Poetic Descriptions from Homer

by Erin on May 3, 2012

Ah, the Iliad and the Odyssey. If you’ve ever read either - or even both - of these masterpieces of ancient Greek literature, you will probably remember the poetic language Homer uses to describe the various characters, both human and divine, in his stories. These descriptions are sometimes called epithets, and what follows are some of my personal favorite descriptions from Homer.

In both the Iliad and the Odyssey, morning is personified. Rather than repeatedly referring to the goddess of Dawn by her name, which is Eos, she is often invoked by Homer poetically as “rosy fingered dawn”.

Here is an example of one of the many permutations on the theme of rosy-fingered dawn in Homer’s Odyssey:

“When the young Dawn with finger tips of rose
lit up the world…”

(Homer, Odyssey, Book Nine, lines 307-8)

Eos is also characterized by Homer as being clad in saffron robes, which is a lovely and evocative way to describe the personification of dawn.

Just as day follows morning, the sun arrives after rosy fingered dawn to illuminate the world. Homer tells how Helios the sun draws his chariot through the sky.

In my opinion, one of the most evocative descriptions from the Odyssey is Homer’s way of referring to the water. The stalwart hero Odysseus sails on the “wine dark” (or “wine colored”) sea.

Of course, Odysseus himself has his share of stock epithets. Cunning Odysseus is an apt description of this resourceful hero, and Homer delights in repeating this and a handful of other descriptions throughout the epic.

Speaking of Odysseus - there is a pair of words that are intertwined in my memory, and they are also from a translation of Homer’s Odyssey. We are introduced to the wife of the Greek hero as “circumspect Penelope”.

To conclude, let’s look at an epithet from Homer that is associated with a goddess. Athena is called “grey eyed” in the Odyssey. This word is sometimes translated as “bright eyed” by the way.

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