Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TFBT: The Turning Point

You are skillful at wheeling your horses round the post...                                                                   Iliad 23: 309

Just prior to the chariot race at the funeral games honoring Patroclus, Nestor gave his son Antilochos some advice on how to win the race.  It is widely-held that the advice didn’t have much to do with winning a horse race.  I hope to demonstrate that here.

Homer, with the omniscience available to him through the Muses states that Antiochos’ “father came up to him to give him good advice of which, however, he stood in but little need.” (Il 23:304-306)   His father than says, “Zeus and Poseidon have loved you well, and have made you an excellent charioteer. I need not therefore say much by way of instruction. You are skillful at wheeling your horses round the post,”[Il 23: 306-310] So, clearly Antilochos doesn’t need any advice on chariot racing and yet here it comes for those with eyes to see and ear to hear.

His father offers him “a certain sign which cannot escape your notice.” The sign ends up being; “a stump of a dead tree-oak” or maybe a pine, or an old grave or “a turning-post in days gone by” but in this particular case it is; the mark round which the chariots will turn before returning to the beach.  It appears that there are several different signs where this advice will be useful.

Nestor then goes on to give his son, who is universally acknowledged as skillful at wheeling his horses round the post, advice on how to round the post.  Mostly stuff about not getting the left wheel too close to the post and specifically; “..urge on your right-hand horse with voice and lash, and give him a loose rein, but let the left-hand horse keep so close...”

Then the five chariots are off across the plain.  Several things occur and then “ they were doing the last part of the course on their way back towards the sea that their pace was strained to the utmost”  with no mention about how skillful Antiochus turned the post.  If his father’s advice was really about turning the post, there is not mention that Antilochos benefitted by it or how he used it.  

The strategy that we hear Antilochos use is to squeeze out Menelaus at a point in the course where water had worn the track away, “The son of Atreus was afraid and shouted out, “Antilokhos, you are driving recklessly; rein in your horses; the road is too narrow here, it will be wider soon, and you can pass me then; if you foul my chariot you may bring both of us to a mischief.” But Antilokhos plied his whip lustily” Antiochus giving his horses rein passed Agamemnon on the outside (right side) of the track, forcing Menelaus on the left to rein his horses in. 

At the finish line Achilles presents the prizes, not fairly, but justly, recognizing those who should have done better.  Anticholos objected “Achilles,” said he, “I shall take it much amiss if you do this thing; you would rob me of my prize.  Such hot-headedness, such unreigned passion is something  that Achilles can relate to and he gives Antilochos the promised prize.   At which point Menelaus, brother to Agamemnon the leader of the army objects that Antilochos robbed him of his just prize. Antiochus reigns in his temper “And Antilokhos answered, “Forgive me; I am much younger, King Menelaos, than you are…”; mentions Menelaus’ higher status, that he is the better man, bemoans the folly of youth, their hasty tempers and poor judgement.  He begs the older man to make allowance for his youth.  Then turns over the prize; a mare.

O Menelaos, was your heart made glad within you.”

Menealus praises the young mans behavior in the past, allows that this was a one time thing and warns him agains similar behavior in the future; “I therefore yield to your entreaty and will give up the mare to you.”

 Looks like Nestor’s advice was beneficial after all, it helped Antilochos know how to recognize the “turning point” in the race, when to give rein to his horses and passions and when to reign them both in. 

1 comment:

  1. From Anthony's The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, p. 402:

    (description of a prehistoric finding in the Russian steppe):
    "...The cheekpieces with the left horse had a slot located above the central hole, angled upward, toward the noseband... The cheekpieces with the right horse had no such upward-angled slot... The angled slot may have been for a noseband attached to the reins that would pull down on the inside (left) horse's nose, acting as a brake, when the reins were pulled, while the right horse was allowed to run free - just what a left-turning racing team would need. The chariot race, as described in the Rig Veda, was a frequent metaphor for life's challenges, and Vedic races turned to the left. Chariot cheekpieces for the same general design... appeared later in Shaft Grave IV at Mycenae..."