The funerary games of Patroklos

The last book but one of the Iliad (book 23) deals with the funeral and the funerary games of Patroclus, Achilles' friend who had died in the battle against the Trojans. The corpse of Hector, who had killed Patroclus and was in his turn killed by Achilles, still lay unburied in the Greek camp. In the first part of book 23 Patroclus' body is put on the funeral pyre, offerings are made, including twelve Trojan prisoners of war and the pyre is burning all night. In the second part the stress is released. Through the games the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, the main motif of the Iliad, is patched up (Agamemnon even receives a prize without having to compete!) and in the last book Achilles also returns Hector's body to his father Priamos. At the funerary games the reader says goodbye to most of the heroes, who appear here for the last time.

verses

event

victor

262-652

chariot races

Antilochos

652-699

boxing

Epeios

700-739

wrestling

Aiax vs. Odysseus (no victor)

740-797

running

Odysseus

798-825

sword fighting

Aiax vs. Diomedes (no victor)

826-849

"shotputting"

Polypoites

850-883

archery

Meriones

884-897

javelin throwing

no competition : Agamemnon receives the prize

Of the eight events in the funerary games only five survive in the program of the ancient Olympics : chariot races, boxing, wrestling, running and javelin throwing. The other three (sword fighting, throwing of weights and archery) are part of the modern games, though de Coubertin was not inspired by these games when he included fencing, shotputting and archery. Chariot races were clearly the most important event : they receive as many verses in the poem as all the other events together.

Achilles gave magnificent prizes to all participants (not only to the victors), including horses, a mule, a female slave, a cauldron and tripods. Symbolic crowns, the typical prize of the later games, are nowhere mentioned.

© KU Leuven, 2012