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The passage of the simile is the first verse paragraph following several prose paragraphs. The structure of the verse is loose in following rhythmic or syllabic patterns. Although the form does not have any specific significance to the content, perhaps it is written in verse to sound somewhat poetic. Because the scene is very descriptive and dramatic, it is fitting to write it in a poem-like structure rather than simple prose.
Homer compares the crying Odysseus to a woman who weeps for her husband who died in battle. The weeping woman is described in a very dramatic scene in order to reflect the intensity of the sorrow that Odysseus is experiencing. The “woman weeps, flinging herself across the fallen body of her dear husband.” As she is “clinging to him, [she] wails,” and then “the enemies behind her strike her back and shoulders, then they carry her away to slavery and trials and misery.” The woman goes through a great deal of hardship, which explains why “her cheeks are wasted with pain.” Not only does her husband die, but the enemies strike her with their spears and take her away to suffer more. By comparing Odysseus’s crying to the woman weeping in this intense scene of misery, Homer is able to show the reader the degree of sorrow that Odysseus is feeling.
The simile of the weeping woman also induces a feeling of sympathy for Odysseus in the mind of the reader. The image of a woman crying for her dead husband is more saddening than the heroic Odysseus crying. The scene is focused on family and love, describing the dead husband as “a man who tried to keep the day of doom far from his children and beloved home.
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Homer’s repetition and vivid description of Odysseus’s and the metaphorical widow’s body parts creates powerful imagery in the mind of the reader. “Odysseus was moved; beneath his eyelids, tears ran down his cheeks.” Rather than simply writing that Odysseus was weeping, Homer describes it in detail so the reader can easily picture the scene. Homer then describes how the woman “[flings] herself across the fallen body of her dear husband,” when the enemies “strike her back and shoulders.” By describing specifically where the enemies strike the woman, the reader is able to picture the scene more vividly. Homer then describes how “her cheeks are wasted with the pain, the grief: just so, Odysseus, from beneath his brows, let fall the tears of sorrow.” By repeating the specific imagery of the eyelids, cheeks, brows, and tears, Homer creates a very colorful image and the reader is able to imagine the weeping woman and Odysseus. All the details add to the sadness and compassion that the reader feels for the widow and Odysseus.
The simile of the weeping woman does not only serve to reflect the sorrow that Odysseus is going through. It is also a parallel story to the story of Odysseus. Like the fallen husband who fought to “keep the day of doom far from his children and beloved home,” Odysseus is a hero who fought in the battle of Troy. The husband wanted to return home alive but instead his body is brought back and his wife weeps for him. Similarly, Odysseus is trying to return home alive from the war, but is so far unsuccessful. Although Odysseus is not literally dead like the fallen war hero, perhaps he is dead inside after all that he has been through. He has encountered so many obstacles such as the Land of the Lotus Eaters, his battle with the Cyclops, his love affair with Circe, his temptation by the Sirens, the journey through Scylla and Charybdis, and being stuck on Calypso’s island. Meanwhile, Odysseus’s wife Penelope cries for him at home, just like the weeping woman cries for her husband. The enemies that strike the woman’s back are like the suitors that feed off of Penelope’s household and will not leave her alone. Penelope is powerless to fight the suitors just like the widow is powerless to fight off the enemies.
From another point of view, Odysseus can also be compared to the widow herself. Like the widow who weeps for her heroic husband, Odysseus weeps at the memory of the Trojan War and his fellow comrades. Furthermore, both the widow and Odysseus endure terrible hardships. Like the widow whose husband dies, then she gets beaten by the enemy, and then she gets carried away “to slavery and trials and misery,” Odysseus’s suffering never seems to end. After each obstacle, it seems that Odysseus might have the chance to return home, but something else always goes wrong. Homer did not randomly compare Odysseus to a weeping woman, but rather used it as an implication of a story parallel to Odysseus’s.
It seems odd that Homer decided to compare Odysseus, a courageous war hero, to a weeping woman. Why did he not compare him to a weeping man in a similar situation? Perhaps because he wanted to show how broken down Odysseus was emotionally. Women are known to be more sensitive and emotional than men—especially men like Odysseus. Odysseus was a brave and strong war hero. Even when he returned home after several years of suffering, Odysseus was the only man strong enough to string his own bow. To compare such a hero to a weeping widow shows how broken down Odysseus must have been. Clearly the obstacles he encountered and being away from home for so long had a big emotional effect on him. Perhaps Homer wanted to show that even strong courageous men can cry sometimes, and that no man can be tough all the time. When Odysseus heard the bard singing, he was able to open up and let out all his emotions that were building up over time. He was then able to express himself and tell the Phaeacians all of his adventurous tales.