#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]



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.



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


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!]


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

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.


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


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

#NANAIHB Day 6: Thersites vs. Oilean Ajax

This is the 6th day of the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket tournament to once and for all establish the second best of the Achaeans. 

What turned out to be the closest contest of this tournament of favorites drew some strong interest from the crowd. Odysseus gave the Aitolian Thoas some advice as he prepared to face Antilokhos who could not seem to get away from his father Nestor. Indeed, the match itself was almost called off as that old Gerenian horseman could be heard extolling the importance of deep breaths and visualizing success to his youngest son.

AvTh poll

Once he broke away from his father, he rushed straight at Thoas, dodging the first spear only to the second spear break straight through his shield and graze his thigh. The wound was minor, but Antilokhos slipped and fell on the ground, breaking his shield. For a moment, it looked like Antilokhos’ speed was nullified and in the stunned silence you could hear Achilles grumbling about how he should change his name to Antilakhos* since luck wasn’t on his side.

But as Thoas turned, dropped his shield and drew his sword, Antilokhos rolled quickly to his left where Thoas’ first spear had been deflected, and pulled it up just as Andraimon’s son tried to bring his sword down on him. Result? Aitolian with dislocated shoulder, and shredded muscles around the joint.

*lokhos means “ambush”, lakhos means “lot”.


This just might be the juiciest match-up of the first round. Indeed, there’s no way we’ll find another meeting of two potential wrestling heels: Thersites, a man so hated he unites Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus, and Ajax, son of Oileus, the Lokrian Homer sees fit to cover in cow-shit.

NANAIHB Day 6a (3)

Thersites, from Aitolia is the son of Agrios who was the brother of Oineus, the king of Aitolia. If you’re keeping track, that makes him a kinsman of sorts with both Thoas and Diomedes. He does not show up in the catalogue of ships and we never actually see him fight. But we do hear a bit about him. Homer doesn’t describe many of the heroes physically, but Thersites gets six lines (2.216-221):

And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was misshaped, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them.

….αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε·

Modern scholars have written a lot about him too! Just because he’s most shameful does not mean he can’t be the second best too, does it? (The T scholion for this line helpfully notes: “most shameful: this is also said of an ape.” αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου). The scholia report that Thersites fell off a cliff running from a boar and so his name—meaning “bold, audacious” might just be a joke. But in the criticisms he makes, another scholion also claims they say that [Thersites] is the poet’s agent, that he appropriates his essence ”Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι: ἐπίτροπον τοῦ ποιητοῦ φασιν αὐτόν, σφετερισάμενον τὴν οὐσίαν. Because, Thersites may look scarier, but it is more frightening when you speak the Truth.
Ajax, the lesser: The son of Oileus. Also called Lokrian Ajax. Another hero Homer spends time describing physically:

“The fast son of Oileus was leading the Lokrians
Smaller, not in any way as big as Telamonian Ajax
But much smaler. He was small and wore linen armor.
But he surpassed All the Greeks and the Achaeans in spear-play.”

Λοκρῶν δ’ ἡγεμόνευεν ᾿Οϊλῆος ταχὺς Αἴας
μείων, οὔ τι τόσος γε ὅσος Τελαμώνιος Αἴας
ἀλλὰ πολὺ μείων· ὀλίγος μὲν ἔην λινοθώρηξ,
ἐγχείῃ δ’ ἐκέκαστο Πανέλληνας καὶ ᾿Αχαιούς·

So, the narrative takes pains to emphasize his smallness and his swiftness, but his character emerges elsewhere. He participates in the battles well and kills the “most” men at the end of book 13 thanks to his swiftness. But he argues nastily with Idomeneus during the chariot games, receiving in turn the address “Ajax, best at the quarrel, shit-for-brains…” (Αἶαν νεῖκος ἄριστε κακοφραδὲς…23.483.” And when he competes in the footrace, he slips in cow manure and falls in a pile of it (thanks to Athena). Of course, the assembled Greeks look on and laugh as he spits the shit from his mouth (23.780-784). Ajax is, of course, most famous for raping Kassandra on the altar of Athena and helping to derail the homecoming of the Achaeans. So, not a good guy.

So what’s the choice here? A bold-talker with no fighting history or a fast-running, linen-covered, creep-fest? And, to be honest, how much does it matter? The prize for this context is to get crushed by Diomedes.

#NANAIHB Day 5: Antilokhos vs. Thoas

This is the fifth day of the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket tournament to once and for all establish the second best of the Achaeans. 


The Achaeans watched with only passing interest as Patroklos and Makhaon began their match. In truth, even the gods found something else to occupy their endless time as Makhaon’s two spears bounced of Patroklos’ (borrowed) shield. Patroklos, too, seemed half invested, quipping weakly, “Makhaon, even in healing you’re second best at the fight” (δεύτερον ἄριστος μάχεσθαι*). Patroklos landed his first javelin into Makhaon’s right shoulder and Asklepios’ son yielded the fight. His brother Podaleirios came over to tend the wound.

*A rather obvious pun since makhesthai (“to fight”) sounds like Makhaon. Achilles later told him that he could have joked about how he was better at using a blade (makhaira) to heal than fight.



Now we turn to the best match of the tournament so far: Antilochus, Nestor’s son, vs. Thoas the Aitolian

NANAIHB Day 5 (2)

Antilochus, the son of Nestor kills his first man in book four of the Iliad (457), he fights alongside Menelaos (5.577) and is a major part of the Greek offensive throughout books 5 and 13: in book 15 Menelaos marks him out, saying “other Greek is younger than you / is faster on his feet or as brave in battle as you are!” (᾿Αντίλοχον δ’ ὄτρυνε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Μενέλαος· /᾿Αντίλοχ’ οὔ τις σεῖο νεώτερος ἄλλος ᾿Αχαιῶν, 15.568-569). And his swift feet carry him out of the battle to carry Achilles the news of Patroklos’ death (book 17). He is also memorable for his appearance in the funeral games where he is the audience for his father’s enigmatic instructions about the chariot race (12.305-348). And then part of the drama comes from Menelaos accusing him of cheating (and replaying some of the themes from the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad 1). Out side of the Iliad, he is famous from the lost Aethiopis where he dies saving his father from Memnon, inciting Achilles’ rage (leading to Achilles’ death before the walls of Troy).

Antilochus is fast, he’s got the advice of Nestor and the favor of Achilles

Thoas the Aitolian, son of Andraimon, may be the youngest of the council of elders (after Achilles) and one of the Iliad’s best kept secrets (I may have some money on this one). One might imagine him a kind of replacement Diomedes, since he rules in Aitolia (the kingdom Tydeus was expelled from) and has some murky mythographical ties to Odysseus. At a critical moment in the epic, he stands up and is marked out as “best of the Aitolians at the spear / and in close combat but few of the Achaeans / could conquer him in the agora, whenever the young men struggled over speeches” (Αἰτωλῶν ὄχ’ ἄριστος ἐπιστάμενος μὲν ἄκοντι / ἐσθλὸς δ’ ἐν σταδίῃ· ἀγορῇ δέ ἑ παῦροι ᾿Αχαιῶν / νίκων, ὁππότε κοῦροι ἐρίσσειαν περὶ μύθων· 15.281–285).

Two young heroes. One with ties to Achilles, another linked to Odysseus. Two Achaeans enter, one man leaves. Who will it be?


NANAIHB Day 4: Patroklos vs. Makhaon

This is the fourth day of the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket tournament to once and for all establish the second best of the Achaeans. 

Very few of the Greeks paid much attention to yesterday’s match sending Meriones against the bulwark of the Achaeans, since most assumed that Meriones would be expire in no more than a few words.

The Cretan captain, however, saved his breath and tried to outdance the larger Salaminian. He darted left to right, throwing his spears and having them glance off the massive shield of Telamon’s son.  Ajax stood rather impassively, parrying thrusts and waiting until Meriones ran straight at him before he locked his hands together and swung them directly into the Cretan’s chest. The ax-swing blow launched him into the air. When he hit the ground, his armor rattled around him like dice in a jar.

As he struggled to get up to his elbows, Idomeneus bellowed with a laugh, “Charioteer, my brother, stay down before you get blood on the ground!*”

*A joke: in Greek, Idomeneus said… πρὶν ἐκχεῖν αἵμα ἐπ’ αἶαν, using the word aia-n for “ground” which sounds a lot like Aias, the son of Telamon.


Now we turn to a strange match-up: Patroklos son of Menoitios vs. Makhaon the son of Asklepios. Perhaps this is why Apollo dislikes him?

NANAIHB Day 3 (2)

Patroklos: the son of Menoitios who fights alongside his angrier half, Achilles. He is not originally from Phthia, but grew up there in exile from Opos after he killed a child his own age in anger over a game of dice. He appears by Achilles’ side throughout the Iliad until he takes his place in battle and falls at Hektor’s hands (helped by Apollo and Euphorbos). He even patiently listens to Achilles’ singing (Πάτροκλος δέ οἱ οἶος ἐναντίος ἧστο σιωπῇ, / δέγμενος Αἰακίδην ὁπότε λήξειεν ἀείδων, 9.190-191).

Patroklos does everything for Achilles: he gives Briseis back, he makes food, he has a bed made up for Phoinix, he goes to see about Makhaon’s wound, and he leads the Myrmidons to Battle, and dies for him. (But he is not listed as one of the leaders of the Myrmidons in the Catalogue of Ships). In battle he’s a terror: he kills Sarpedon and almost breaks through the walls of Troy themselves. Before he dies he may just be the only one to temper Achilles’ rage: As a scholion states (Schol. BT a Il. 307b) “it is likely that Patroklos goes with Achilles when he is enraged for the purpose of calming his spirit. This is because he is kind, as is clear from the fact that he pities the Acheans” (εἰκότως τῷ ᾿Αχιλλεῖ θυμικῷ ὄντι ἤπιος ὢν Πάτροκλος πάρεστι πρὸς τὸ τὸν θυμὸν αὐτοῦ μαλάσσειν. ὅτι δὲ πρᾷός ἐστι, δῆλον ἐξ ὧν οἰκτείρει τοὺς ᾿Αχαιούς)

Makhaon, a healer and leader of the contingent from Oikhaliê, Trikke and Ithômê (yes, where?) is a son of Asklepios and led 30 ships to Troy. He administered his arts to Menelaos in the middle of battle (book 4) and was enjoying his own aristeia in book 11 until he was shot in the shoulder by Paris. He is so beloved by his companions that when Achilles witnesses his rescue in book 11 he sends Patroklos to inquire about him, setting off the sequence of events that will seal everyone’s fate. Also, Diogenes Laertius lets slip that he just might be Aristotle’s ancestor (Ἀριστοτέλης Νικομάχου καὶ Φαιστίδος Σταγειρίτης. ὁ δὲ Νικόμαχος ἦν ἀπὸ Νικομάχου τοῦ Μαχάονος τοῦ Ἀσκληπιοῦ, καθά φησιν Ἕρμιππος ἐν τῷ Περὶ Ἀριστοτέλους, 5.1).

Let’s be honest. This probably isn’t fair. But it just might come down to how mild a temper Patroklos actually has. Don’t take your feelings out about Aristotle on Makhaon. Diogenes might not trust his sources on this….

NANAIHB Day 3: Meriones vs. Ajax

This is the thirdday of the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket tournament to once and for all establish the second best of the Achaeans. 

A brief recap from yesterday’s match which pitted the hero-king of Crete, Idomeneus, against one of the Epigonoi, Sthenelos the sacker of Thebes.

Idomeneus stepped away from his corner where Nestor was still giving him instructions he had not heard and stood still, waiting for Sthenelos. Sthenelos, was talking heatedly with Phoinix, and the only words any word heard sound like “father”, “better”, and “destruction of Thebes”. Sthenelos turned around and said, “Hail, descendant of Minos, Lord of Crete,King of one hundred cities, the Son of Capaneus will bring you down like the city of seven-gated Thebes!”

Idomeneus waited. Sthenelos hurled his first spear, and missed. The second lodged in Idomeneus’ shield without piercing it. Sthenelos drew his sword and charged, dropping it after he struck Idomeneus’ shield with all his force. Idomeneus was about to draw his sword when Diomedes caught his eye. The Cretan shrugged, raised his shield, and thwamped Sthenelos on the head. The light left the eyes of the Argive prince as he knelt to the ground. Unconscious, but still breathing.

As Idomeneus hefted his shield again, Epeios chuckled to Eurypulos, “ἴδε οἱ μένος!*

*ide hoi menos: “look at his strength!” a play on the name Idomeneus


Today’s contest pits the Cretan Charioteer, Meriones, against the Salaminian Tower of Strength, Ajax. The winner will face Idomeneus in the next round, which will be super awkward if it is Meriones.

NANAIHB Day 2 (2)

Meriones: In the first version of this bracket, Meriones had slipped out. But there was a roar from justice as people clamored to have him back in. So, who is he? He is the half-brother of Idomeneus, often called his charioteer and he has at least seven kills in the Iliad, where he is first named as “equal to man-slaying Enyalios” (Μηριόνης τ’ ἀτάλαντος ᾿Ενυαλίῳ ἀνδρειφόντῃ, 2.651). In book 7, he is one of the 9 who stands to face Hektor in a dual and he volunteers to join Diomedes on his night raid in book 10. In each case he is second only to the more famous Ajax and Odysseus. Perhaps his most humorous moment is when he rushes out of the battle in book 13 and meets Idomeneus, saying “I am going to see if there are any spears left / in our dwellings for I have just now broken the one I was holding / when I threw it at the spear of that super-manly Deiphobos” (ἔρχομαι εἴ τί τοι ἔγχος ἐνὶ κλισίῃσι λέλειπται / οἰσόμενος· τό νυ γὰρ κατεάξαμεν ὃ πρὶν ἔχεσκον / ἀσπίδα Δηϊφόβοιο βαλὼν ὑπερηνορέοντος, 13.256-258). He stands with Idomeneus in book 13 to rally again the Trojan attack. He’s fast, he’s good with the bow too.

Ajax: What is there to say about Ajax? Outside the Iliad he is most famous for losing to Odysseus in the judgment of Achilles’ arms. He is a son of Telamon, which by most accounts makes him Achilles’ cousin (Peleus and Telamon were brothers). He came to Troy from Salamis with 12 ships and was central in later traditions for arguing the ‘ownership’ of Salamis. He is by far the best man after Achilles and Helen describes him as the “monstrous tower of the Achaeans” (οὗτος δ’ Αἴας ἐστὶ πελώριος ἕρκος ᾿Αχαιῶν, 3.229) since both he and Idomeneus standout from afar. He tears battle lines apart singlehandedly! He carries a shield as large as a tower (Αἴας δ’ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθε φέρων σάκος ἠΰτε πύργον, 7.219). When he runs out of spears, well he’s hero enough to toss boulders at people. He duels Hektor (and then later Odysseus) to a draw. But for all these he seems pretty even-headed. IN book 9, he’s the one who breaks Achilles down a bit (Iliad 9.632-638):

“You are relentless: someone might even accept payment
for the murder of a brother or the death of his own child.
and after making great restitution, the killer remains in his country,
and though bereft, the other restrains his heart and mighty anger
once he has accepted the price. But the gods put an untouchable
and wicked rage in your heart over only a girl…”

νηλής· καὶ μέν τίς τε κασιγνήτοιο φονῆος
ποινὴν ἢ οὗ παιδὸς ἐδέξατο τεθνηῶτος·
καί ῥ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν δήμῳ μένει αὐτοῦ πόλλ’ ἀποτίσας,
τοῦ δέ τ’ ἐρητύεται κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ
ποινὴν δεξαμένῳ· σοὶ δ’ ἄληκτόν τε κακόν τε
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι θεοὶ θέσαν εἵνεκα κούρης

NANAIHB Day 2: Idomeneus vs. Sthenelos

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.

Teucer 1 Tweet

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?


The Second Best of the Achaeans? Introducing the NANAIHB

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, shedding 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.


Day 2

Day 3