Welcome to the semifinal of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round was equally lopsided, leaving us with two ‘classic’ matches. Odysseus vs. Ajax and Patroklos vs. Diomedes.
Semifinal 1 Results, Ajax Over Odysseus!
Just as the hottest part of the day began to give way to the evening shadows, the Achaeans stood in a noisy but tense assembly, awaiting the match of Telamon’s massive son and the clever child of Laertes. Achilles stood near Ajax, giving him advice and putting on a show of laughter while Nestor stood muttering next to an Odysseus who remained oddly and passively still. But when Agamemnon sounded the beginning of the fight, Odysseus leapt into action, loosing both of his spears almost before Ajax could raise his giant shield. Neither one penetrated farther than three or four layers of that ox-hide bulk, but they were fixed in deep and made the weapon even harder to wield.
Ajax tried to match Odysseus’ initiative and threw first once and then twice, missing his mark wide to the left and the right as Odysseus danced from side to side. The devious father of Telemachus drew his sword and rushed Ajax, moving around him faster than the larger man could match. In one quick move he slashed at the back of Ajax’s leg and drew blood, eliciting a gasp and then roar from the crowd. Odysseus gazed at the assembled Achaeans a moment too long and then found himself flying through the air, struck full on the side with the cumbersome shield.
From the ground, a shaken Odysseus looked up and saw Ajax’s eyes fixed upon him. He leapt up and backed out of the range of the larger man’s sword and shouted, “Aiakos’ lesser grandson, Lord of an island of salt and waste. Are you man enough to strip your armor and fight me hand to hand!” Ajax glared and said nothing, dropping his shield and exposing the full strength of his body in a few moves. He stood there, sweet and blood running down his leg, waiting for Odysseus to meet him.
The two men began to circle and box, Odysseus never slowing and Ajax never landing a full blow on the Ithacan rogue. Ajax’s pace was clearly slowed by his wounded leg and Odysseus took full advantage, landing punches in his kidney and spine.
The crowd was long past impatient and most believed that Odysseus’ would win. But under the light of the rising moon and the flickering bonfires, Odysseus stepped back and paused. Later, some would claim that they saw a mist or cloud of dust whirl about his head and that the much-devising Laertides seemed to be speaking to himself. The moment passed and Odysseus smiled. He rushed at Ajax and seemed to trip to him, falling into a half-released blow from Telamon’s son.
Odysseus fell to the ground, clutching at his ankle and wrist, raising a voice with a tremor, “Ajax, son of Telamon. I yield. You have beat me. But I think we will meet again in another contest in days to come.”
The Achaeans cheered in confusion and surprise. Ajax stood, exhausted, chest heaving, eyes fixed on the shadowed ground.
Today’s Match: Patroklos vs. Diomedes
Patroklos is coming off the widest margin of victory in round 2 where he easily bested Nestorides. Diomedes earned a forfeit over Thersites in round 2 and has not so match as suffered a scratch on his foot in the tournament. Both heroes are more important in Homer than in Greek myth in general as demonstrated by their relative absence in extant art from the Classical age.
How can we fairly compare these two heroes? Diomedes sacked Thebes before he came to Troy, but Patroklos is of such precocious anger that he killed his first foe as a child! If we think about their impact on the war, both are dominant in separate parts. According to my count and this site, Diomedes killed 34 people during the epic (although 12 of them were Rhesus and his sleeping men along with the unarmed Dolon). Patroklos killed 27 during his aristeia. What about their opponents? Diomedes wounded Aeneas while Patroklos killed the second best of the Trojans, Sarpedon. Diomedes wounded a god, but he was also wounded in turn by Athena. It takes Apollo, Euphorbos, and the best of the Trojans to take Patroklos down.
Even though this is a competition of who is the best warrior, both of these heroes likely do equally important work off the battlefield. Patroklos is “kind” (ἤπιος ὢν; πρᾷός ) and pities the Achaeans (οἰκτείρει τοὺς ᾿Αχαιούς, Schol. BT a Il. 307b). His compassion keeps Achilles connected to the very people he has consigned to doom and ensures that the best of the Achaeans will stay at Troy. Diomedes is as good in council as he is in war, and his progression during the Iliad may demonstrate how a hero becomes “a doer of deeds and speaker of words” (μύθων τε ῥητῆρ’ ἔμεναι πρηκτῆρά τε ἔργων) as Achilles was meant to.
So this comes down to more than a theomakhos vs. a dice-killer. This is Achilles’ replacement vs. Achilles’ ritual substitute.
Will Patroklos have Achilles armor and go berserker? Will Diomedes have Athena on her side? Who gets to face Ajax in the end?