The Funeral Games of Patroklos in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
Coming towards the end of a war which has consumed an entire decade and laid waste the lives of many, the Greek warriors in Troy choose to take the time and energy to hold funeral games. This sequence of events leaves the reader feeling confused because it's not something one would expect and seems highly out of place. Throughout the epic Homer tries to describe what it is to be mortal and often contrasts it with what it means to be immortal. Homer uses the funeral games of Patroklos to show crucial differences about the lives of mortals and the lives of gods.
These games come towards the end of a war that has cost thousands of men their lives and all these men should logically want to do is go home. The games and the war are very similar to each other, in each there is a winner and a loser, with the winner taking a prize. The critical difference is that in war people die, a very real consequence. For the gods wars are no different from games, there are winners and there are losers, but there is never any real consequence, because there is no death. Both men and gods must go through trials, tests, and conflicts throughout their existence, but for the gods, life is a meaningless game, and for men, life is a war in which everyone eventually loses.
The games are part of the mourning process for humans because they are a distraction from the reality of their world: for a short time the men who survived the war and are competing in the games, become gods. While people are dying helplessly and great fighters have fallen in the dust, the men are able to forget their worries of death and tragedy and are able to focus on something with no consequence. In these competitions there are even prizes for coming in second or third place. In the chariot race first place received a woman and a large tripod, second place a mare, third place a cauldron, fourth place two talents of gold, and for fifth place a jar. This award for losing is never seen in wars. After Troy is destroyed there is no prize given to the survivors. While there are prizes for all competitors, like the gods the men are not always happy and often argue. After coming in second in the chariot race Antilochos is upset over what prize he will receive. "Achilles, I shall be very angry with you if you accomplish what you have said. You mean to take my prize away from me." (544-545. Book 23. Homer, Iliad) This is quite ironic since the opening conflict was over Agamemnon taking a prize from Achilles. Later Antilochos receives his second prize and Achilles gives to the son of Admetos another corselet, but the petty arguing over prizes doesn't end. Menelaos accuses Antilochos of getting in the way of his horses during the race and demands that the prize of the mare be given to him. Once the horse reaches Menelaos he decides to forgive Antilochos...