As the world heats up, burns, and faces the uncertainty of our current mix of plague and politics, we seem desperate to look away from our Anglo-American race to the bottom to the distraction of sports. Yes, indeed, in the US the professional leagues are on the way to save us from Marble Races with plans for baseball and basketball to stage shortened seasons and professional football to proceed as normal (because the NFL is traditionally so concerned with player health). Given the players withdrawing or already testing positive for coronavirus, it seems likely that the smarter bets are on things falling apart rather than on the outcomes of particular games.
So, if you don’t want to feel too smug with Pliny (“I wonder that so many thousands of men can feel such a childish desire to watch horses running over and over”), we are launching our own bracket competition for the next few weeks: the Non-Atreid Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket (NANAIHB) to finally end the question of who just is the [second] best of the Achaeans. There are
12 14 contestants for 4 rounds of competition.
Now, this is is some sensitive ground, I know. but we’ve talked it over and we’re willing to forgo some usual debates about Ajax vs. Odysseus (that never ends well) or Diomedes as the alter-Akhilleus to turn to a time-tested, truly perfect solution: polling. We will run a poll every other day for the duration of the bracket on twitter in a single-elimination combination for the crown (or, um scepter?).
Before you get too upset about this one, let me be clear: Achilles complains that Agamemnon boasts to be “best of the Achaeans” (ὃς νῦν πολλὸν ἄριστος ᾿Αχαιῶν εὔχεται εἶναι, 1.91) while later asserting that he will be upset because he did not honor the one who is (χωόμενος ὅ τ’ ἄριστον ᾿Αχαιῶν οὐδὲν ἔτισας, 1.244). The narrative later claims that Telamonian Ajax was the “best of men while Achilles was raging” (ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν, 1.768-769) and I suspect that the difference between being “best of men” and “best of the Acheans” might be meaningful….
Why NANAIHB? Since Achilles is the best of the Achaeans, he’s obviously out. After him, the picture is more complicated. Tradition pits Ajax and Odysseus against one another in claiming Achilles’ special weapons, but our Iliad clearly makes Diomedes the man to beat when Achilles is off his feet. And, yet, in crucial moments Idomeneus and Thoas (also members of the ‘council of elders’) jump in to save the day. Don’t sleep on Idomeneus! Agamemnon lists him with Ajax, Odysseus and Achilles as a leader!(εἷς δέ τις ἀρχὸς ἀνὴρ βουληφόρος ἔστω, / ἢ Αἴας ἢ ᾿Ιδομενεὺς ἢ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς / ἠὲ σὺ Πηλεΐδη πάντων ἐκπαγλότατ’ ἀνδρῶν, 1.145-147). Thoas, is listed as one of the nine who stand to fight Hektor in a dual in book 7 (168) and he’s the best of the Aitolians….(15.281).
We’ve left out the Atreids (Agamemnon and Menelaos) because (1) no one wins when someone fights with them and (2) if Menelaos loses, what would the whole Trojan War even matter? (Yes, that was a dig against a certain movie…)
We split the groups into Front-runners (Patroklos, Diomedes, Odysseus, Ajax, Idomeneus, and Thoas) and then a collection of wannabes, pretenders, and sneaky contenders (Tlepolemos, Sthenelos, Teucer, Thersites, Antilochus, Oilean Ajax). This second list was winnowed down using random numbers, s
hedding Makhaon, Meriones, and Eurypylos, shedding Eurupylos: Makhaon and Meriones were reintroduced by divine intervention and now there are 14 contestants!
I gave the clear front-runners preferential treatment and assigned them the top four seeds using a random-number generator. I did the same thing to set up the rest of the competition. the random number generator has the added cleruchal bonus of functioning like the drawing of lots before the duel in Iliad 7; polling of the twitter masses replicates the time-honored judgment of Greek contests by popular acclaim (see, for instance, the contest of Hesiod and Homer). Yes, Odysseus randomly got the first seed, twice. What can you do when Athena is on someone’s side?
So, here we are, day 1, battle 1: Teucer vs. Tlepolemos.
Teucer, Ajax’s brother, another son of Telemon, a legendary founder of Salamis in some traditions and a fabulous archer. He does not get mentioned in the Catalogue of Ships and he has his first kill in book 6. He sometimes appears taking shots from behind his brother’s shield (8.266) but that’s a sign of his intelligence and not a lack of valor! He mows down a group of Trojans in book 8 (272-277) and Agamemnon exclaims “You were born as a saving light / to the Danaans and your father Telamon who raised you up when you were little / in his home even though you are a bastard.” (αἴ κέν τι φόως Δαναοῖσι γένηαι / πατρί τε σῷ Τελαμῶνι, ὅ σ’ ἔτρεφε τυτθὸν ἐόντα, / καί σε νόθον περ ἐόντα κομίσσατο ᾧ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ, 8.282-284).
Tlepolemos? Well, he’s the “big and noble” son o Herakles who sailed from Rhodes with nine ships! (2.653-666). Tlepolemos might have been a bit of a wild child: he fled to Rhodes after killing his father’s uncle accidentally when old Likymnios got in the way of him beating an enslaved servant. So, Tlepolemos becomes something of a foundational hero in Rhodes. In the Iliad, he draws the short straw and faces Sarpedon in a lengthy battle in book 5, which our epic uses as an opportunity to set a minor son of Herakles against an iliadic son of Zeus. He’s a big, strong, brash-talking warrior. (Spoiler: Sarpedon kills him.)
These two are competing for a chance to face Odysseus….so, who’s it going to be? This sets the island of Salamis against the traditions of Rhodes, an archer against a bruiser, a bastard son of Telamon against an uncle-killing Heraklean braggart. All for the the dubious honor of most likely getting shivved in the night by Odysseus.
Look to twitter for the poll and the announcement of the victor when the contest is done.
Recap the Competition Here.