Homer discusses the Patroclus’ funeral games in Book 23 of the lliad. Patroclus, a great companion of Achilles, is cremated and his bones are collected into a golden urn in two layers of fat, and buried. His body is surrounded with jars of honey, and of fragrant oil, nine large dogs, two to attend their lord, and then the fire, which inflamed the fallen Trojans, was lit in a common blaze. “Smeared with the bloody rites, he stands on high. And he called the spirit with a dreadful cry: “All hail, Patroclus! Let thy vengeful ghost Hear and exult, on Pluto’s coast”. The way in which Patroclus’ body is treated reminds me of a royal funeral. The body becomes ash and the wind takes it to gods, where it recomposes into a spirit form. A form in which will haunt Achilles in his dreams, and essentially force him to remember his comrade.
It’s essential to understand the relationship that Achilles and Patroclus had before we can truly understand why the funeral games existed. Patroclus was originally accused of manslaughter and was brought into Achilles’ family as a mentor. Achilles and Patroclus had a pederastic relationship, which involved educating Achilles on: Homeric poetry, music and heroism, how to play, dance, athletics, public speaking, warfare and combat, and philosophy. “Achilles' attachment to Patroclus is an archetypal male bond that occurs elsewhere in Greek culture: Damon and Pythias, Orestes and Pylades, Harmodius and Aristogeiton are pairs of comrades who gladly face danger and death for and beside each other .”
The funeral games are a diversion from grief, and to overcome it, the men are, feasting, competing, sporting, and sharing in each other's company. What does this tell us about the values or culture of the Greeks? It tells us that while the body may not live on, the memory and soul of a victor or honorable man, will live in the hearts of all men who have encountered him. A celebration of Patroclus’ life was the perfect way to remember who he was and what he represented while he was alive. He was an honorable man, loved by all, and after mourning his death, they hold a competition to celebrate his life, and all of the wonderful things he did, in and out of battle. Yet, grief and sadness is a way for these men to stand together. “Lost is Patroclus now, that wont to deck. Their flowing manes, and sleek their glossy neck. Sad, as they shared in human grief, they stand. And trail those graceful honors on the sand! Let others for the noble task prepare. Who trust the courser and the flying car” .
In honor of Patroclus, Achilles institutes the funeral games: the chariot-race, the fight of the crestus, the wrestling, the footrace, the single combat, the discus, the shooting with arrows, and darting the javelin. Essentially, the funeral games are a diversion from grief. A celebration of Patroclus’ life. Furthermore, the funeral games of Patroclus represent one of the most significant values of Greek aristocratic life: individual honor. In a sense, the contests of the Funeral Games sum up Homer's method of character-portrayal in the poem as a whole . Simply, the characters, or rather, the personalities and personal attributes of these men portrayed throughout the lliad, are once again seen in the funeral games. For instance, the third game involved wrestling. Only the strongest and most confident of men would have volunteered for such a sport. Is it really a surprise that Ajax and Odysseus came forward in hopes of winning a tripod worth 12 oxen for first prize, and a woman worth 4 oxen for the loser? We see these affirmations of personal honor throughout the funeral games.
Finally, the funeral games are a way for them to pay respect to Patroclus. They hold these competitions in his honor, and each man who competes is not just battling for some inconsequential prize; they are battling in honor of a fallen warrior and a comrade. Achilles counts himself out of the games, as his immortal status gives him an edge, and so the competition would not be fair. It’s important to note, however, that Homer created the men involved in the games, their reputations, and the foundations of those, throughout the lliad. He molded their attributes in a way that reflected their capabilities in the funeral games. What exactly does this have to do with Patroclus funeral games? The values these men had on the battlefield translated to the games. For example, the spear throwing competition created by Achilles involves Agamemnon and Meriones, however, Achilles tells Agamemnon to sit down because there would be no contest since no one is better than he is. He can just take the first prize. Agamemnon gives the prize to his herald. Even in sports, Agamemnon is given his prize without working, so not to create any petty arguments.
The funeral games of Patroclus shed light on the personal relationships between men in aristocratic Greece. We have to look through the prism of the institution and recognize the fact that honorable men were born and bred out of these close ties. Older men taught honor and education to the feeble minded, youthful men, and in the end, it was the teacher that received the greatest tribute. Consequently, we have to look at the classification of arête, no longer from the perspective of the man that was born with it, but from the warriors that met this man in battle and on the political front. Arête is the epitome of personal honor, and although the “Sophists claimed to teach arête, or excellence and efficiency in the conduct of public and private life” , it was something a man possessed at birth. The true nature of arête was evident in the Patroclus games, when honorable men in life, honored another in death. Yes, the games allowed the men to exhibit brute strength and agility, but the funeral games simply allowed honorable men to express what morality, character and integrity, really meant.