Figurative Language in The Odyssey

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

The Odyssey can be a very challenging read. One of the things that makes it difficult, but also interesting, is the use of figurative language. In this lesson, we will find out exactly what that means and take a look at a few examples.

Figurative Language

''That is just a figure of speech.'' If you have heard someone say this, you already know a little about what figurative language is. If someone says ''I'm going to die if I have to read another page of this book,'' we know that the person is not being literal. They are exaggerating, or using a figure of speech called hyperbole. What they really mean is they do not want to read the book because they do not like it. They are not literally going to die; they are using a figure of speech, or figurative language, to make it clear just how they feel. In life, (and in stories like The Odyssey) figurative language helps us express ideas without being restricted to the facts.


A simile is when two things are compared using the word ''like'' or ''as''. One example of a simile from The Odyssey is when Telemachus and Minerva are chatting. At the end of the conversation, Minerva ''flew away like a bird into the air.'' Since the narrator compares Minerva to a bird, this is a good example of a simile. One effect of this simile is that it expresses Minerva's grace in a concise manner. The sentence could have said something like this: ''Minerva flew away into the air and used her wings to rise up in a graceful way.'' While there is nothing wrong with this sentence, comparing Minerva to a bird is more direct and also encourages the reader to picture Minerva's graceful, bird-like movements.


Another type of figurative language is personification. This happens when a non-human object is described as though it has human characteristics. For example, saying that the ''clouds cried all day'' personifies the cloud because clouds do not literally cry. An example from The Odyssey is when we read ''Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, Telemachus rose and dressed himself.'' In this sentence, the dawn is personified as the ''child of morning'' and also as being ''rosy-fingered.'' Morning is also personified since it is described as having a child. This example of personification helps the reader picture the sun rise and also keep in mind the close relationship between the morning and sun.


Imagery is another type of figurative language that helps enhance a story. Imagery is just another way of saying ''super-descriptive writing.'' Writers use it to provide a description that appeals to the reader's sense of sight, touch, taste, or sound. For example, you could say ''The kitty played with the toy.'' On the other hand, using imagery, you could also say ''The snow-white kitty wiggled its rear end and then pounced on the fuzzy toy mouse.'' Imagery helps the reader imagine exactly what is happening in a story.

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