This is the second day of the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket tournament to once and for all establish the second best of the Achaeans.
Before we get to today’s match, here’s a brief recap from yesterday’s inaugural competition which saw the Pseudo-Rhodian Tlepolemos face off against the other son of Telamon, the Archer Teucer. Nestor stood as the corner man for the son of Herakles and Phoinix stood beside Telamon’s son.
Tlepolemos started out the contest by brandishing two spears in his massive right hand and mocking Teucer, saying “Bastard son of Telamon, smallest of the Achaeans, coward who hides behind brother’s shields! How do you expect to beat me, standing here alone, a lesser son of a lesser man against the massive scion of Herakles? I am going to….”
Tlepolemos was cut off mid-threat by an arrow piercing his throat. Teucer had turned and walked into the watching crowd before the arrow landed, muttering without a hint of a smile, “οὐ δὴ τλῆ τὸν πόλεμον”*
*ou dê tlê ton polemon: “he didn’t endure this war”. A play on Tle-polemos’ name.
Today’s contest pits the Hero-King of Crete, Idomeneus against Sthenelos, Sacker of Thebes.
Idomeneus is a member of the council of elders, a grandson of Minos, and friend to Ajax. Meriones is his second in command. He is listed as one of the leaders Agamemnon might despoil instead of Achilles (along with Odysseus and Ajax) and heralded by the narrator as one of the best of the Pan-Achaeans (γέροντας ἀριστῆας Παναχαιῶν, along with Nestor, both Ajaxes, Odysseus, Diomedes, and Menelaos, 2.404-408). He came to Troy from Crete of 100 cities (2.649; the Odyssey gives him only 90 cities) with 80 ships. (For comparison, Agamemnon led 100 ships and Odysseus brought 12).
Idomeneus is central to the defense of the ships in book 13 and made it out of Troy alive. In the Odyssey, he may still be ruler of Crete (although some traditions have a harsher homecoming). It is not hard to imagine narrative traditions that center this Cretan hero more: he is blamed for unfairly distributed spoils (given as an etiology for “Cretan” meaning a “liar”) and is responsible elsewhere for Odysseus’ successful homecoming. If you were drafting a heroic lineup and you wanted Ajax-level performance for a much lower price, Idomeneus would be your man.
Sthenelos: This son of Kapaneus may not be a household name, but he’s the Robin to Diomedes’ Batman and they go everywhere and destroy everything together. The pair came fro Aros and Tiryns leading 80 ships between them with Euryalos as their third (Il. 2559-568)! Diomedes is so confident with his little buddy by his side that he declares “Run away with your ships to your darling fatherland! / We two–Sthenelos and I–will fight until we find / the end of Ilion–for we have come here with god on our side!” (φευγόντων σὺν νηυσὶ φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν· / νῶϊ δ’ ἐγὼ Σθένελός τε μαχησόμεθ’ εἰς ὅ κε τέκμωρ / ᾿Ιλίου εὕρωμεν· σὺν γὰρ θεῷ εἰλήλουθμεν, 9.47-49). This kind of confidence is infectious. Sthenelos rejects Agamemnon’s attempt to rally them in Iliad 4, declaring (4.404–410):
“Son of Atreus, don’t lie when you know how to speak clearly.
We say we are better than our fathers:
we sacked foundation of seven-gated Thebes
even though we led a smaller army before bigger walls
because we were relying on the signs of the gods and Zeus’ help.
Those men perished because of their own recklessness.
Don’t put our fathers in the same honor.”
“Ἀτρεΐδη, μὴ ψεύδε’ ἐπιστάμενος σάφα εἰπεῖν·
ἡμεῖς τοι πατέρων μέγ’ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ᾿ εἶναι·
ἡμεῖς καὶ Θήβης ἕδος εἵλομεν ἑπταπύλοιο
παυρότερον λαὸν ἀγαγόνθ’ ὑπὸ τεῖχος ἄρειον,
πειθόμενοι τεράεσσι θεῶν καὶ Ζηνὸς ἀρωγῇ·
κεῖνοι δὲ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο·
τὼ μή μοι πατέρας ποθ’ ὁμοίῃ ἔνθεο τιμῇ.”
His name means strength. He’s got a big voice and a bigger resume.
Argive vs. Cretan. Captain vs. Lieutenant. Who’s it gonna be?