HOMER: The Iliad [Book XXIII]

In Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad, Achilles returns to the Greek camp with Hector’s body and places it unceremoniously in the dust next to the bier of Patroclus. Then the Greeks make preparations for Patroclus’ funeral. They construct a funeral pyre on which they lay Patroclus and then Achilles sacrifices several animals and the twelve Trojans whom he took hostage during the slaughter at the river Scamander. “Patroclus, even in the house of Hades; I am now doing all that I have promised you. Twelve brave sons of noble Trojans shall the flames consume along with yourself, but dogs, not fire, shall devour the flesh of Hector son of Priam.”

After the funerals of important men, it was customary for the Ancient Greeks to hold funeral games in honor of the dead. In accordance with this tradition, Achilles hosts several games in Patroclus’ honor, including a chariot-race, a boxing match, a wrestling match, and a foot-race.

The funeral games are indicative of the Ancient Greek’s instinct to compete and to rank individuals. This love of competition pushed the Ancient Greeks to heights that very few societies have come close to reaching. When a society loses its love for competition, it is a sign of its decadence and mediocrity. In modern America, for example, there is very little competition amongst children. We live in a trophy culture in which everyone who participates in a sport receives, rather than earns a trophy; and the phenomenon of grade inflation is well-documented. Everyone receives an A, everyone is a winner, everyone is equal. What happens when these children become adults?

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