Life and the Great Game: Some Ancient Passages on Spectacles

Homer, Odyssey 8.147-8

“For as long as he lives, a man has no greater glory
than that which he wins with his own hands and feet”

οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.

Diogenes Laertius, Life of Pythagoras 8.1

“Sosikrates in his Successions writes that when Pythagoras was asked by Leon the Tyrant of Plius what he was, he said “A philosopher”. And he was in the custom of comparing life to the Great Games because while some go there to compete, others go there to make money, even as some of the best go to watch. In the same way, in life, some grow up in servile positions, Pythagoras used to say, hunting for fame and profit while the philosopher hunts for the truth. That’s enough of that.”

Σωσικράτης δ᾿ ἐν Διαδοχαῖς φησιν αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα ὑπὸ Λέοντος τοῦ Φλιασίων τυράννου τίς εἴη, φιλόσοφος, εἰπεῖν. καὶ τὸν βίον ἐοικέναι πανηγύρει· ὡς οὖν εἰς ταύτην οἱ μὲν ἀγωνιούμενοι, οἱ δὲ κατ᾿ ἐμπορίαν, οἱ δέ γε βέλτιστοι ἔρχονται θεαταί, οὕτως ἐν τῷ βίῳ οἱ μὲν ἀνδραποδώδεις, ἔφη, φύονται δόξης καὶ πλεονεξίας θηραταί, οἱ δὲ φιλόσοφοι τῆς ἀληθείας. καὶ τάδε μὲν ὧδε.

Tertullian, De Spectaculis

“This will be enough regarding the stained origin of games in idolatry”
Sed haec satis erunt ad originis de idololatria reatum.

102v
“How many ways have we shown that nothing which has to do with these games pleases god!”

Quot adhuc modis probavimus, nihil ex his quae spectaculis deputantur placitum deo esse!

Plutarch, Progress in Virtue 79F

Once when Aeschylus was watching a boxing match at the Isthmian games, one of the men was hit and the audience screamed out. He elbowed Ion of Chios and said, “Do you see what training is like? The man who was hit stays silent and the spectators yell!”

Αἰσχύλος μὲν γὰρ Ἰσθμοῖ θεώμενος ἀγῶνα πυκτῶν, ἐπεὶ πληγέντος τοῦ ἑτέρου τὸ θέατρον ἐξέκραγε, νύξας Ἴωνα τὸν Χῖον “ὁρᾷς,” ἔφη, “οἷον ἡ ἄσκησίς ἐστιν; ὁ πεπληγὼς σιωπᾷ, οἱ δὲ θεώμενοι βοῶσιν.”

Pindar, Nem. 4.6

“The story of deeds lives longer than deeds themselves”

ῥῆμα δ’ ἐργμάτων χρονιώτερον βιοτεύει

Cicero, De Senectute 58

“Let others have weapons, horses, spears, fencing-foils, ball games, swimming competitions, races, and leave to the old men dice and knucklebones for games. Or let that go too since old age can be happy without it.”

Sibi habeant igitur arma, sibi equos, sibi hastas, sibi clavam et pilam, sibi natationes1 atque cursus; nobis senibus ex lusionibus multis talos relinquant et tesseras; id ipsum ut2 lubebit, quoniam sine eis beata esse senectus potest.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.973-984

“And whenever people for many days in a row
Have given endless attention to games, we see that many
Have stopped actually absorbing these things with their senses
Even though there are paths still open in the mind
By which the representations of things may enter.
For many days in this way the same things are seen
Before their eyes and they stay awake so that they might seem
To see dancers moving their gentle limps
Or brush with their ears the liquid song of the lyre
And the talking chords, and to sense again that same concord
And the wild spectacular with its bright scene.”

Et quicumque dies multos ex ordine ludis
adsiduas dederunt operas, plerumque videmus,
cum iam destiterunt ea sensibus usurpare,
relicuas tamen esse vias in mente patentis,
qua possint eadem rerum simulacra venire.
per multos itaque illa dies eadem obversantur
ante oculos, etiam vigilantes ut videantur
cernere saltantis et mollia membra moventis,
et citharae liquidum carmen chordasque loquentis
auribus accipere, et consessum cernere eundem
scenaique simul varios splendere decores.

Horace, Epistles 1.19.48-9

“Sport tends to give rise to heated strife and anger, anger in turns brings savage feuds and war to the death”.

ludus enim genuit trepidum certamen et iram, ira truces inimicitias et funebre bellum.

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

Image result for Ancient Greek athletic competitions

Avoiding Viruses and Playing Games in Rome

Ammianus Marcellinus, Constantius and Gallus 23-25

“And since, as is natural in the world capital, the harsh diseases overpower so intensely that the profession of healing fails at treating them, the plan for safely is that no one will go to see a friend who suffers some disease like this. And some more cautious people add another salubrious remedy to this: slaves who have been sent to ask about the health of someone related to people who have this sickness are not allowed to enter the home before they have cleansed their body with a bath. This is how much they fear a sickness seen by other people.

But even when these practices are rather consistently performed, there are some people who, if they are invited to a wedding where gold might be offered to their open right hands, will run all the way to the Spoletium struggling, even though the strength of their limbs is weak from sickness.

But the mass of the poorest and lowest born people: some of them spend their entire nights in bars while some others haunt the shadows of the theater-awnings which Catullus during his aedileship was the first of all to have suspended as he emulated that Campanian corruption. Some of them play dice violently, sounding out foully when they draw air rapidly into their quivering nostrils; or, that thing they like most of all: they stand with their mouths agape from dawn to dusk in rain or shine analyzing the details of charioteers and the strengths and weaknesses of their horses.

And it is completely a surprise to see an uncountable crowd of plebians with a burning passion in their minds, hanging on what happens in the chariot races. These things and those like them allow nothing serious to happen at Rome.”

Et quoniam apud eos, ut in capite mundi, morborum acerbitates celsius dominantur, ad quos vel sedandos omnis professio medendi torpescit, excogitatum est adminiculum sospitale, nequi amicum perferentem similia videat, additumque est cautioribus paucis remedium aliud satis validum, ut famulos percontatum missos quem ad modum valeant noti hac aegritudine colligati, non ante recipiant domum, quam lavacro purgaverint corpus. Ita etiam alienis oculis visa metuitur Iabes.

Sed tamen haec cum ita tutius observentur, quidam vigore artuum imminuto, rogati ad nuptias, ubi aurum dextris manibus cavatis offertur, impigre vel usque Spoletium pergunt. Haec nobilium sunt instituta.

Ex turba vero imae sortis et paupertinae, in tabernis aliqui pernoctant vinariis, non nulli sub velabris umbraculorum theatralium latent, quae, Campanam imitatus lasciviam, Catulus in aedilitate sua suspendit omnium primus; aut pugnaciter aleis certant, turpi sono fragosis naribus introrsum reducto spiritu concrepantes; aut quod est studiorum omnium maximum ab ortu lucis ad vesperam sole fatiscunt vel pluviis, per minutias aurigarum equorumque praecipua vel delicta scrutantes.

Et est admodum mirum videre plebem innumeram, mentibus ardore quodam infuso, e dimicationum curulium eventu pendentem. Haec similiaque memorabile nihil vel serium agi Romae permittunt. Ergo redeundum ad textum.

Image taken from this blog

Gambling and Work

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.2.57

“Socrates, then, would agree that it is useful for a person to be a worker and both harmful and bad for someone to be lazy. Work, then, is a good thing; being lazy is an evil one. He said that work was when people  did something good, but he used to call people who gambled or did any other deceptive or questionable thing lazy. From these ideas, he rightly believed that “work isn’t to be criticized at all, laziness is.”

Σωκράτης δ᾿ ἐπεὶ διομολογήσαιτο τὸ μὲν ἐργάτην εἶναι ὠφέλιμόν τε ἀνθρώπῳ καὶ ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, τὸ δὲ ἀργὸν βλαβερόν τε καὶ κακόν, καὶ τὸ μὲν ἐργάζεσθαι ἀγαθόν, τὸ δ᾿ ἀργεῖν κακόν, τοὺς μὲν ἀγαθόν τι ποιοῦντας ἐργάζεσθαί τε ἔφη καὶ ἐργάτας εἶναι, τοὺς δὲ κυβεύοντας ἤ τι ἄλλο πονηρὸν καὶ ἐπιζήμιον ποιοῦντας ἀργοὺς ἀπεκάλει. ἐκ δὲ τούτων ὀρθῶς ἂν ἔχοι τὸ

ἔργον δ᾿ οὐδὲν ὄνειδος, ἀεργίη δέ τ᾿ ὄνειδος

 

Herodotus 1.94

“During the reign of Manes’ son, a massive food shortage struck all of Lydia. The Lydians endured this living as they could, but after a while, when it did not stop, they sought cures, and different men devised different solutions. At that time they invented the ideas of dice, and knucklebones, and ball, and every other kind of game except for draughts. For the Lydians do not claim the invention of these games. They invented the games they did for the famine. They played their games on alternate days when they could not seek food and on others they stopped their games and ate. They lived this way for eighteen years.”

᾿Επὶ ῎Ατυος τοῦ Μάνεω βασιλέος σιτοδείην ἰσχυρὴν ἀνὰ τὴν Λυδίην πᾶσαν γενέσθαι· καὶ τοὺς Λυδοὺς τέως μὲν διάγειν λιπαρέοντας, μετὰ δέ, ὡς οὐ παύεσθαι, ἄκεα δίζησθαι, ἄλλον δὲ ἄλλο ἐπιμηχανᾶσθαι αὐτῶν. ᾿Εξευρεθῆναι δὴ ὦν τότε καὶ τῶν κύβων καὶ τῶν ἀστραγάλων καὶ τῆς σφαίρης καὶ τῶν ἀλλέων πασέων παιγνιέων τὰ εἴδεα, πλὴν πεσσῶν· τούτων γὰρ ὦν τὴν ἐξεύρεσιν οὐκ οἰκηιοῦνται Λυδοί. Ποιέειν δὲ ὧδε πρὸς τὸν λιμὸν ἐξευρόντας· · τὴν μὲν ἑτέρην τῶν ἡμερέων παίζειν πᾶσαν, ἵνα δὴ μὴ ζητέοιεν σιτία, τὴν δὲ ἑτέρην σιτέεσθαι παυομένους τῶν παιγνιέων. Τοιούτῳ τρόπῳ διάγειν ἐπ’ ἔτεα δυῶν δέοντα εἴκοσι.

Plutarch, De Tranquilitate Animi 467b

“Plato likened life to a dice-game in which we need both to throw what is advantageous and to use the dice well after we’ve thrown them. And when we are subject to chance, if we take good advice, this is our task: though we cannot control the toss, we can accept the outcome luck gives us properly and allot to each event a place in which what is good for us helps the most and what was unplanned aggrieves the least.”

Κυβείᾳ γὰρ ὁ Πλάτων (Resp. 604c) τὸν βίον ἀπείκασεν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ βάλλειν δεῖ τὰ πρόσφορα, καὶ βαλόντα χρῆσθαι καλῶς τοῖς πεσοῦσι. τούτων δὲ τὸ μὲν βάλλειν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, τὸ δὲ προσηκόντως δέχεσθαι τὰ γινόμενα παρὰ τῆς τύχης καὶ νέμειν ἑκάστῳ τόπον, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὸ οἰκεῖον ὠφελήσει μάλιστα καὶ τὸ ἀβούλητον ἥκιστα λυπήσει τοὺς ἐπιτυγχάνοντας, ἡμέτερον ἔργον ἐστίν, ἂν εὖ φρονῶμεν.

And here is the passage Plutarch is drawing on from the tenth book of the Republic (Plato, Republic 604c-d)

“The best way to deliberate about what has happened is just as we might in the fall of dice: to order our affairs in reference to how the dice have fallen where reason dictates the best place would be, and not to stumble forward like children shocked at the outcome wasting time with crying. Instead, we should always prepare our mind towards addressing what has happened as quickly as possible and to redress what has fallen and what ails, erasing lament [lit. threnody] with treatment*.”

Τῷ βουλεύεσθαι, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, περὶ τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ὥσπερ ἐν πτώσει κύβων πρὸς τὰ πεπτωκότα τίθεσθαι τὰ αὑτοῦ πράγματα, ὅπῃ ὁ λόγος αἱρεῖ βέλτιστ’ ἂν ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ προσπταίσαντας καθάπερ παῖδας ἐχομένους τοῦ πληγέντος ἐν τῷ βοᾶν διατρίβειν, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ἐθίζειν τὴν ψυχὴν ὅτι τάχιστα γίγνεσθαι πρὸς τὸ ἰᾶσθαί τε καὶ ἐπανορθοῦν τὸ πεσόν τε καὶ νοσῆσαν, ἰατρικῇ θρηνῳδίαν ἀφανίζοντα.

 

Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras 8.3

“Sôsikrates, in his Successions, says that when Pythagoras was asked by Leon, the tyrant of the Phliasians, who he was, he said, “a philosopher,” and that he said life was like the Great Games. Some people go there to compete, others go to make money, and the best people go to watch. For in life, some people have a slavish nature and they hunt for glory or profit, while philosophers search for the truth.”

Σωσικράτης δ᾿ ἐν Διαδοχαῖς φησιν αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα ὑπὸ Λέοντος τοῦ Φλιασίων τυράννου τίς εἴη, φιλόσοφος, εἰπεῖν. καὶ τὸν βίον ἐοικέναι πανηγύρει· ὡς οὖν εἰς ταύτην οἱ μὲν ἀγωνιούμενοι, οἱ δὲ κατ᾿ ἐμπορίαν, οἱ δέ γε βέλτιστοι ἔρχονται θεαταί, οὕτως ἐν τῷ βίῳ οἱ μὲν ἀνδραποδώδεις, ἔφη, φύονται δόξης καὶ πλεονεξίας θηραταί, οἱ δὲ φιλόσοφοι τῆς ἀληθείας.

 

Looking For A Good Game for Your Holiday Get-Togethers? Try Plutarch’s Questions

Plutarch’s “Table-talk” stands alongside Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists and Petronius Satyricon as presenting a wide variety of fragments and subjects discussed within a somewhat fragile narrative frame. When compared to the other works, Plutarch’s seems to offer even less of an effort to unite the various topics as “Table-talk”. Over nine books, Plutarch presents 90 topics for discussion by a rotating case of characters (often including himself).

Below I have excerpted all of the questions without any of the answers. For a dinner party or get-together with classical or philosophical themes, or just any gathering you might fear will lack good cheer and exciting conversation, I suggest putting each question on a card and distributing them randomly for hilarity.

[PS: if you do this, take notes or record it and share it with the world]

Plutarch Table Talk, [Moralia]

1.1 [612] “Is it right to practice philosophy while drinking?
Εἰ δεῖ φιλοσοφεῖν παρὰ πότον

1.2 [615] “Should the host assign seats to his guests or should they arrange themselves?”
Πότερον αὐτὸν δεῖ κατακλίνειν τοὺς ἑστιωμένους τὸν ὑποδεχόμενον ἢ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιεῖσθαι;

1.3 [619] “Why the position called the ‘consul’s’ gained honor?”
Διὰ τί τῶν τόπων ὁ καλούμενος ὑπατικὸς ἔσχε τιμήν

1.4 [620] “What sort of person should be in charge of drinking?”
Ποῖόν τινα δεῖ τὸν συμποσίαρχον εἶναι;

1.5 [622] “Why do people say that “Love teaches the poet”?
Πῶς εἴρηται τὸ “ποιητὴν δ᾿ ἄρα Ἔρως διδάσκει”;

1.6 [623] “On Alexander the Great’s excessive drinking”
Περὶ τῆς Ἀλεξάνδρου πολυποσίας;

Continue reading “Looking For A Good Game for Your Holiday Get-Togethers? Try Plutarch’s Questions”

Breaks and Games in Education

Quintilian  1.3

“Everyone still needs some kind of break, not only because there is no material which can endure endless labor—and even those things which lack perception or life must be guarded in turns of rest in order to protect their strength—but also because studying requires a desire to learn which cannot be compelled.

Once renewed and made fresh, students who often bristle at what is compulsory bring a greater intensity and a sharper mind to learning. Games do not bother me in young students—for this is also a sign of an excited mind—and I do not hope that a sad and always downcast child will come to studies with a sharp mind when the natural energy customary to that age is missing.

But, still, there should be a reasonable balance to breaks so students might not hate their studies when breaks are denied nor get too accustomed to leisure. There are even some games which are helpful for sharpening the wits of students—such as when they compete by asking each other little questions of any kind. Characters also unveil themselves more simply during games. But, no age seems to be so infirm that it cannot learn immediately what is right and wrong and the age especially good for shaping a character is before children know how to dissimulate and still yield to their teachers most easily. For it is faster to break things that have hardened into evil than it is to correct them.”

Danda est tamen omnibus aliqua remissio, non solum quia nulla res est quae perferre possit continuum laborem, atque ea quoque quae sensu et anima carent ut servare vim suam possint velut quiete alterna retenduntur, sed quod studium discendi voluntate, quae cogi non potest, constat. Itaque et virium plus adferunt ad discendum renovati ac recentes et acriorem animum, qui fere necessitatibus repugnat. Nec me offenderit lusus in pueris (est et hoc signum alacritatis), neque illum tristem semperque demissum sperare possim erectae circa studia mentis fore, cum in hoc quoque maxime naturali aetatibus illis impetu iaceat. Modus tamen sit remissionibus, ne aut odium studiorum faciant negatae aut otii consuetudinem nimiae. Sunt etiam nonnulli acuendis puerorum ingeniis non inutiles lusus, cum positis invicem cuiusque generis quaestiunculis aemulantur. Mores quoque se inter ludendum simplicius detegunt: modo nulla videatur aetas tam infirma quae non protinus quid rectum pravumque sit discat, tum vel maxime formanda cum simulandi nescia est et praecipientibus facillime cedit; frangas enim citius quam corrigas quae in pravum induruerunt.

Image result for medieval manuscript student and teachers
From the British Library

#NANAIHB Who’s Ready for the Semi-Finals?

Welcome to the second round 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 introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

The Achaeans assembled in the late afternoon for the final match of the elite eight between Diomedes and Thersites. Diomedes was fully armed and standing with his shield at ready at the appointed hour as Sthenelos stood next to him, chattering about how much he was going to destroy Thersites. At first, the crowd seemed giddy at the prospect but as the moments stretched out to minutes and then approached half an hour, boredom slipped into frustration.

Once an hour had passed, Agamemnon spoke, and said, “Look, Greeks, Thersites didn’t show up because of his cowardice!*” He waited a moment for a laugh and then sighed at the silence, speaking up again only to call the match by forfeit to Diomedes who had remained motionless, shield at the ready the entire time. As soon as Agamemnon spoke, Diomedes roared, “Sthenelos, put on your weapons. Let’s spar. Sweat is the least price I can pay for victory.”

A few Achaeans laughed. Most shook their heads as they left the assembly. Achilles called as he was leaving, “Don’t bruise him too much, Sthenelos. Patroklos is going to wear my armor in the match. And you know how hard he already is to turn over!” At this, the Greeks laughed, unaccustomed to such bawdy banter from shining Achilles.

*διὰ τὸ ἀθαρσὲς αὐτοῦ [dia to atharsos] an easy punning on Thersites’ name which is likely built on the world tharsos/thrasos, “boldness”. From Agamemnon this is less than effective because everyone makes this joke and Atreus’ son thinks he just made it up.

NANAIHB Day 10

 

The Semifinals: The Semifinal matches were probably spun up by the Fates themselves. We get a rematch of the famous and tragic struggle between Ajax and Odysseus and an intriguing contest between Achilles’ replacement and his better half.

The Achaeans are taking the day off. The Semifinals will be the next two days, setting up a match for the coveted Second Best of the Achaeans title on Tuesday.

NANAIHB Day 10 (2)

 

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 4: Getting it on for Calydon!

Welcome to the second round 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 introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

Round 2, Match 3: Patroklos vs. Antilokhos

If there was something like a buzz in the air as Patroklos readied himself to face Nestor’s son Antilokhos, it came from the grumbles of assembled Achaeans who were hustled, bustled, and knocked to the side as Achilles paced along the sideline. He repeatedly muttered about how long this was taking as Phoinix readied Patroklos and Nestor tended to his son.

Agamemnon called the battle to begin and both younger heroes threw their first spear: Achilles watched as each  approached its apex and they brushed each other mid-air and flew off course, scattering the crowd on either side. Patroklos looked at Achilles, who nodded, and then dropped his second spear and drew his sword. He rushed screaming and swinging with such force that the surprised younger hero stepped back, driven one, two, and then a dozen feet into the crowd all while doing everything he could not to stop Patroklos’ sword with his face.

Under the weight of the relentless blows, Antilochus’ shield arm was quickly tiring and he made a quick feint with his sword only to have his opponent’s blade crash into his forearm. As Antilokhos fell to his knees and Patroklos raised his sword again, Nestor raised his mighty voice, shouting, “Stop son of Menoitios, what tale will your father hear?*”

Patroklos withdrew as Antilokhos yielded. Achilles walked away with him as the crowd dispersed.

*Παῦε, Μενοιτιου υἵε, τὶ κλέος Πατήρ τεὸς ἀκούσει; A pointed punning, since Nestor uses the two elements of Patroklos name: Pater [father] and story/fame [kleos]

NANAIHB Day 9

 

Today’s match: Thersites vs. Diomedes. Thersites is coming off a surprise victory over Ajax the lesser. This is Diomedes’ first appearance in the tournament. Does momentum matter?

NANAIHB Day 9 (2)

Today’s match sets up Diomedes, a victorious sacker of Thebes, against Thersites, who is, um, Thersites. There’s a bit of a family drama to the affair. Diomedes was born in Argos be ause his father was in exile after being deposed from Calydon by Agrios. Thersites and his brothers overthrew their uncle Oeneus to put their father Agrios on the throne. According to later traditions, Diomedes arrived there and killed Thersites’ brothers to install Oeneus as king again.

(Thersites was either not there or dead at Achilles’ hands.)

So, just in case it is unclear:. Agrios and Oeneus were brothers. Their sons Tydeus and Thersites were cousins. So, that makes this a battle between Diomedes and his father’s cousin. To say there is bad blood here would be an understatement. Diomedes is one of the greatest warriors in Greek epic and he has Athena on his side. Thersites is, um, Thersites.

What’s the over/under for minutes in the ring?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 3: A Contest for Achilles’ Love

Welcome to the second round 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 introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

Round 2, Match 2: Idomeneus vs. Ajax

As the two massive warriors stood impassive on each side of the agora, Idomeneus raised up his voice, “Ajax, son of Telamon, you massive tower of a man. Come, let us put away our spears and bows and fight like men!” Ajax, smiling, gave no other answer then to pick up his castle-sized shield and draw his sword as he moved forward.

The clashing of these two giants set a flutter even into the hearts of the gods who watched them. As Zeus gazed on the clanging of sword to sword and the pounding of shield to shield, he said, “Ah, my children, I see you on the earth, thundering in power like my thunder, but flashing as brief as lightning. I have not heard such sound since the giants tried to mount Olympos or the hundred-handers locked the Titans in their dusky home. Hermes, come, let’s save Idomeneus who is fated to fall to Ajax this very day.” Maia’s son, the divine Argeiphontes, disappeared, moving faster than the eyes of the father of gods and men.

The Achaeans watched eagerly as Ajax bashed Idomeneus down to his knees, alternating with shield and sword as the Cretan king could barely fend off his blows. Finally, they could see a tear in the covering of the shield and hear the crack of its frame breaking. Then Ajax dropped his sword and gripped his shield in both hands, bringing it down like a thunderstrike on Idomeneus’ head. But as it fell, his form swirled away like smoke, leaving nothing there, save the shattered wreck of his broken shield.

Ajax stood, blinking. His chest heaved. He looked around the crowd and his eyes fell, burning, on Odysseus. The clever son of Laertes shrugged. Ajax stomped toward his ships.

NANAIHB Day 8

 

Today’s match: Patroklos vs. Antilokhos.

NANAIHB Day 8 (2)

In the first round, Antilokhos handled the Aitolian Thoas in what turned out to be the second closest competition of the round. At the end, the greater speed and Nestor’s advice made a difference. Patroklos faced Makhaon, and made pretty fast work of the field medic who slipped into the competition to begin with.

There is a little intrigue this time: who will get Achilles’ favor? We all know that Patroklos and Achilles have a relationship so deep that the latter’s death provokes his rage to new levels in the Iliad. But Antilokhos’ death in the lost Aethiopis inspires Achilles to go on a rampage that ends in his death too.

So, who’s it going to be this time? The new boy, or the old? The wrathful son of Menoetius or Nestor’s precocious charioteer? Neither of them gets Achilles’ armor: can both of them have his love?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 2: Clash of the Giants

Welcome to the second round 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 introduces four heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax, Patroklos, and Diomedes.

Teucer Odysseus

NANAIHB Day 7

Round 2, Match 1: Odysseus vs. Teucer.

The Achaeans gathered and noticed that Odysseus was already seated in the competition grounds, looking off into the distance. When Teucer arrived, Odysseus stood up and said, “Welcome son of Telamon, pride of Salaminian land! I hail you as a friend and offer you my own bow as a sign of our guest-friendship.” Teucer squinted at the Ithakan king and said, “Odysseus, that would be a sign of enmity through theft, not friendship—your bow is much better than mine.” He stood to his side and spoke a few words to Ajax while Odysseus continued to stare.

When Nestor announced the contest’s beginning, Odysseus picked up his shield and a single spear. Teucer raised his bow and nocked an arrow. As he drew it back, the string broke, twanging off tune like a lyre string recoiling. Odysseus darted forward and slashed Teucer on the left army lightly, saying “Teucer, what should be done? The gods have made you unlucky!*”

Odysseus’ brother-in-law, Eurylochus, yelled, “Odysseus, that’s pretty harsh, even for you!” And Odysseus responded, winking at Ajax who was looming near Teucer, “Some ships are rowed without all their oars.” Teucer yielded.

* Odysseus toyed with Teucer’s name, saying, Ὤ Τεύκρε, τὶ τευκτόν εστί; οἱ σε θεοί δυστυχέα τεῦξαν! [ôh Teukre, ti teukton? Hoi se Theoi dustukhea teuksan!]

NANAIHB Day 7

Today’s match, Idomeneus against Ajax.

Homer, Iliad 3.230-231

“That there is the monstrous bulwark of the Achaeans, Ajax.
Idomeneus stands on the other side like a god among the Cretans.”

οὗτος δ’ Αἴας ἐστὶ πελώριος ἕρκος ᾿Αχαιῶν·
᾿Ιδομενεὺς δ’ ἑτέρωθεν ἐνὶ Κρήτεσσι θεὸς ὣς
ἕστηκ’….

NANAIHB Day 7 (2)

Telamonian Ajax is reportedly the “best of men while Achilles was raging” (ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν, 2.768-769) and it would be fascinating to fully understand the difference between being “best of men” and “best of the Acheans”. He is the son of Telamon: in most accounts Peleus, Achilles’ father, and Telamon are brothers. Broader myth puts these cousins together frequently: there is a much repeated image of the two playing a game in armor; Ajax is frequently credited with carrying Achilles’ body out of the battle (as he does with Patroklos); and Ajax’s emotional appeal to Achilles in book nine is often seen as instrumental in keeping him from returning to Phthia.

Ajax came to Troy with 12 ships from Salamis and—according to the text of the Iliad we possess—lined them up with the Athenians (Αἴας δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν δυοκαίδεκα νῆας / στῆσε δ’ ἄγων ἵν’ ᾿Αθηναίων ἵσταντο φάλαγγες, 2.557-558; Carolyn Higbie has a great article about how this text may have been manipulated in antiquity). But he is known for his own bad self, and not his people. He is the monstrous bulwark of the Achaeans (οὗτος δ’ Αἴας ἐστὶ πελώριος ἕρκος ᾿Αχαιῶν, 3.239)

When Priam sees him from the gates, he describes him as “that other big and noble man / head and shoulders above the rest of the Argives.”τίς τὰρ ὅδ’ ἄλλος ᾿Αχαιὸς ἀνὴρ ἠΰς τε μέγας τε / ἔξοχος ᾿Αργείων κεφαλήν τε καὶ εὐρέας ὤμους; (3.226-227). His shield is as big as a tower! (Αἴας δ’ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθε φέρων σάκος ἠΰτε πύργον, 7.219). He’s brave (ἄλκιμος Αἴας), he’s shiny (φαίδιμος Αἴας), he’s really big (Τελαμώνιος Αἴας) and he walks big too (Αἴας…μάκρα βιβάσθων· 18.809).

Idomeneus is also huge—if he weren’t Cretan and if Ajax weren’t there, this son of Minos just might be the second best of the Danaans. He devastated Sthenelos in round 1. He has held battalions of Trojans at bay.

How does he match up against Ajax? Helen places them right next to each other. And who is a better judge of a man than her?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Archer-fest! Odysseus vs. Teucer

Welcome to the second round 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 introduces four heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax, Patroklos, and Diomedes.

NANAIHB (10)

Round 2, Match 1: Odysseus vs. Teucer. Ajax’s illegitimate brother gets to face the grandson of Sisyphus after quickly dispatching the braggart Heraklid, Tlepolemos, in the first round. All the smart money is in the tyrant king of Ithaca, but any archer’s got a chance, right?

“Homer made Achilles the best man of those who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the most shifty.”

φημὶ γὰρ Ὅμηρον πεποιηκέναι ἄριστον μὲν ἄνδρα Ἀχιλλέα τῶν εἰς Τροίαν ἀφικομένων, σοφώτατον δὲ Νέστορα, πολυτροπώτατον δὲ Ὀδυσσέα. #Plato

NANAIHB (11)

I know, I know. Laertes’ heroic son killed 108 unarmed suitors with Athena’s help when he got back home. And this is after he watched over the deaths of 12 ships of Kephallanian warriors! The man is a mighty machine of death. For sake of argument, let’s consider what Odysseus actually accomplishes in battle in the Iliad.

Book 1: Takes Chryseis Back to Chryses

Book 2: Gives a big speech, beats Thersites (and any other non-compliant commoner)

Book 3: Gets described by Helen as being like a snow storm when he speaks

Book 4: Agamemnon finds him hanging back from battle

Book 5: He decides between fighting “some Lykian” redshirts or Tlepolemos. He does not fight Tlepolemos (668-678)

Book 7: He does not win the lot to face Hektor

Book 8: He does not stop to help Nestor (8.97)

Book 9: We don’t have time to talk about Odysseus’ shenanigans in book 9

Book 10: He and Odysseus lie to Dolon, kill him, and kill Rhesus and his men in their sleep. Well, he has Diomedes do most of that

Book 11: He gets Diomedes to stay and fight with him

Book 14: He yells at Agamemnon for suggesting running away

Book 19: He tells Achilles that eating is good.

Book 23: He wrestles Ajax to a draw

Odysseus’ reputation is for his cleverness and lies. (He might be a necromancer too.)  He knows how to suffer and he knows how to get revenge. And I am pretty sure he would shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. (Yes, he’s a lot more than that. And, yes, I have a good deal to say about him. But we don’t have that much evidence he’s a great fighter.)

Let’s not forget that Teucer kills nine men in the pace of three lines in book 8 (273-275)! He may only be the second-best Salaminian, but is that nearly as good as being king of an island good mostly for goats.

So, go ahead, cast your vote for Odysseus like you want to, like you need to because he’s already in your head. But, remember, Teucer’s got an archer’s chance. And that’s something even Odysseus should worry about.

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly: For many who have been my enemy hate me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί #Sophocles