Seeing and then Hearing Odysseus

He stands to speak. With a staff in his hand held straight and stiff, he stares at the floor and looks like he doesn’t know a thing about what he’s about to say. Those who looked on at him ready to listen to his speech thought he looked like a fool. But when he began to speak, things changed. The poet Homer describes the scene using these words:

Then in his turn the great tactician rose
and stood, and looked at the ground,
moving the staff before him not at all
forward or backward: obstinate and slow
of wit he seemed, gripping the staff: you’d say
some surly fellow, with an empty head.
But when he launched the strong voice from his chest,
and words came driving on the air as thick
and fast as winter snowflakes, then Odysseus
could have no mortal rival as an orator!
The look of him no longer made us wonder.
(Illiad 3.212-24)

When the speaker opened his mouth, his words changed the way the audience saw him. They listened. They no longer questioned his intelligence. And the words he spoke changed the way he appeared to them. The hearing of his words somehow affected their seeing of his character. Almost as if the words or the sounds had an effect on the listeners’ eyes.