Recently few of us on the Hour 25 forums discussed funeral games and the prizes awarded. Last night I started gathering examples of contests and the prizes based on the examples we discussed. Using cows as a metric I tried to determine if the prizes were actually in a descending scale of value. I got hung up on the value of a Homeric “talent”. (There is actually a scholarly article which discusses that, “Homeric Talent”, but the MyJSTOR account is maxed out at the moment.) So I dropped that line of research.
I tried Sarah suggestion that maybe there were certain prizes given for certain contests. Thinking of axes as prizes in the archery contest during Patroclus’ funeral and the use of axes in the archery contest for Penelope’s hand, I started with archery contests. It looks like the prize is always a “woman”.
In Iliad 23.850 The prize —ten double bladed axes (labrys) and ten single bladed. “with a slender cord made fast thereto by the foot a timorous dove, and bade shoot thereat. Whosoever shall hit the timorous dove let him take up all the double axes and bear them home, and whoso shall hit the cord, albeit he miss the bird: lo, his is the worse shot; he shall bear as his prize the single axes… took they the lots and shook them in a helmet of bronze, “
Odyssey 21:63… “wed me and take me to wife…this is shown to be your prize. I will set before you the great bow of divine Odysseus, and whosoever shall most easily string the bow in his hands and shoot an arrow through all twelve axes, with him will I go”, Rather than drawing lots the suitors took turns “left to right, beginning from the place where the cupbearer pours the wine.”
Apollodorus, Library 2.6.1 Eurytus, prince of Oechalia, proposed the hand of his daughter Iole as a prize in an archery contest. With no further details.
Aesop reports that Apollo and Zeus competed in archery with no mention of a prize, and the lots were tossed in Ares’ helmet.
Aeneid 5: 485 No mention of prizes, but the same lots in the helmet, plus part of the contest sounds exactly like the version in the Iliad.
What we know in these references was that in two cases the prize for winning the archery contest was a woman; a wife. In the third the prize was double bladed axes called labrys. Maybe Telemachus used labrys in the contest for his mother’s hand. Now, I can’t find any primary references, but all over the internet the labrys are claimed as ancient symbols of the feminine, based on the symbolic use of a double bladed axe in the Minoan “matriarchal” society and it ” being the Amazons’ weapon of choice.” If in fact the double headed axes; the labrys are a symbol of women throughout ancient history.
Then the greatest prize in an archery contests is a powerful woman.
image thanks to Wikipedia