Research in cognitive linguistics has established metaphor as a fundamental and pervasive principle of human thought and language rather than a mere rhetorical or stylistic device. With metaphors being ubiquitous and possibly used unconsciously, the range of metaphors which can sensibly be interpreted in literary studies needs to be re-evaluated, since conventional metaphors might provide little value for interpretation. One solution proposed in current research following the cognitive linguistic approach to metaphors favours the classification of metaphors as ‘non-deliberate’ or ‘deliberate’, with a focus on deliberate metaphors as eligible for interpretive purposes.
This paper presents an attempt to discuss the category of deliberateness with regard to early Greek epic poetry and particularly Homer’s Iliad: the poems of Homer are shaped by a tradition of oral composition and formulaic language which contains a wealth of metaphors. Thus, the epics present a difficult case when it comes to ascertaining deliberateness, for their language is highly formulaic and many metaphors appear to be conventional. Focusing on the copious metaphors of death, it will be argued that communicative purpose of metaphors, which is essential for philological interpretation, can be independent of deliberate usage and that deliberateness constitutes no reliable requirement for poetic purpose.