let up, and he’s hunting Cattle, sheep, or wild deer, but is hungry enough To jump the stone walls of the animal pens. So Odysseus advanced upon these ringleted girls, (Odyssey 6. 126-134. 88) Here, a human is ragged, wild and alien to other humans as the beast he is compared to. At the same time, he is confident in himself and gorgeous as a lion on a hunt.

While the girls Odysseus meets are compared to domestic animals or some wild game to stress their submissiveness, defenseless nature, the male is describes as a mighty superior animal here. To put it in a nut-shell, both in the Iliad and the Odyssey the reader hits across multiple comparisons of humans and beasts. The poet makes the links for various purposes here: to show how the humans scorn each other (a dog or a pig) or to underline the gorgeous power and fighting skills of warriors (a wolf, a lion and a deer).

The comparison of humans and beasts seems to be the sigh of the Greek poet of Homer altogether with the personages he used to describe as being close to nature with its vigor, the laws of hunting with the hunter-victim relationships and simple moral rules.

Works Cited

Homer. Iliad. Transltr. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997. —. Odyssey. Transltr. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.

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