Iliad 23 and conflict resolution

“Antilochus, I will now give way and leave off my anger against you; you were never wild or thoughtless before this, though this time youthful spirits overcame your judgment; another time be careful to avoid deceiving your betters. No other man of the Achaeans could easily have won me over, but you have endured much and struggled hard on my behalf, you and your noble father and brother.” (Iliad 23.602-608).

Like the Catalogue of Ships in Iliad book 2, the Funeral Games in book 23 can seem like a snooze fest. So much pointless detail? It may seem so, but as with book 2, the details serve a crucial function. In book 2, the description of Achaean forces provides a sense of scope and inspires a Panhellenic ethos (theoretically, at least). In book 23, the various competitions and conflicts provide the poet an opportunity to illustrate how a range of conflicts can be peaceably resolved.

One of these is the conflict between Antilochus and Menelaus, quoted above. Antilochus sneakily contrives to win the chariot race, depriving Menelaus of a prized horse. Though Menelaus initially is angry, Antilochus apologizes and gives the horse to Menelaus, which softens his heart so that he then gifts the horse back to Antilochus. We might extract this maxim from the story: When you get called on your shady doings, own up to it, and when someone owns up to their shadiness, be gracious and remember the big picture, as Menelaus considers how much Antilochus & his family have sacrificed on Menelaus’ behalf.

Easier said than done, as the poem is well aware, but even when we cannot achieve it, it’s a worthy ideal to strive for.

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