The Funeral Games in Honor of Patroclus by Walter C. Perry

The noble Achilles could not do enough in honor of his lost friend, Patroclus, and he had determined to hold games, of every kind, in which the mail-clad Achaians might compete for prizes; and to this end he had brought goodly treasures from his ships,—tripods, and caldrons, horses, mules, and oxen, well-girdled women, and hoary iron. The first and most important contest was a chariot race, for which he offered a woman skilled in needlework, and a two-handled tripod, holding two-and-twenty measures—these, for the best man of all; the second prize was a mare, six years old, with a mule foal; the third prize was a fair new caldron, of four measures; the fourth was two talents of bright gold; the fifth was a two-handled vase, untarnished by the fire.

And Achilles addressed the chiefs, and said, “If the race were in honor of some other warrior, then should I enter the lists, and bear away the prize; for ye know that my horses are immortal, and by far the best; Neptune, the Earth-Girdler, gave them to my father, and he to me. But I and they will stand aside; for they have lost a noble and gentle driver, who oft-times washed them with clear water and then poured soft oil upon their goodly manes! And now they stand with sorrow in their breasts, and their full long manes are trailing on the earth. But now, let whoever of you trusteth in his horses and his strong chariot take his place in the lists!”

And first came forward Eumelus, son of Admetus; next came the mighty Diomedes, with the famous horses of Tros, which he had taken from Æneas; then arose Menelaus,—the fair-haired, godlike Menelaus, with Aithe, Agamemnon’s mare, and his own horse, Podargus; and the fourth was Antilochus, son of the wise Nestor, who yoked swift Pylian horses to his chariot.

His father Nestor, son of Neleus, stood by Antilochus, and gave him good advice, although he himself was wise. “Antilochus, my son,” he said, “though thou art young, yet Zeus and Neptune have loved thee, and made thee a perfect horseman; and there is little need for me to teach thee. But the other horses are better than thine; and I fear that much trouble is in store for thee. But skill and cunning are better than force, and so one charioteer defeats another. Look well to the posts at either end, and run closely by them. Now I will tell thee another thing. Some six feet above the ground, there stands the withered stump of a tree, with two white stones, on either side; this is the mark fixed by the swift-footed Achilles. Do thou drive thy horses hard by this, and lean slightly to the left, and lash the off horse and give him rein; but let the near horse so closely skirt the post that the nave of the wheel of thy car may seem to graze the stone; but beware of touching it!”

Next, Meriones made ready his chariot; and so did the others. Then they mounted their cars, and drew lots for their places. Great Diomedes drew the best. Achilles ranged them all side by side, and pointed to the turning-post, in the plain, near which he posted old Phœnix, as umpire.

Then, at a signal from the son of Peleus, they raised their long whips, together, standing upright, and lashed their horses, and encouraged them by hand and voice. And the chariots now ran evenly on the ground, and now bounded high in air. But when they entered the last part of the course, driving towards the sea, the fleet mares of Eumelus, grandson of Pheres, rushed to the front; and next came Diomedes, with the stallions of Tros, so near that they seemed to be mounting the car of Eumelus, and with their hot breath covered his back and shoulders. Then Tydides would either have gained a victory, or it would have been at least a dead heat; but Phœbus Apollo was angry with him, and dashed his shining whip from his hand. He shed hot tears of fury, when he saw that the mares of Eumelus were still at their utmost speed, while his own horses slackened their speed, no longer feeling the lash. But, luckily for Diomedes, his constant friend Athene marked the trick of Apollo; and, speeding after Diomedes, she gave him back the scourge, and put fresh mettle into his steeds. She then pursued Eumelus, and brake the yoke of his horses; they bolted from the course, and he was hurled off his car into the dust. Meanwhile, Tydides rushed on before the others, for Athene was shedding glory on his head.

Next to him ran the horses of Menelaus, son of Atreus. Then came Antilochus, son of Nestor, who spake thus to his father’s Pylian horses: “I do not ask you to contend with Tydides, whose horses Athene herself is speeding; but I pray you to catch up the chariot of Atrides; and be not beaten by Aithe, lest she, who is only a mare, pour ridicule upon you.” Thus spake Antilochus, and his horses were afraid, and sped on more swiftly. But Antilochus noted a narrow gully, where the rain had collected and had carried away a part of the course. There Menelaus was driving, when Antilochus turned his horses out of the way, and followed him at one side. Then Menelaus, fearing a collision, shouted loudly to the son of Nestor: “Antilochus, hold in thy horses! and drive not so recklessly! close ahead there is a wider space, where we can pass one another!” But Antilochus, as if he heard him not, drove on more madly than ever and plied the lash; and the golden-haired son of Atreus called again to him, reproving him: “Antilochus, there is no man more spiteful than thou; away with thee! wrongly have we called thee wise!” Then he called on his horses, and they increased their speed, fearing the anger of their lord, and quickly overtook the others.

Now the Argive chiefs sat together, watching the race as the chariots flew along the course. The first to see them coming was Idomeneus, the Cretan prince, the son of Deucalion; he was sitting apart from the rest on the highest place, and he could distinguish the voices of the drivers. He noticed a chestnut horse, with a white star on his forehead, round like the full moon; and he stood up and spake: “Friends and Counselors of the Argives! can ye see the horses as I do? To me, there appeareth a new chariot and horses; and the mares which led at the start I can no longer see.”

Then the son of Oïleus, Ajax, rebuked him in boorish fashion: “Idomeneus, why chatterest thou before the time? Thou art not one of the youngest, nor are thine eyes of the sharpest. The same mares of Eumelus are still leading, and he is standing up in the chariot.”

And the great chief, Idomeneus, answered in great wrath, “Ajax, ever ready to abuse, inconsiderate slanderer! thou art in all respects inferior to the other Argives, for thy mind is rude.”

Thus spoke the Cretan hero. And the son of Oïleus rose again, to reply with scornful words; but Achilles himself stood forward and said, “No longer, Idomeneus and Ajax, bandy insulting words with one another; for it is not meet! Sit ye still, and watch; and soon will ye know which horses are leading.” He spake; and straightway Tydides came driving up in his fair chariot, overlaid with gold and tin, which ran lightly behind the horses, and scarcely left a trace in the fine dust of the plain. Checking his horses in the middle of the crowd, he leapt to the ground and claimed the splendid prize; and the gallant Sthenelus made no delay, but gave to his victorious comrade the woman and the tripod to bear away.

Next to Diomedes came the son of Nestor, Antilochus, who had passed by Menelaus by a clever stratagem, though his horses were inferior; but even so, Menelaus had pressed him hard, and was behind him only so far as a horse is from the wheel of the chariot which he draweth.

But Meriones, the brave charioteer of Idomeneus, came in about the cast of a lance behind Menelaus; for his horses were the slowest, and he was himself but a sluggish driver. Last of all came Eumelus, the son of Admetus, dragging his broken chariot. The swift-footed Achilles, son of Peleus, pitied him, and spake winged words to the chiefs: “Lo! the best man of all comes last; but let us give him a prize—the second! And let Tydides bear away the first!”

All the Achaians heard him, and shouted applause; and the noble Achilles would have given him the mare had not Antilochus, son of the wise and glorious Nestor, stood up in defense of his claim: “O Achilles!” he said, “justly shall I be wroth with thee, if thou takest away the prize which I have fairly won. Thou thinkest only of the unlucky chance which hath befallen Eumelus and his horses; but he ought to have made prayer to the deathless Gods, and then he would not have come in last of all. If thou pitiest him, there is much treasure in thy house,—gold, and bronze, and sheep, and handmaids, and horses. Give him, if it pleaseth thee and the Achaians, a still richer prize. But I will not give up the mare; for she is mine.”

And Achilles smiled on his comrade Antilochus, whom he dearly loved, and answered him, “Antilochus, I will do as thou sayest: I will give him the bronze cuirass, edged with shining tin, which I took from Asteropæus.”

But the great Menelaus arose, filled with insatiable wrath against Antilochus. The herald placed a sceptre in his hand, and called for silence. Then the godlike king made harangue, and said, “Antilochus! thou who wert once accounted wise—what is this that thou hast done? Thou hast disgraced my skill, and discomfited my horses, by thrusting thine, which are far worse, in front of them. Come then, great chiefs of the Argives! give judgment, without favor, between him and me! That no one may say hereafter, that ye favored me for my power and rank, I will myself set the issue before you; so that no one may reproach me. Stand forth, Antilochus, before thy chariot; and take thy whip, and lay thy hand upon thy horses, and swear by the great Girdler and Shaker of the Earth, that thou didst not, by set purpose and malice, hinder my chariot in the course!”

Then Antilochus made prudent answer, “Be patient with me, King Menelaus! for I am younger, and thou art in all respects my better. Bear with me, then: and I will myself give thee the mare, my prize, rather than lose my place in thy heart, O thou beloved of Zeus!” Thus spake the noble-minded son of Nestor; and he gave the mare to Menelaus, king of men.

And the heart of the son of Atreus rejoiced, as the ripe ears of corn, when the dew descendeth upon them, in the glistening cornfield. And he spake kindly to Antilochus, and said, “Lo! at once do I put away my anger; for of old thou wert never rash or light-minded; but now thy reason was overborne by the impetuosity of youth. Therefore I grant thy prayer, and will even give thee the mare; for I am in no wise covetous or unforgiving.”

He spake, and gave the mare to Noëmon, the comrade of Antilochus, to lead away; but he took the bright caldron to himself. And Meriones, who came in fourth, took the two talents of gold. But the fifth prize, a vase with two handles, was not obtained; and the noble Achilles gave this to Nestor, and, standing by him, uttered winged words:—

“Let this, O Father! be for thee an heirloom, and a memorial of Patroclus’ funeral games—of him, whom thou wilt never see again! I give it to thee since thou mayest not contend in boxing, nor in wrestling, nor in throwing the lance, nor in the foot-race; for rueful old age weigheth heavily upon thee.”

Nestor gladly received the splendid gift, and spake: “True and fitting are thy words, dear friend! My limbs are no longer sound, nor do my arms move easily from my shoulders; and I must make way for younger men. But I accept thy free gift with joy, and rejoice that thou dost remember our old friendship.”

Then Pelides brought forward the prizes for the rough, fierce boxing-match: a six-year-old unbroken mule for the winner; and a two-handled goblet for the loser. Then quickly rose the famous boxer Epeius, and laid his hand on the stubborn mule, and boasted aloud: “Let who will bear away the goblet; but the mule is mine! for no one will beat me with his fists!” They all kept silence, and feared. Only one came forward, even Euryalus, the gallant son of King Mecistus. The famous warrior Tydides made him ready for the fight, and bade him God speed. The twain went into the ring, and fell to work; and terrible was the gnashing of their teeth, and the sweat ran down from their limbs. Epeius came on fiercely, and struck Euryalus on the cheek, and that was enough; for all his limbs were loosened. As a fish on a weedy beach, in the ripple caused by Boreas, leapeth high in air, so Euryalus leapt up in his anguish. But the generous Epeius raised him again to his feet, and his comrades led him away, with dragging feet and drooping head, and spitting out black blood.

Next came the terrible wrestling match; and for this the glorious Achilles brought out two costly prizes: for the winner, a fireproof tripod, worth twelve oxen; and for the loser, a woman skilled in handiwork, valued at four oxen. And he cried aloud to the Achaians, “Stand forward all ye who will enter into this contest!”

Then rose Telamonian Ajax and the crafty Ulysses, and faced each other. And they entered the ring, and grasped each other with their strong hands, like the rafters of a house, joined by some skillful builder to withstand the wind. Their backbones grated and creaked beneath the strain; the sweat poured down from their limbs, and bloody weals streaked their sides and shoulders, as they struggled for the well-wrought tripod. But neither could Ulysses throw the burly Ajax, nor Ajax him. And when the Achaians grew tired of the futile contest, Ajax spake to Ulysses: “O thou offspring of the Gods, Laertes’ son! do thou lift me, or I will lift thee, and the issue will be on the lap of Zeus!”

So saying, he raised Ulysses. But the Wily One did not forget his craft. From behind, he struck the hollow of Ajax’s knee, and threw him on his back; and Ulysses fell upon him; and the people marveled. Then, in his turn, Ulysses tried to lift huge Ajax, but could not; so he thrust his crooked knee into the hollow of the other’s; and they again both fell to the ground, covered with dust. When they rose for a third bout, Achilles restrained them. “No longer wear ye one another out, with toil and pain! Ye both have won and shall receive equal prizes!” And they cleansed themselves, and put on their doublets.

Then the noble son of Peleus offered prizes for the foot-race; the first, a silver krater holding six measures, curiously chased by Sidonian artists—by far the most beautiful mixing-cup in the whole world. For the second he offered a stalled ox; and for the third, half a talent of gold. The wondrous krater Phœnicians had brought by sea, and given it to Thoas, the ruler of Lemnos; and Euneus, son of Jason, inherited it from Jason, who received it from Thoas, his father-in-law; and Euneus gave it to the hero Patroclus, as a ransom for Lycaon, son of Priam; this splendid goblet was offered to the swiftest of foot.

Then three valiant heroes arose: Ajax, son of Oïleus; Ulysses, the wily one; and Antilochus, the best runner of the youths. Achilles ranged them side by side, and showed them the goal. All started at full speed; but Ajax soon took the lead; and Ulysses came close behind him, near as the shuttle to the breast of a fair-girdled woman when she is weaving,—so near that his breath was warm on the back of Ajax. But as they neared the goal, the wily Ulysses prayed to the fierce-eyed Athene, “O goddess, come and help my feet!” And Athene heard her favorite, and strengthened all his limbs. But just as they were about to pounce upon the prize, Ajax slipped in the blood of the slaughtered oxen, and fell; his mouth and nostrils were filled with dirt and gore. So the patient Ulysses took the priceless krater, and Ajax the fatted ox. But Ajax, holding his prize by the horn, and spitting the filth from his mouth, spake to the Achaians: “O fie upon it! it was the goddess who betrayed me; she who is ever near to Ulysses, as a mother to her child.” And the Achaians laughed merrily, to see him in such a sorry plight.

Antilochus, smiling, took the last prize, half a talent of gold; and he too spake winged words to the Argives: “My friends, ye too will agree with me that the deathless Gods show favor to the older men. Ajax is a little older than I; but Ulysses is of a former generation. It were not easy for any one, except Achilles, fleet of foot, to outrun him.”

Achilles was pleased at the honor done to his swiftness. “Not unrewarded,” he said, “shall the praise be which thou hast bestowed on me: I give thee another half-talent of gold.” Antilochus received it gladly. Then the assembly was dissolved, and the Achaians dispersed, each to his own ship.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *