Iliad and Odyssey

In the Iliad, Achilles sets out to organize the funeral games in honor of his dead friend, Patroclus. First, he sets up the prizes for the winners: beautiful slaves, horses, oxen, mules, tripods, cauldrons, gold and iron. The games are held near the tomb of Patroclus. The audience participates actively, by shouting and making bets in favor of certain athletes. First, chariot racing is described in detail. We are given the names of the five charioteers, all Homeric Achaian heroes who fought in Troy. From Nestor's advice to his son, Antilochos, we learn the rules and tricks that an athlete should know in order to avoid errors. The description is vivid: starting off, the heroes raise a cloud of dust and shout to urge their horses to run faster. We follow their tracks and we are struck by the misfortune of the best athlete, Eumelos, whose chariot breaks. Descriptions of the bets made by the audience add a live tone to the atmosphere. We even follow Antilochos' illegal manoeuvre against Menelaos and the dialogue between them after the game. This was the first apology made in public for violating the rules.

Boxing then follows. Achilles announces the prizes and two heroes, wearing lion-cloths, fight for them. The fight ends with a good move from Epeios, the winner, who rushes to raise his opponent immediately after his blow.

Odysseus and Ajax, two strong heroes, participate in wrestling. The winner is the one who achieves to throw the other to the ground. We are told about different techniques in trying to throw the opponent, such as putting one's knees between the legs, so that the latter looses his balance. The match ends suddenly by Achilles, who proclaims both athletes' virtue.

Odysseus competes with Ajax and Antilochos in running. We are told that Odysseus won, because he ran more lightly by raising his hands and feet higher while running.

Armed combat, the most dangerous of all games, is held between Ajax and Diomedes, both dressed in full armor. Here, intervention is attempted by the spectators, once the game becomes dangerous for the athletes' lives. The game session closes with discus throwing, archery with a target and javelin. In fact, javelin never takes place, since Achilles recognizes Agamemnon's virtue and proclaims him winner before the competition.

In Odyssey, Alkinoos, the king of Phaiakians, announces the games in honor of their guest, Odysseus. Before they start, people eat and drink while listening to Demodokos singing Odysseus' misfortunes. Then, the contests start off: running, wrestling, chariot race, discus and boxing. This time, Phaiakian citizens participate, but no prizes are given. In one case, we are told that Phaiakians are very good at running, dance and seamanship, but inferior in other sports. This is a likely indication of sport specialization.