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Bad Herbs—the Snake Simile in Iliad 22

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image of Mnemosyne

At the beginning of the 22nd Book of the Iliad, Hector is standing alone outside Troy, seemingly determined to fight Achilles. His parents try to prevail on him to enter Troy, but he neither answers nor complies. In the following simile (vv. 92-7), he is compared to a snake at its hole. The ensuing monologue reveals Hector’s thoughts and feelings. Close reading of the text, especially the simile, reveals that Hector’s ambivalence, which surfaces in the monologue, is already indicated by the narrator in the simile. Hector’s decision to await Achilles is irrational and he knows it. This sets it off from the decisions reached in similar ‘fight or flight’ monologues and explains why Hector’s fighting spirit breaks down under acute threat.

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