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.
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!”
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.
*These lines are creatively adapted from the Iliad
**Special thanks to Justin Arft for helping with the ending