#NANAIHB Final Results, Diomedes Wins! (Or, does he?)

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. Ajax prevailed in the first match. Today, the final left Tydeus’ son at 52.5% and Ajax the Great behind at 47.5.


In nearly a decade of war and distractions only Muse-blessed singers can imagine, the Achaeans had previously believed that they had witnessed every wonder available for mortal witnesses. But as the day turned to night and Ajax and Diomedes stood facing each other in arms, they stood  and yelled loudly to one another about the fight between Telamon’s giant of a son, and the city-sacking, horse-taming son of Tydeus. To think, what short memories mortals have when they quickly forget the wonders that have come before!

Ajax pushed his brother Teucer and Ajax away from him and motioned for Agamemnon to leave the circle, speaking first: “Diomedes, strong son of Tydeus, let’s skip the boasting and taunting and save our breaths. No mortal knows what the next way will bring. So let us fight now and then join again in wine as friends before this day is over.” The Achaeans cheered at Ajax’s greeting and Diomedes smiled, yelling in response, “Aye, you massive tower of an Achaean, proud Telamon’s son. It is no boast to claim that one of us will win, any more than it is to say that one day we both will die. May Athena who loves Argos and Poseidon who watches the Salaminian straits favor each of us today!”

The two heroes entered battle without spears and immediately clashed together. The sound of bronze striking bronze rang out once, twice, and then three times, echoing over the fields no less than when Typhoeus came rushing down from the Sky or when the Hundred-handers scoured the Titans from the earth. On the walls of Troy, Priam trembled as he watched, that such warriors awaited his people and Hektor cried tears of sorrow that he was not a champion on that day. Only Helen was still, lost in thoughts that with such two heroes alive, she had married Menelaos and Paris in turn.

Again and again sword struck shield and the only difference anyone could see was the slow changes in speed. Ajax’s massive shield was not meant for leaping and defending against Tydeus’ furious son. With each clash, the Telamonian’s left fell slightly lower. Diomedes knew and he rushed. Again and again he struck his opponent’s shield with sword and shield of his own. Ajax roared and slipped back too slow. Diomedes leapt over his shield, drew a long line of blood from Ajax’s shoulder and stood facing him from behind.

Ajax nodded his head and knelt, yielding. Patroklos shouted out*:

“Telamonian Ajas was indeed best of men
As long as Achilles was in rage. For he is so strong!
But now, see here one who seems to be the best of the Achaeans
And of the rest of the Danaans after Peleus’ blameless son.
This overawing son of Tydeus, Diomedes!

ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας,
ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν· ὃ γὰρ πολὺ φέρτατος ἦεν,
νῦν δ’ ἴδεν ὃς μέγ’ ἄριστος ᾿Αχαιῶν φαίνεται εἶναι,
τῶν τ᾿ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα·
οὕτος τε Τυδέος υἱὸς ὑπέρθυμος Διομήδης

The Achaeans roared in assent to Patroklos’ declaration and they all marveled at godlike Diomedes as he stood like a pillar in the middle of the assembly.

Diomedes with the Palladion

Amid the fervor, Nestor heard what sounded like distant weeping. He looked to see Odysseus sitting apart from the men, covering his face to muffle the sound of his groaning. Diomedes also heard and approached Odysseus, drawing the Achaeans’ attention along with him. Exuberant from his win, Diomedes briskly slapped his comrade on the arm and said “Wily Odysseus! Why do you heave these tears? You may have lost the day, but this war will be a song for men to come! Troy has not yet fallen. Perhaps one day they will sing how you became the best of the Achaeans—after Achilles and myself!”

Odysseus and Diomedes Steal the Palladion

Some men laughed, but Odysseus wept even louder. He now had the whole army’s attention, and they all fell silent as the contest slipped into memory. Achilles alone understood and whispered to Diomedes “My mother told me more than my own fate. He does not weep for his loss, but for theirs.” As Odysseus collected himself and rose he said “Friends, I am not accustomed to defeat, but Diomedes has proven to be the better of us. No man among men will soon overshadow this day.” Odysseus then embraced Diomedes and only Achilles caught his smile over other the hero’s shoulder.

Diomedes (on the left) exchanging weapons with Glaucus, a captain of the Lycian army. Attic red-figure pelike by the Hasselmann Painter, ca. 420 BC. 

*These lines are creatively adapted from the Iliad

**Special thanks to Justin Arft for helping with the ending

Odysseus slays Diomedes?

#NANAIHB The Final Smackdown: Ajax vs. Diomedes

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. Ajax prevailed in the first match. Today, the match we were all waiting for.



In the Odyssey, Ajax is best in size and looks / of all the Danaans after Peleus’ blameless son” Αἴαντός θ’, ὃς ἄριστος ἔην εἶδός τε δέμας τε / τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα. (11.469-470) and in the Iliad he is curiously the “best of men while Achilles was raging” (ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν, 1.768-769). I think that these moments acknowledge how important Ajax is in the Trojan War, but indicate, perhaps, that this importance is softened in the Iliad. In iconography of the 6th and 5th Centuries BCE, Ajax appears in some of the most memorable repeated images: seated, playing a game with Achilles; carrying Achilles’ corpse from the battle field; fighting with Odysseus over Achilles’ weapons; and taking his own life on Hektor’s sword. In the Iliad, he is really important in book 9 (when he is part of the embassy to Achilles) but on the battle field, he lags behind Diomedes, Odysseus, Patroklus, and Achilles (check this info-graphic). Ajax is a versatile killer: in the Iliad he slays with spear, sword and stone. Compared to Diomedes, however, Ajax may be just a replacement level Achilles.

So, maybe Ajax’s secondariness was always important in the Homeric tradition? Well, now we have a chance to make it official

Achilles Ajax dice Louvre MNB911 n2.jpg
Achilles (on the left) and Ajax the Great (on the right) playing dice, identified by inscriptions. Detail of a white-figure Attic lekythos.

Diomedes has some important presence in myth outside of the Iliad too, most famously for taking Thebes with the Epigonoi (a lost epic), giving him the right to claim himself better than his father. He is important following the events of the Iliad where he helps Odysseus get the palladion from Troy (only to almost get murdered for it.

Homer seems to have a special place for Diomedes. He is there doing what Achilles should be when Peleus’ son is absent; and he mostly disappears when Achilles is gone. (He even gets wounded in the foot by Paris!) He has the greatest number of kills of all the Achaeans, but, a good third of them are against unarmed men. There may be a little two much Odysseus to this figure—which may be the point. Diomedes is, in a way, something of a compromise between the ruthless intelligence of Odysseus and the brute force of Achilles. Importantly, Diomedes accomplishes a lot of his action through speech, perhaps allowing him to become the kind of political figure Achilles could have been, if not for his overpowering rage.


May the (second) best hero win.

Aias Carrying Body of Achilles - detail from Francois vase c 565 BCE fForence Italy Arch Museum.jpg
Large Attic Black-figure volute-krater dating to c. 570-565 BC
Ajax body Achilles Louvre F201.jpg
Ajax carrying the dead Achilleus, protected by Hermes (on the left) and Athena (on the right). Side 1 from an Attic black-figure neck-amphora, ca. 520-510 BC.

#NANAIHB Semifinals, Match 2: Patroklos vs. Diomedes

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. Ajax prevailed in the first match. Today Diomedes meets Patroklos


Semifinal 2 Results: Diomedes Prevails!

The Achaean assembly was buzzing like a hive in adoration of its queen as Patroklos and Diomedes prepared to face one another. In the seasdie corner, Achilles helped Patroklos put on his armor, talking constantly with encouragement and advice about Diomedes’ tendency to drop his shield arm when parrying to the left. Those near him could hear Achilles tell Patroklos that Diomedes was far superior with his sword and it would be best to finish him quickly.

Aged Nestor and Sthenelos stood next to Diomedes as he watch the preparations. Tydeus’ son had been standing in full armor for over an hour. Many of the Achaeans had arrived at the assembly to find him already there, staring out towards the sea.

As Agamemnon stepped into the center to call the contest’s start, those near Diomedes could hear him praying:

“Hear me, Atrutônê, dear child of Aegis bearing Zeus.
If ever you also stood alongside my father in concern
Amid the violent battle, care for me now in turn, Athena.”

κλῦθί μευ αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς τέκος ᾿Ατρυτώνη,
εἴ ποτέ μοι καὶ πατρὶ φίλα φρονέουσα παρέστης
δηΐῳ ἐν πολέμῳ, νῦν αὖτ’ ἐμὲ φῖλαι ᾿Αθήνη·

Across from him, Patroklos turned and raised his hands to the sea, intoning:

“Hear me, fine haired Thetis, mother of Achilles,
Hear me, goddess, come as a good helper for my feet.”

κλῦθί μευ καλλιπλοκάμε Θέτι μῆτερ Ἀχιλῆος
κλῦθι θεά, ἀγαθή μοι ἐπίρροθος ἐλθὲ ποδοῖιν.

As Agamemnon called out, Patrklos hurled his spear first and Diomedes redirected it with his shield only to barely dodge the next spear headed for his right thigh. Patroklos had sent the first spear wide left to draw Diomedes’ spear arm. Tydeus’ son was saved from a quick injury by a gust of wind that left the errant spear to graze the strong belt near his hip.

Diomedes took careful aim and launched one spear after another, missing easily each time as Patroklos sped from side to side, racing towards him. Diomedes leaned down and picked up a stone with one hand so large two men with a cart and a bar could not move it today and he waited. Patroklos was closing on him and when he was two strides away, Diomedes launched the stone in the air, dropped his shield and punched Patroklos square in the chest. As the hero fell back, the stone plummeted, narrowly missed Patroklos’ head, but landing on the end of his left foot, crushing the toes.

Diomedes vaunted, “Patroklos, yield, the fame of your fury will reach your father’s ears.” And the Achaeans laughed because Diomedes’ wordplay had exceeded Agamemnon’s earlier attempts as much as his valor in war surpassed the Atreids’. Patroklos, yelled back “Son of Tydeus, you are certainly strong in war, but you have not beat me yet.” As Patroklos got to his feet, Achilles roared from the sideline, “Be careful Diomedes, you can scar his face, but I don’t want another wound to his legs!” And, as expected, the gathered Achaeans started laughing again.

Patroklos drew his sword and the two began to circle, feinting and parrying. Diomedes kept pressing him to move on his injured foot, and Menoitios’ son stayed light and fast, but his sword work was slower and his shield arm was wearing from the relentless strikes meted out by Tydeus’ son.NANAIHB Day 12 (2)

The crowd was restless and calling out to Diomedes to finish it. But Patroklos kept fighting. To everyone’s surprise, Patroklos faked slipping on his injured foot and came around to cut deeply into Diomedes’ left arm. Diomedes dropped his shield and stood there, surprised and suddenly still. Patroklos roared in victory and rushed at him. Diomedes stepped aside, parried the charge, and let Patrklos’ speed take him forward. He brought the butt of his sword back around and smashed it into his opponent’s helmet. Patroklos crumpled to the ground.

Achilles yelled, “Stay your sword, violent son of Tydeus. My Patroklos yields.” The Achaeans erupted in cheers as Sthenelos helped Diomedes tend to his wound and Achilles came over to lift Patroklos from the ground.

*τὸ κλέος μένεος ὦτα εἰς πατρὶδος ἔρχοιτο! Diomedes echoed the name of Menoitios in “fury to ears” [Meneos ota] while also echoing Patroklos’ name with “fame [kleos] to your father [patridos]”

Achilles tending Patroclus’ wound

The final round starts tomorrow: Ajax vs. Diomedes for the title of Second best of theAchaeans!

#NANAIHB Semifinals, Match 2: Patroklos vs. Diomedes

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.

NANAIHB day 11

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.

NANAIHB day 11 (2)

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?

Achilles tending Patroclus’ wound

#NANAIHB Semifinals, Match 1: Odysseus vs. Ajax

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: Odysseus vs. Ajax

Imagine if Rocky 2 happened before Rocky? That’s kind of what this contest is like. The clash between Odysseus and Ajax over Achilles’ arms after his death was well known in the 6th century BCE when it appears on many black figure vases. The tension between them is arguably felt in our Iliad where they meet in a wrestling match so evenly that Achilles stops it:

Iliad 24.735-7

“Stop competing, the two of you! don’t wear yourselves out with injuries.
Both of you win! Leave the contest now and take equal prizes
So that the rest of the Achaeans can compete!”

μηκέτ’ ἐρείδεσθον, μὴ δὲ τρίβεσθε κακοῖσι·
νίκη δ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν· ἀέθλια δ’ ἶσ’ ἀνελόντες
ἔρχεσθ’, ὄφρα καὶ ἄλλοι ἀεθλεύωσιν ᾿Αχαιοί.

The origin of the conflict between these two heroes is, I think, probably part of a redefinition of what a hero is and what qualities are most important. Ajax is definitely the biggest and baddest dude after Achilles, but Odysseus is a survivor and a schemer. Both figures are important to Achilles as well: Gregory Nagy argues that Ajax and Odysseus are a thematic pair during the embassy to Achilles in book 9. As Nagy notes, Phoinix calls them “the best men in the Achaean army” (9.520-1).

NANAIHB Day 10 (2)

The real difficulty is where they really are the best: Ajax is second in the Iliad but Odysseus is the first in the Odyssey, even if only because he’s still alive! Odysseus is definitely in on their differences: he bestows faint praise upon him when he describes: “Ajax, who was best in size and looks / of all the Danaans after Peleus’ blameless son” Αἴαντός θ’, ὃς ἄριστος ἔην εἶδός τε δέμας τε / τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα. (11.469-470). And he allegedly addressed him when he went to consult the ghost of Teiresias.

Odyssey 11. 543-562

“Only the ghost of Telamon’s son, Ajax
Stood apart, still angry over the victory
That I won over him in when I competed near the ships
For Achilles’ weapons. His divine mother set the competition
And the Trojan children judged it along with Pallas Athen.
Oh, I wish that I had never won in that kind of a contest!
The earth covered over such a man as Ajax over these things,
A man who was preeminent in size and accomplishments
Among the rest of the Danaans after Peleus’ blameless son.
I was trying to address him with kind words:

“Ajax, blameless child of Telamon, even in death
Were you not ready to give up your anger with me over the weapons,
Those ruinous weapons which the gods gave as pain to the Argives!
For you were lost as such a tower over them! The Achaians
Grieved over your passing endlessly even equal to
The loss of the life of Peleus’ son Achilles.
No one is to blame apart from Zeus who tortured the army
Of the spear-carrying Danaans so terribly, he set this fate for you.
Come, lord, com here to listen to my word and speech.
Master your anger and your proud heart.”

οἴη δ’ Αἴαντος ψυχὴ Τελαμωνιάδαο
νόσφιν ἀφεστήκει, κεχολωμένη εἵνεκα νίκης,
τήν μιν ἐγὼ νίκησα δικαζόμενος παρὰ νηυσὶ
τεύχεσιν ἀμφ’ ᾿Αχιλῆος· ἔθηκε δὲ πότνια μήτηρ,
παῖδες δὲ Τρώων δίκασαν καὶ Παλλὰς ᾿Αθήνη.
ὡς δὴ μὴ ὄφελον νικᾶν τοιῷδ’ ἐπ’ ἀέθλῳ·
τοίην γὰρ κεφαλὴν ἕνεκ’ αὐτῶν γαῖα κατέσχεν,
Αἴανθ’, ὃς περὶ μὲν εἶδος, περὶ δ’ ἔργα τέτυκτο
τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα.
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼν ἐπέεσσι προσηύδων μειλιχίοισιν·
‘Αἶαν, παῖ Τελαμῶνος ἀμύμονος, οὐκ ἄρ’ ἔμελλες
οὐδὲ θανὼν λήσεσθαι ἐμοὶ χόλου εἵνεκα τευχέων
οὐλομένων; τὰ δὲ πῆμα θεοὶ θέσαν ᾿Αργείοισι·
τοῖος γάρ σφιν πύργος ἀπώλεο· σεῖο δ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἶσον ᾿Αχιλλῆος κεφαλῇ Πηληϊάδαο
ἀχνύμεθα φθιμένοιο διαμπερές· οὐδέ τις ἄλλος
αἴτιος, ἀλλὰ Ζεὺς Δαναῶν στρατὸν αἰχμητάων
ἐκπάγλως ἤχθηρε, τεῒν δ’ ἐπὶ μοῖραν ἔθηκεν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δεῦρο, ἄναξ, ἵν’ ἔπος καὶ μῦθον ἀκούσῃς
ἡμέτερον· δάμασον δὲ μένος καὶ ἀγήνορα θυμόν.’

Personally, I don’t know if Odysseus is entirely serious when he laments “Oh, I wish that I had never won in that kind of a contest!” And it seems typical of this particular hero that he does not allow us to hear Ajax speak.

This passage is typically taken as our earliest evidence of the conflict. According to a scholion, the “Trojan children” were captives Agamemnon assigned to judge, asking which of the two heroes had caused the Trojans the most harm (Schol. In Hom. Od H. 11.547). In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the two of them deliver orations explaining why they deserve the weapons and the people vote. In Sophocles’ play, it seems that the Atreids made the choice together.

The conflict over the weapons is in some sources over the glory of retrieving the Palladion for the city (see Gantz 1993, 645-6) while more sources place the argument over the arms in the lost Aithiopis or the Little Iliad where Odysseus wins through Athena’s help and, as best dramatized in Sophocles’ Ajax, Telamon’s son loses his mind and kills himself.

I am not saying that we could redress an injustice committed long ago, but think about Odysseus’ words when you cast your vote.

File:Detail of Odysseus and Aias fighting for Achilles Armor from Oinochoe Louvre F340 glare reduced 1200x500.png
c.520 BCE by the Teleides Painter
File:Odysseus Ajax Louvre F340.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Unretouched version in the Louvre
Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 3358.
Aithiopis VII – Strife of Ajax and Odysseus | According to P… | Flickr
This image is from flickr by Egisto Sani Beazley 302033
Odysseus and Ajax
390505, ATHENIAN, Berlin, Antikensammlung, F2000 Beazley archive
525 BCE [From the same flickr stream as above]

#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?