Similes (K. Blaschka, U. Gärtner)

Hardly any other ancient literary genre is characterized by similes and comparisons in the way the narrative and didactic epic is. From Homer to Late Antiquity similes turn out to be components as constant as they are adaptable. They are used not only to visualize events told or not told, but they also take over a variety of tasks in the narrative. For example they structure the text, slow down the action, increase tension, characterize persons, they point pro- and analeptically to events, support the interpretation, and become special forms of ‘Alexandrian footnotes’ because of their learnedness.

It is characteristic of similes that their context has to be determined. In the first instance this applies to their immediate context within the narrative. Even here it is difficult to determine their extent and possible correspondences. Then there is the intra- and infratextual context: That means the broader context which is established by complex correlations of similes throughout the whole text.

Furthermore, the intertextual context must be taken into consideration: By taking up the same or similar pictures and retextualizing them within the same genre similes develop a code that recommends an interpretation as probable to the reader. At the same time similes are affected by variations of the inherent images. They implicitly carry the context of their pre-texts as ‘different’, but for the interpretation necessary external contexts. Finally, the cultural context has to be examined diachronically. The images usually belong to a context alien or complementary to the narrative context. The epic is thereby embedded into the cultural cosmos of its time (and tradition) or the latter is instilled into the epic respectively.