Book 23: Funeral Games for Patroclus
The Greeks took Hector’s body to the ships. Most of the Greeks went to their camps, but Achilles commanded his Myrmidons, “Let us honor Patroclus. Drive your chariots three times around the corpse of Patroclus. Then we will unhitch the horses from the chariots and eat the evening meal.”
They did that, and Achilles cried in grief. The Myrmidons also grieved, and the sand around Patroclus’ body was wet from tears.
Achilles touched Patroclus’ chest and said, “Farewell, Patroclus. I will do everything that I have promised you that I would do. As I promised, I have killed Hector — the dogs and birds will eat his flesh. I have captured twelve Trojan young men. As I promised, I will sacrifice them at your funeral.”
Achilles threw Hector’s corpse facedown beside the corpse of Patroclus. One corpse was well cared-for; the other was not.
The Myrmidons removed their armor and took care of the horses, and Achilles and his Myrmidons prepared the evening meal. They butchered many cattle, sheep, goats, and swine.
At the request of the other Greek commanders, Achilles went to Agamemnon’s camp. They wanted him to eat with Agamemnon. They also wanted him to wash the blood from his body. Achilles refused, saying, “No. I have taken an oath. I will not wash until I have placed the corpse of Patroclus on a pyre and burned it. Agamemnon, I request that when dawn arrives you order the warriors to cut timber for Patroclus’ pyre. We must do everything necessary for Patroclus’ psyche to enter the Land of the Dead. Patroclus’ body must be cremated, and then we can begin to fight again.”
Agamemnon agreed. The Greeks ate and then returned to their own ships to sleep.
Achilles lay alone on the beach, mourning for Patroclus. Exhausted from fighting and from grief, he managed to fall asleep. Immediately, Patroclus appeared to him in a dream.
Patroclus said to Achilles, “Have you forgotten me now that I am dead? You never forgot me while I was still alive. You must give me a proper funeral — quickly. Burn my corpse and collect the bones so that I may enter the Land of the Dead. My psyche is not allowed to cross the river and pass through the gates that lead to the Land of the Dead — not until my corpse receives a proper funeral. The horrible punishment that you want to give to Hector you are also giving to me because you have not burned my corpse. I mourn. I weep. I cannot enter the Land of the Dead. I wander up and down on the wrong side of the river. I am unable to reach my eternal home. Hermes, the Guide of the Dead, will not allow me to cross the river. I beg you to help me reach the Land of the Dead.
“I will never be alive again. I will never be with you and talk with you again. I am dead, and the dead belong with the dead.
“Achilles, your fate is coming for you. You will die — soon — before the walls of Troy.
“I have one final request to ask you. Let your bones and my bones be together in death. Let them be together just as we have been together since our youth. I came to your father’s palace because I had killed a man and was fleeing for my life. I was just a boy when I killed a man with whom I had been gambling. I had not meant to kill him. My father, Menoetius, took me to the palace of your father, Peleus. You and I finished growing up together. I was your aide. Put my bones in the gold two-handled urn that your mother gave you. Later, your bones can join mine.”
Achilles replied, “Patroclus, I will do everything that you have asked me to do. Let me hug you once more.”
Achilles tried to hug Patroclus three times, but there was nothing substantial for him to touch. Each time he tried to hug Patroclus, it was if he were trying to hug smoke.
Patroclus disappeared, and Achilles woke up. He said to himself, “Even after we are dead, something of our personality remains. We are not alive, we are a phantom, but something of us remains. I saw Patroclus, and I talked to him.”
Dawn arrived, and Agamemnon ordered men to cut timber for the funeral pyre of Patroclus — his corpse must be cremated. Agamemnon put Meriones, Idomeneus’ aide, in charge. They cut down trees, split them, and dragged them back to the ships to the spot where Achilles would burn the corpse of his best friend. Achilles planned to build a funeral mound there; it would house the bones of Patroclus and of himself.
They built the pyre, and Achilles ordered his Myrmidons, “Harness your chariots. We must take the corpse of Patroclus to the pyre.”
They placed the corpse of Patroclus in a chariot, and they covered his corpse with locks of hair they cut off to honor him. In tears, Achilles held the head of his best friend.
They reached the site of the pyre. Achilles cut off a long lock of his own hair. He had been growing the lock long in order to cut it off to honor the river-god Spercheus back home in Greece, but Achilles would never return home.
Achilles cried out, “Spercheus, my father wanted me to cut off this long lock of hair in order to honor you once I returned home. He also wanted me to sacrifice many animals to you once I returned home. But now I will never return home, and so I cut off this lock to honor my fallen friend.”
Achilles placed the lock of his hair in the hands of Patroclus.
Achilles then said to Agamemnon, “You are the leader of the Greek army. The warriors will obey your orders. I request that you dismiss the warriors so that they can go and butcher animals for the evening meal. My Myrmidons and I will attend to the cremation of Patroclus’ body. But I request that you and the other main commanders stay here.”
Agamemnon agreed and dismissed the troops. He and the other main commanders stayed.
The mourners prepared the pyre. It was a hundred feet long and a hundred feet wide, and they placed the corpse of Patroclus on top. They sacrificed sheep and cattle, and Achilles cut fat from their bodies and covered Patroclus’ body with it. He wanted to ensure that the corpse would completely burn.
Achilles put jars of honey and oil beside the corpse. He sacrificed four stallions and threw their bodies on the pyre. He cut the throats of two of the nine dogs that Patroclus had fed — he wanted to be sure that enough dogs remained to feast on Hector’s corpse. Achilles also sacrificed the twelve young Trojans; enraged, he hacked them with his sword.
Achilles said to his friend’s corpse, “Just as I promised, I have sacrificed twelve Trojan youths. Their bodies I will burn, but I will never burn the body of Hector — the dogs will eat his corpse!”
Achilles was wrong about the dogs — the gods protected the corpse of Hector. Aphrodite stood guard over the corpse, and she beat away any dog that came near it. She also anointed the body with oil to protect it when Achilles dragged the body behind his chariot. Apollo, god of the sun, also protected the corpse. He put a cloud between the sun and Hector’s body to keep the body in shadow and protect it from the sun’s rays.
The funeral pyre of Patroclus was not burning the way it should burn. It was burning feebly, not fiercely. Achilles prayed. He promised splendid sacrifices to the West wind and the North wind if they would blow and make the fire burn.
Iris, the messenger of the gods, heard Achilles and took his prayer to the West wind and the North wind. All of the winds were banqueting in the halls of the West wind. Iris stood in the doorway, and the winds invited her in to feast with them.
Iris declined: “Thank you, but no. I am off to the land of the Ethiopians to share in their sacrifice. I have come here to bring you the prayer of Achilles. He promises splendid sacrifices to you, the West wind and the North wind, if you will blow and make Patroclus’ funeral pyre burn.”
Iris sped away, and the West wind and the North wind blew. The winds reached the seas and created waves. They reached the funeral pyre, and the fire burned fiercely. All night the winds blew and the fire burned. All night Achilles poured wine onto the ground as a sacrifice to the gods. All night Achilles mourned for Patroclus. He mourned for Patroclus the way a father mourns a son who dies on the day that he was to be married.
After the morning star came and then the Dawn, the fire burned down and the winds headed for home and the waves died down. Achilles lay down. Exhausted, he slept.
Agamemnon and the other commanders arrived.
Achilles woke up and requested, “Agamemnon, commanders, please pour wine over the fire to put it out. Then we will collect the bones of Patroclus. They are in the center of the pyre, away from the bones of the human sacrifices. We will put the bones of Patroclus in an urn made of gold. We will seal it tight until I myself am dead. For now, we will build a small funeral mound for Patroclus. Later, after I am dead, you can build the funeral mound higher.”
The Greek commanders obeyed Achilles’ wishes. They poured wine over the fire. They gathered Patroclus’ white bones. They put the bones in a golden urn and sealed it tightly and then placed it in Achilles’ shelter. They also built the funeral mound.
The Greek commanders were ready to leave, but Achilles asked them to stay. He wanted to hold funeral games to honor Patroclus. Achilles brought out valuable prizes from his ships: cauldrons, tripods, stallions, mules, cattle, women, and metals.
The first event was the chariot race. The winner of the chariot race would win a beautiful woman who was skilled in crafts and a tripod with two handles. The runner-up would win an unbroken six-year-old mare that was pregnant with a mule foal. The third-place finisher would win a cauldron. The fourth-place finisher would win two bars of gold. The last-place finisher would win a jar with two handles.
Achilles announced to the Greeks, “Agamemnon, Menelaus, all you Greeks, let the funeral games for Patroclus begin. Here are the prizes for the charioteers. If the funeral games were being held for another hero, and if I were a competitor and not the host, I would win first place. My team of horses is the best — my horses are immortal. Poseidon gave these immortal horses to my father, and he gave them to me. But I will not race. My horses are mourning for Patroclus, who took such good care of them. The heads of my horses hang down, their manes in the dust, mourning a fallen warrior. But the rest of you can compete, if you trust in your horses and chariot.”
The competitors stepped forward. Eumelus was a good charioteer with the best team of horses except for Achilles’ own. Diomedes would use horses that he had taken from Aeneas — horses that had descended from those belonging to Tros. Menelaus would use Blaze, a mare belonging to Agamemnon, and Brightfoot, his own stallion. Blaze used to belong to Echepolus, but he gave Blaze to Agamemnon to pay his fine so that he would not have to go to Troy and fight. He was rich, and he preferred to stay in Greece. The fourth charioteer was Antilochus, one of the sons of Nestor, and the fifth and final charioteer was Meriones, the aide of Idomeneus.
Nestor gave Antilochus advice in racing tactics: “Antilochus, you are young, but the gods have shown that they respect you. You have learned horsemanship. You have racing skills. Still, out of all the teams that are competing in the race, your team is the slowest. Nevertheless, the charioteer is as important as the team of horses. A good charioteer can make up for the slowness of his horses by using skill and tactics.
“Too many charioteers drive their horses carelessly. They make wide turns and lose ground. A skilled charioteer will make a tight turn, staying close to the turning point. That way, the charioteer does not travel too much distance and does not lose time.
“In this race, the turning point is a stump that is six feet high. Make a tight turn there. Keep close to the stump but do not hit it or you will lose the race. As you make your turn, lean to the left, in the direction in which you are turning. Whip the horse on the right to make it run faster than the horse on the left. Make the left horse stay close to the stump as you turn the chariot. In the straightaway you will trail the other teams, but you can make up time and distance in the turn.”
Nestor sat down to watch the race.
The charioteers boarded their chariots, and Achilles shook the lots that had been placed in a helmet. Antilochus got the inside track. Next came Eumelus, then Menelaus and Meriones, and Diomedes got the outside track. The referee at the stump was Phoenix, who would ensure that all competed by the rules as they turned and headed for the finish line.
At the signal, the chariots took off. The charioteers whipped their horses and yelled. Dust rose in the air, and the horses’ manes were swept back by the wind the racing horses created. The chariots bounced, and the charioteers drove their teams of horses.
They reached the halfway mark, turned, and then began the final jockeying for position. Eumelus, who had the best horses, was far in front. Diomedes was in second place, close and coming closer.
The gods were watching, and the gods had favorites, and the gods were not above cheating. Apollo knocked Diomedes’ whip out of his hands. His team slowed. But Athena grabbed the whip and placed it back in Diomedes’ hands. She then smashed the yoke of Eumelus’ chariot. The yoke of his chariot plowed a furrow, and Eumelus fell out of the chariot. Contact with the ground ripped skin from his elbows, mouth, and nose. He hit his forehead. He was disappointed and frustrated — he had been far in the lead.
Now Diomedes raced ahead, first by far of all the charioteers. In second place was Menelaus, and close behind him was Antilochus.
Antilochus yelled to his father’s horses, “Faster! We can’t pass Diomedes — he is too far in front! But we can pass Menelaus! If you don’t pass Menelaus, Blaze will beat you — she is a mare! I warn you that if you don’t pass Menelaus, my father will kill both of you horses! Faster! We can pass Menelaus where the road narrows!”
Antilochus’ horses galloped faster. Just ahead was a place where winter rains had washed out part of the road. Enough hard dirt remained for one chariot to drive on, but around it was soft mud and holes that would slow down or ruin a chariot and injure horses. Only a fool would drive a chariot on such dangerous land.
Now Antilochus started to pass Menelaus although ahead there was not enough hard ground for two chariots. One charioteer would have to slow down to avoid the total disaster of two chariots crashed and two teams of horses injured. Menelaus was in front; he had the right of way. The rules of chariot racing stated that Menelaus should stay in the lead until the chariots passed the narrow place, and then Antilochus could attempt to pass him. But Antilochus ignored the rules. He was a young man, willing to take unnecessary, dangerous chances, and he wanted to win the second-place prize: the unbroken, pregnant mare.
Menelaus shouted at Antilochus, “Don’t try to pass me here! Wait until we are past the narrow place, and then you can try to pass me! Don’t wreck both of our chariots — don’t destroy both of our teams of horses!”
Antilochus kept trying to pass, and Menelaus slowed his horses to avoid a disaster.
As Antilochus drove past him, Menelaus shouted at him, “You used to have good sense, or so we thought. We were wrong! The only way you will take the second-place prize is to perjure yourself by swearing to the gods that you did not break the rules of chariot racing!”
Menelaus then shouted to his horses, “Gallop! We can still catch up with Antilochus’ horses! They are older than you! They don’t have staying power!” His horses galloped after Antilochus’ chariot.
Achilles and the other Greek commanders waited for the chariots to arrive. Idomeneus stood on a good spot to see far, and he was the first to see the chariots and horses coming.
He said to the other Greek commanders, “Am I the only one who sees the chariot in front? I think we have a new leader. Eumelus was in front at the beginning of the race, but now it’s someone else. Eumelus must have run into trouble of some kind. Maybe he dropped his reins. Maybe his horses failed to safely make the turn. He may have smashed his chariot, and maybe his horses have run away.
“But look! I think I see Diomedes in the lead!”
Little Ajax disagreed — vehemently. He had faith in the chariot driving of Eumelus and in the swiftness of Eumelus’ horses. Little Ajax said to Idomeneus, “Don’t talk nonsense! You are an older man, and you don’t see as well as younger men. Eumelus is still in the lead — he must be!”
Idomeneus replied, “Little Ajax, you are a fool. Stubborn, too. Let’s make a bet. Let’s bet a tripod or a cauldron each and let Agamemnon be the judge of the chariot race. You will learn to be quiet after you have paid the price of losing the bet.”
Little Ajax and Idomeneus were ready to fight, but Achilles, a dissolver of quarrels, said to them, “No more! No more insulting each other, and no more fighting! Think of where you are! This is not the time or the place for such behavior! When you cool down, you will realize that. Wait, and the winner of the chariot race will soon arrive and you will see who is right.”
Diomedes and his horses stormed to the finish line in first place, well ahead of everybody else. His horses were lathered, and Diomedes was covered with dust from the race. Diomedes’ aide Sthenelus collected his first-place prizes: the beautiful woman who was skilled in crafts, and the tripod. He took them to Diomedes’ camp.
Antilochus crossed the finish line, but Menelaus closely pursued him. His horses had been behind by the length of a spear-throw, but now the distance between them was very small. Menelaus would have passed Antilochus if only the racecourse were longer. Meriones, Idomeneus’ aide, finished fourth. His horses were slow, and the other charioteers were more skilled than he.
Finishing last was the charioteer who, if all had gone well, would have finished first: Eumelus. Achilles wished to give credit to Eumelus for his fine team of horses and for his skill as a charioteer, and so he said, “The best charioteer finishes last. Allow me to give him a better prize than his finish allows — we all know his skill at driving chariots. Allow me to award him the second-place prize. Diomedes has won first place.”
Everyone agreed with Achilles’ desire — everyone but Antilochus. An older man would have agreed with Achilles’ desire, but Antilochus was still young and learning. He said, “Achilles, I will be furious if you give Eumelus the mare that I have won. Yes, Eumelus would have won if the yoke of his chariot had not broken, but he should have prayed to the gods. Then he could have finished the race in a better position. You want to give Eumelus a better prize? No problem. In your shelters you have gold, bronze, sheep, female slaves, and racehorses. Pick out a prize for him and give it to him. But I won’t give up my prize — the mare! Eumelus will have to fight me before he gets it!”
This was an awkward situation, but Achilles, a solver of problems, knew how to handle it. He smiled. He liked Antilochus.
Achilles replied, “You want me to give Eumelus a prize from my shelters? Good idea. I will give Eumelus the breastplate that I stripped from Asteropaeus. It is bronze and tin, and I know that Eumelus will value it.”
Achilles’ aide, Automedon, brought the breastplate from Achilles’ tents, and Achilles was right — Eumelus did value it.
But now more unpleasantness arose. Menelaus was still angry at Antilochus for passing him at the narrow part of the road. He said, “Antilochus, you cheated in the chariot race. You disregarded safety and the rules of chariot racing. You deliberately passed me at a narrow part of the road — a part where there was not enough room for two chariots to race side by side. The rules of chariot racing state that one chariot can pass another only when the passing can be done safely. I want justice, and I want everyone to realize that I am in the right and am not exerting power over you simply because I am older and more powerful than you. Here’s what we will do. You can keep the mare if and only if you swear an oath to the gods that you did not cheat in the chariot race.”
Antilochus matured. He realized that Menelaus was right, and he admitted it in public.
Antilochus said, “I am at fault, Menelaus. I cheated exactly as you said I did. I am young, and sometimes I act like it. Young men sometimes act without intelligence, and I acted that way. You take the second prize: the mare. And if you want an additional prize, anything I have in my shelter, I will get it and give it to you. Just tell me what you want. I do not want to make an enemy of an older man, and I will not swear a lying oath to the gods. I apologize for my bad actions.”
Antilochus led the mare to Menelaus and handed her bridle to him.
Generosity can breed generosity, just as anger can breed anger. Menelaus’ heart melted like dew dripping from corn. Achilles had been generous to Eumelus, and now Menelaus was generous to Antilochus.
Menelaus said, “Antilochus, I accept your apology. I am no longer angry at you. In the past, you have always exhibited good sense. Please continue to do so. Let me give credit where credit is due. You, Nestor, and your brother have served me well in my fight to get Helen back. You can keep the mare. I don’t want people to think that I am unforgiving.”
Menelaus gave the mare to Antilochus’ aide, and he led it away. Menelaus accepted the third-place prize: a cauldron. Meriones accepted the fourth-place prize: two bars of gold.
One prize was left: the two-handled jar.
Achilles, a master of etiquette, wanted to honor Nestor. He said to Nestor, “Here is a prize for you, old friend. When you look at it, remember the funeral of Patroclus. We will never see him again among the living. You are too old to compete for prizes, but nevertheless you should have a prize.”
Achilles handed the two-handled jar to Nestor, who was pleased to be so honored.
Nestor said to Achilles, “You are right about my old age. I cannot race, and I cannot box. Not now. No longer. But I was young at one time, and then I could compete in funeral games! When the Epeans buried Amarynceus, I was present and competed in the games. In boxing, I was the victor, defeating Clytomedes. In wrestling, I was the victor, defeating Ancaeus. In foot racing, I was the victor, defeating swift Iphiclus. In the spear-throwing competition, I was the victor, outhurling Phyleus. Only in chariot racing did I come in second, and it took two men working together to beat me. The two sons of Actor — twins — cut in front of me and defeated me. One steered, and the other twin whipped the team. That’s the kind of athlete I was when I was young. Now I am old, but once I was a champion athlete.
“But let me stop talking. You need to hold the funeral games to honor Patroclus. But I value this gift. You honor me, Achilles, and I hope that the gods may give you joy!”
Achilles enjoyed listening to Nestor’s story.
The next event was the boxing match, and Achilles set out two prizes: a six-year-old unbroken mule for the victor, and a two-handled cup for the runner-up.
Achilles said to the Greeks, “Two men will box for these prizes. If you are willing, step up and box. The victor will take away the mule, and the other boxer will take away the two-handled cup.”
Epeus, a huge boxing champion, stood up. He was willing to fight anyone, and he intended to win. He placed a hand on the mule and announced, “This is my prize — the first-place prize. Anyone who is willing to come in second place can box me. I may not be the best warrior, but I am the best boxer. No man is good at doing everything. But be warned — I will not go easy on you. I will break your ribs, and I will beat you so badly that you will need help leaving the field of our combat.”
The Greeks were silent following his boast. But then Euryalus stood up and met Epeus’ challenge. Diomedes helped him get ready for the boxing match. He fastened the boxer’s belt on him and wrapped his hands with strips of rawhide.
The boxers at first traded jabs, testing each other, and they then traded heavier blows. They then boxed in earnest, grinding their teeth and trying to knock each other out. Epeus looked for an opening, found one, and hurled his fist at Euryalus’ head. Euryalus’ knees bent, and he crashed to the ground. A fish can jump out of the water and be carried by a strong North wind to land, where it will become unconscious. Much like that, Epeus’ fist made Euryalus fall to the ground, unconscious. Epeus, a kind man, lifted him, and Euryalus’ friends dragged him away and sat him down, still half-unconscious and spitting blood. They got the two-handled cup for him.
The third event was the wrestling match. Achilles set out a large tripod — worth twelve oxen — for the winner. The runner-up would win a woman, skilled in crafts and worth four oxen. Achilles said to the assembled Greeks, “Two men are needed to wrestle for first prize.”
The challengers were Great Ajax and Odysseus. Great Ajax was stronger, but Odysseus knew more wrestling moves.
The two locked arms. They were like rafters bolted together to keep a roof from being ripped apart by storm winds. They wrestled, and sweat poured from their bodies and their bones made cracking noises. The two were evenly matched. Odysseus was unable to force Great Ajax to the ground and pin him, and Great Ajax was unable to force Odysseus to the ground and pin him. The two wrestlers were so evenly matched that the Greeks watching them grew bored.
Finally, Great Ajax said to Odysseus, “Either you lift me, or I will lift you. Victory will go to the wrestler whom Zeus favors!”
Great Ajax lifted Odysseus, but Odysseus used his heels to kick Great Ajax in the back of his knees, and Great Ajax fell with Odysseus on top of him. Now the Greeks watching the wrestling match were interested.
Odysseus tried to lift Great Ajax, but he could not lift him completely off the ground. Odysseus hooked his leg around Great Ajax, and both fell to the ground.
The two wrestlers would have attempted a third time to achieve a clear victory, but Achilles said, “Enough. There is no profit in killing yourselves. Both of you are the victors. Share the prizes between you. Now let the other Greeks have a chance at winning prizes.”
Great Ajax and Odysseus wiped off their sweat and the dust and put their shirts back on.
The next event was the footrace. The first prize was a silver bowl: a work of art created by craftsmen of Sidon. Phoenicians had taken it across the sea and given it to Euneus, king of Lemnos, who had given it to Patroclus in order to buy Lycaon, the son of Priam, as a slave. The runner-up would win an ox, and the third and last runner would win a half-bar of gold.
Competing were Little Ajax, known for his swiftness; Odysseus, who liked prizes; and Antilochus, the son of Nestor and the fastest runner among the young warriors.
Achilles pointed out where the runners would turn, and the three runners took off. Little Ajax was in the lead with Odysseus behind him. As much space was between Little Ajax and Odysseus as there is between the breast of a weaver and the weaver’s rod after she has pulled it toward her. As Odysseus ran, his feet hit Little Ajax’ footprints before the dust stirred up by Little Ajax could settle.
Odysseus prayed to Athena, who respected him, “Goddess, help me!”
Athena heard and answered Odysseus’ prayer. She made him faster.
Near the finish line, Little Ajax slipped on some cow manure. He fell, and the manure got in his mouth and nostrils. Odysseus finished in first place.
Little Ajax, who finished second, kept spitting out manure. He said, “Athena made sure that Odysseus would win. She must love the mortal.”
The Greeks laughed.
Antilochus, who finished last, said, “The gods prefer mature men over young men. Little Ajax is just a few years older than I am, but Odysseus is much older. You could almost call him an old man, but his old age is the early, healthy, vigorous part of old age. It is difficult for anyone to beat Odysseus in a footrace — that is, for everyone except swift Achilles.”
Achilles was flattered, and he also wondered, Did Antilochus deliberately finish last? As the son of Nestor, who is too old to compete, Antilochus ought to compete in the funeral games, but perhaps Antilochus has learned from his earlier interaction with Menelaus not to make older men angry in any way.
Achilles said to Antilochus, “Thank you for your praise. Allow me to give you a better third-place prize. Instead of a half-bar of gold, here is a full bar of gold.”
Antilochus was happy to receive the better prize.
The next event was the duel. Two warriors would fight and draw blood but not kill each other. Achilles brought out a broadsword, a spear, a shield, and a helmet.
Achilles announced, “Two warriors will fight with armor and spears. Whoever draws blood first will win the broadsword. Both warriors will share the spear, shield, and helmet. I will also give both of them a feast in my shelter.”
The two challengers were Great Ajax and Diomedes. They charged at each other three times, trying to draw blood. The third time they charged, Great Ajax stabbed his spear through Diomedes’ shield but failed to wound him — Diomedes’ breastplate stopped Great Ajax’ spear!
Diomedes tried to stab Great Ajax with his spear and draw blood from Great Ajax’ throat.
The Greeks were afraid for Great Ajax. They cried for Achilles to stop the combat. They declared the contest a draw. Achilles stopped the combat and gave Diomedes the broadsword.
The next event was throwing a lump of pig-iron that King Eetion had used to test his strength before Achilles had killed him in battle and conquered his city.
Achilles announced, “This is the prize for first place. There is enough iron here to keep the winner in iron for five years. Even if he lives far out in the country, he won’t have to go to a market to buy iron. He will have plenty at home.”
The competitors were Polypoetes, Leonteus, Great Ajax, and Epeus, who threw first. His throw was so poor that the Greeks laughed. Leonteus out-threw Epeus. Great Ajax out-threw Leonteus. Finally, Polypoetes far out-threw Great Ajax. Polypoetes won with a throw that out-distanced the field of competitors by as far as a herdsman could throw his staff.
Zeus, who was watching the funeral games, thought, Great Ajax always seems to finish in second place in the games.Odysseus was a little better than Great Ajax in wrestling, and Great Ajax also came in second in throwing the lump of pig-iron. Diomedes was a little better than Great Ajax in dueling. Diomedes is an offensive warrior, while Great Ajax is a defensive warrior. Diomedes is known for his aristeia in which he wounded Aphrodite and Ares. Great Ajax is known for his defense of the ships. Here offense conquers defense. Similarly, the Trojans, who are on the defensive, will be conquered by the Greeks, who are on the offensive. Great Ajax also comes in second in real life. Achilles is the greatest Greek warrior, while Great Ajax is the second greatest Greek warrior. Even when Great Ajax was heroically almost single-handedly fighting the Trojans at the ships, he still came in second — he was forced back after Hector cut off the head of his spear, one ship was set on fire, and it was up to Patroclus to save the Greeks. After Achilles is dead and his armor is distributed, Great Ajax again will come in second. When the vote is taken on whom to give Achilles’ armor, Odysseus — not Great Ajax — will be awarded the armor.
The next event was the archery contest. The first-place prize was ten double-headed axes; the second-place prize was ten single-headed axes. Achilles tied the foot of a dove to the mast of a ship, and he challenged two archers to shoot the dove.
Achilles said, “Whoever shoots the dove will win first prize, but whoever hits the cord that ties the dove to the mast will win second prize.”
The competitors were the master archer Teucer and Meriones, Idomeneus’ aide.
They shook lots, and Teucer shot first. He failed to pray to the gods, and so he missed the dove. Instead, he hit the cord that tied to the dove to the mast. Freed, the dove took flight.
Meriones was already holding an arrow in his hands. He quickly took the bow from Teucer, prayed to Apollo and promised him sacrifices, aimed, and shot the dove. The arrow went through the dove’s body and fell at Meriones’ feet. The dove settled back on the mast, fluttered briefly, died, and fell.
The final event was the spear-throwing contest. The first prize was a cauldron, and the second prize was a spear.
Two competitors stepped forward: Agamemnon and Meriones.
Achilles, a master of tact, said, “This is a contest that we do not even need to hold. Everyone, including Meriones, already knows what an excellent spear-thrower you are, Agamemnon. You are going to win, and so let me give you the first prize. We need not hold the contest.”
Achilles said this to honor Agamemnon, who could get angry when things did not go his way. Achilles, who knew that sometimes the best man did not win, as seen in the chariot race in which the best man, Eumelus, finished last, did not want Agamemnon to risk a last-place finish.
Meriones, an older and wiser man than Antilochus had so recently been, agreed with Achilles’ decision.
Agamemnon was pleased at the honor shown to him. Generosity breeds generosity, and Agamemnon gave away his prize. He gave the cauldron to Talthybius, his herald.
The funeral games were over. Patroclus had received a proper funeral. So now Hermes, the Guide of the Dead, went down to the Land of the Dead. He landed on the bank of the river opposite the entrance to the Land of the Dead. There, he saw the psyches of the dead who had not yet crossed the river. Some, such as Patroclus, had received proper funerals and were ready to enter the Land of the Dead. Other psyches had not yet received proper funerals. They wailed. They were dead, and they wanted to be with the dead.
Hermes separated the psyches who were allowed to enter the Land of the Dead from those who were not. Hermes led the psyches of Patroclus and the others to a ford where they crossed. On the other side of the river, Hermes opened the gates barring the way to the Land of the Dead. He led the psyches inside.
If a psyche can be happy, the psyche of Patroclus was happy. The dead belong with the dead.
Soon, Hermes would lead Priam across a river and then he would open a gate so that Priam could visit Achilles, who would soon die.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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