Alaṅkāras in Homer's Iliad -1

The primary purpose of any work of art is to evoke ‘rasa’, i.e. aesthetic experience in the connoisseur. The experience of rasa is universal and holds true for all times. This is achieved in poetry through verbal expression, by portraying the emotions of characters under various circumstances and also by employing a variety of imagery. Creative expression is what distinguishes poetry from a non-poetic text. (Here, the word ‘poetry’ is used to include aesthetic expression through prose and lyrical poems). Vakrokti, i., oblique expression which is employed by the poet is what evokes dhvani, the suggested meaning, in the learned connoisseur, which ultimately leads to the aesthetic experience.

Alaṅkāra-śāstra broadly encompasses a systematic study of rhetoric, stylistics, poetics and aesthetics. The term alaṅkāra denotes the beautification of form and content (śabda and artha) in poetry. Alliterations, rhyming words, rhythmic patterns and metrical melody are some of the aspects which add beauty to the sound, i.e., the form, in poetry. These are called śabdālaṅkāras and they work mainly at the level of letters and words. Figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole and synecdoche are examples of the elements which beautify the meaning , i.e., content. These are called arthālaṅkāras and work at the level of sentences and their meaning. [1]

The current article applies concepts defined in Indian Alaṅkāra-śāstra to identify arthālaṅkāras in the Iliad, the epic-poem written by Homer, the celebrated Greek poet. To understand the arthālaṅkāras, one requires a background of the cultural context and the poetic conventions used by poets who lived in different places and at different times; however, the concept of alaṅkāras transcends the limitations of time and space. The following is an attempt to showcase this. Alaṅkāras stand as testimonies to the creative genius of a poet. Stemming from the natural creative impulses of the poet, these take the shape of various imagery in poetry. Gifted poets are never calculative in their usage of alaṅkaras. They draw comparisons, observe ironies, document patterns and much more – just to enrich the form and content of their poetry. It is only later that these ‘patterns’ are systematized by art theoreticians and classified as different alaṅkāras. In the current article, the term ‘alaṅkāra’ will be used synonymously with ‘arthālaṅkāra’.

The original text of the Iliad and its English translation that is used in this article are from the Loeb Classical Library version [2]. The classification of alaṅkāras and their definitions are based on ‘Candrāloka’ (C.L.) of Jayadeva [4] and its Sanskrit commentary ‘Kuvalayānanda’ by Appayya Dikshita [5]. The relevant śloka numbers are indicated within brackets.



Upamā or simile is perhaps one of the most widely used alaṅkāras and is certainly the most frequently used alaṅkāra in the Iliad.

Candrāloka defines it thus:
upamā yatra sādṛśyalakṣmīrullasati dvayoḥ | (C.L. - 1)

Upamā is the direct comparison of a feature that is common to two different objects. ‘Upameya’ is the thing which is being compared, ‘upamāna’ is the thing to which the comparison is made, ‘sādhāraṇa-dharma’ is the common feature of the two, and ‘vācakaśabda’ is the connecting word between upameya and upamāna.

  • Iliad, Book 1 – lines 357-361

(Achilles sits by the sea and weeps, his mother Thetis appears to him from the depths of the sea.)

“So he spoke, weeping, and his lady mother heard him, and speedily she came out from the gray sea like a mist, and sat down in front of him as he wept….”

Here, the upameya is Thetis, the mother of Achilles, and upamāna is the mist. The sādhāraṇa-dharma, i.e., the common feature of the two is the speed at which they rise up from the sea. The vācakaśabda in the English translation is ‘like’. The presence of all the four elements makes it a fine example of upamālaṅkāra.  It is interesting to note that the upamāna and the upameya are both feminine in gender in the Greek text, thus retaining consistency in the comparison (ἡ ὁμίχλη – The (feminine) mist).

Additionally, a trace of tadguṇālaṅkāra can be seen in the phrase “she came out from the grey sea”. It is defined as:
tadguṇaḥ svaguṇatyāgādanyadīyaguṇagrahaḥ (C.L. – 139)

When an object is forced by the poet to give up its natural quality and take on the quality of another object, it is called tadguṇālaṅkāra.

The sorrow and the dullness of Achilles’s emotion are indicated by the greyness of the sea. It is a standard convention in Homer’s works to use colours to indicate emotions and their intensity – ‘Black death’, ‘Grey sorrow,’ and so on. Thus, sorrow, which is an attribute of the human mind, is attributed to the sea too. This is known as the ‘transferred epithet’, which is a figure of speech in which an epithet, usually an adjective, grammatically qualifies a noun other than the person or thing that it is actually describing.

  • Iliad – Book 15, lines 238-240

(Zeus asks Apollo to stand by the Trojans and motivate Hector to fight more vigorously with the Achaeans. Apollo, heeding his father’s words, comes down to the earth quickly.)

“So he spoke, nor did Apollo fail to heed his father, but went down from the hills of Ida like a fleet falcon, the slayer of doves, which is the swiftest of winged things.”

Here, Apollo is compared to a fleet falcon by the poet and the common feature is the swiftness of the two. ‘Like’ acts as the linking word, i.e., the vācakaśabda. This is an example of a simple upamālaṅkāra.



viṣayyabhedatādrūpyaranjanaṃ viṣayasya yat |
rūpakaṃ tat tridhādhikyanyūnatvānubhayoktibhiḥ ||
(C.L. -12)

When a non-difference is suggested between the upamāna and the upameya, i.e., one object is declared as being the same as another, it is called rūpakālaṅkāra.

Iliad- Book 1, lines 225-229
(Achilles berates Agamemnon.)

“You heavy with wine, with the face of a dog but the heart of a deer, never have you dared to arm yourself for battle with your troops …”

Here, Achilles says that the face and heart of Agamemnon are no different from that of a dog or a deer, i.e., the face of Agamemnon is directly equated with the face of a dog and his heart is equated with the heart of a deer. Assumed superiority and ferociousness in his face and timidity of his heart are suggested by this usage.


svabhāvoktiḥ svabhāvasya jātyādhistasya varṇanaṃ | (C.L. – 159)

Svabhāvokti is the factual description of the different characteristics and nature of people and events.

Iliad Book 1 – lines 475 to 485
(The poet describes the sailing of the ships.)

“… and they set up the mast and spread the white sail. So the wind filled the belly of the sail, and the dark wave sang loudly about the stem of the ship as it went, and it sped over the waves, accomplishing its way.

Here, the description of the sailing of the ship and the nature of the waves qualify to make it ‘svabhāvokti’.

In addition, the poet speaks of ‘the belly of the sail’ and says that the wind filled it. A sail does not have a belly. The poet intends to speak of the way winds blow into the sail, making the sail look like a distended belly. He uses the characteristics of the belly, which only living beings possess, for an inanimate object such as the sail. Such a usage qualifies as ‘upacāra-vakratā’



yatra dūrāntarenyasmātsāmānyamupacaryate |
leśenāpi bhavat kāmscitvaktumudriktavṛttitāṃ ||
(V.J. – 13) [6]

When a pre-eminent quality of a certain object is described by superimposing a quality of another object, which may be even faintly similar to the object under consideration, it is called Upacāra-vakratā. Thus, some trait uncommon to a certain object or event is used in its description, and in the process, the qualities of a different object are also employed metaphorically.

An allied concept in the Candrāloka is Vakroktyalaṅkāraḥ, which is defined as -

 vakroktiḥ śleṣakākubhyāmaparārthaprakalpanam | (C.L. – 158)

Vakrokti can be the result of a pun and play of words or the intonation.



In Atiśayokti, the phenomenon of adhyāropa or superimposition is the primary principle. The superimposition could be of various types – that of something concrete on concrete, abstract on abstract, concrete on abstract and abstract on concrete. The upameya is not explicit, but it is to be inferred from the upamāna.

  • Iliad Book 1, lines 148-149

(Achilles reprimands Agamemnon.)

What, you clothed in shamelessness…”

In this example, shamelessness, which is a quality of the conscience, is attributed to physical clothing – It seemed as though Agamemnon was clothed in shamelessness. Here, the abstract feeling of shamelessness is superimposed (adhyāropa) on physical clothes, the concrete.

Iliad Book 9 – Lines 370-375 – the same imagery is repeated.
(Achilles speaks to Odysseus, and in reference to Agamemnon, says the following)

“… if by chance, he hopes to deceive yet some other of the Danaans, since he is always clothed in shamelessness.

  • Iliad, Book 8, lines 261-265, the poet, while speaking of the two Aiantes, uses a similar imagery
    “… and after them the two Aiantes, clothed in furious valour.

Here, valour, which is a quality of mind and spirit, is superimposed on clothes. ‘Furious’ is used as an adjective (viśeṣaṇa) to valour.

  • Iliad, Book 2 – lines 18-20

(Zeus sends Dream to visit Agamemnon.)

“…. and went to Agamemnon, son of Atreus, and found him sleeping in his hut, and over him was shed ambrosial slumber

The poet intends to say that Dream found Agamemnon asleep, and uses atiśayokti when he says – “and over him was shed ambrosial slumber.” Slumber, like a sheet or a cloth was spread over him.

  1. Iliad, Book 4- lines 115-120

(The poet describes how Pandarus got ready to shoot an arrow, having been counselled by Athene in disguise.)

“Then he opened the lid of his quiver, and took out an arrow, a feathered arrow that had never been shot, loaded with dark pains; and immediately he fitted the bitter arrow to the string.

The hero, Pandarus, picked up his arrow from the quiver with which he wanted to cause pain to Menelaus. The poet alludes the effects which the arrow is expected to cause to the inherent qualities of the arrow itself, by saying that it was ‘loaded with dark pains’ and that it was a ‘bitter arrow’.

  • Iliad – Book 15, lines 310-320

(The Trojans encouraged by Apollo are attacking the fortifications built by the Achaeans around their ships. The Achaeans defend their walls and ships by firing at the Trojans.)

“And the Agrives in close throng awaited their coming, and the war cry arose shrill from either side, and the arrows leapt from the bow string, and many spears, hurled by bold hands, were some of them lodged in the flesh of the youths swift in battle, and many before they reached the white flesh stood fixed mid-way in the earth, eager to glut themselves with flesh.

In this narration of the battle sequence, the poet adds emotions, intentions and self-motivated activity to the arrows when he says “the arrows leapt from the bow string”, while they were in fact fired by the archers from their bows. He adds similar attributes to the spears saying that they were eager to glut themselves with flesh of the enemies, but stood fixed mid-way in the earth with their intention unfulfilled. Thus, the emotions and the intentions of the warriors are superimposed on their weapons, which are inanimate objects.

  • The bitter arrow” (Iliad, Book 5 – line 99: πίκρςὸς ὀίστός), “…with his pitiless bronze” (Iliad, Book 5- line 330: νηλέί χαλκῷ) are examples of a combination of atiśayokti along with tadguṇālaṅkāra, where the emotions of the warrior are superimposed on those of this weapons.


[1] ‘Alankāra-śāstra’ (Kannada), R. Ganesh, Bhavan’s Gandhi center, Bangalore (2000).
[2] ‘Vakroktijīvita’ of Kuntaka (Sanskrit), Chaukhama Sanskrit Sansthan, Varanasi (2005), abbreviated as ‘V.J.’ in the article.
[3] ‘Homer-Iliad’ (Greek, English), Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University press, English translation by A.T. Murray and Revised by William. F. Wyatt (1925)
[4] ‘Candrālokaḥ’(Sanskrit, Hindi), Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan, Varanasi (2014), abbreviated as ‘C.L.’ in the article.
[5] ‘Kuvalayānanda’ (Sanskrit), Vidyadisha Post-Graduate Sanskrit Research Center, Edited by Prof K.T. Pandurangi (2014).

[6] ‘Dārśanika Kāvyamīmāmse’ (Kannada) – pages 97-112, Kannada cultural Department, Edited by Ha.Ma.Nayak (1983) – A compilation of writings of K.V.Puttappa from the collection ‘Taponandana’




Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


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Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...