Athletic Contests in Contexts of Epic and Other Related Archaic Texts
Greek words referring to athletics
The mentality of re-enacting in athletics the experiences of heroes in war
The mentality of re-enacting in athletics the experiences of heroes in contexts other than war
The mentality of athletics as a compensation for death
Ritual origins of athletics
The hero’s engagement in athletics
Athletics and the epinician
The adjective epi-kōmios here, combined with the noun humnos ‘song’, refers to epinician singing, that is, to a form of song that is sung and danced in a victory revel or kōmos, and such a description is relevant to the fact that Pindar’s epinician songs conventionally refer to their own occasion of performance as a kōmos ‘victory revel’ (Nagy 1990:142). Accordingly, we may translate epi-kōmios humnos here as ‘the song marking the occasion of a kōmos’.
Athletics in epic and beyond
(For a similar explanation, see also Frame 2009:727-746, who argues that the passage we see in Iliad 11.689-672 derives from a version of the Iliad that used to be performed at the festival of the Panathenaia; see especially his p. 733.)
A direct link between an athletic event and a heroic experience
In other climactic moments as well, Hector is described as leaping out of his chariot:
Four other warriors are described in comparable wording at moments when they too leap out of their chariots: Menelaos (Iliad 3.29), Diomedes (4.419), Sarpedon (16.426), and Patroklos (16.427). In the case of Menelaos (3.29), he leaps out of his chariot and hits the ground running as he rushes toward Paris to fight him in mortal combat on foot. Paris does not meet him head on but keeps backing up until he melts into a crowd of footsoldiers who are massed behind him (3.30-37). In the case of Diomedes (4.419), he leaps off his chariot as he hits the ground running, while his bronze breastplate makes a huge clanging sound upon impact as he rushes toward the enemy, who all shrink back to avoid encountering him in mortal combat on foot (4.420-421). Similarly, in a scene already cited (12.91), Hector leaps out of his chariot and hits the ground running as he rushes to fight the enemy on foot, and, in this case, his fellow chariot fighters follow his lead and dismount from their chariots, since they too are now ready to fight on foot (12.82-87). In the case of Sarpedon and Patroklos, we see these two heroes simultaneously leaping out of their chariots and hitting the ground running as they rush toward each other to fight one-on-one in mortal combat on foot – a combat that is won here by Patroklos (16.428-507). Later on, when Patroklos is about to engage in mortal combat with Hector, he once again leaps out of his chariot:
What happens next is that Patroklos throws a rock at Kebriones, the charioteer of Hector, which hits Kebriones on the forehead, smashing his skull (Iliad 16.734-754). Meanwhile, Hector leaps out of his chariot:
Patroklos and Hector proceed to fight one-on-one in mortal combat on foot – a combat that is won here by Hector (16.756-863).
This passage has been translated by N. J. DeWitt (London 1949). I offer revisions, highlighting with strikethrough / italics the wording that I have subtracted / added:
Just as the tīmē a-phthi-tos ‘unwilting honor’ awaiting the hero Demophon is equated with the hero’s cult, which is understood as lasting for eternity by virtue of being renewed year after year in the form of seasonally recurring athletic competitions, so also the eternal kleos a-phthi-ton ‘unwilting glory’ awaiting the hero Achilles is being equated here with the hero’s epic, which is Homeric poetry itself, and which is likewise understood as lasting for eternity. In the case of epic, as we have seen, its notional eternity is achieved by virtue of being renewed year after year in the form of seasonally recurring rhapsodic competitions at the Panathenaia, which are coordinated with the seasonally recurring athletic competitions at the same festival.