Funeral games

Funeral games are athletic competitions held in honor of a recently deceased person.[1] The celebration of funeral games was common to a number of ancient civilizations. Athletics and games such as wrestling are depicted on Sumerian statues dating from approximately 2600 BC,[1] and funeral games are depicted in early Greek vases, such as the Francois vase at Florence and the Amphiaraus vase in Berlin.[2] In some accounts, funeral games were not merely held to honor the deceased, but in order to propitiate the spirits of those who had died.[3]

Ancient Greece

According to literary tradition, funeral games were a regular feature of Mycenean Greek society. The Iliad describes the funeral games held by Achilles in honor of Patroclus,[4] and a similar competition was attributed by Virgil to Aeneas, who held games on the anniversary of his father's death.[5] Many of the contests were similar to those held at the Olympic Games, and although those were held in honor of Zeus, many scholars see the origin of Olympic competition in these earlier funeral games.[6] Historical examples of funeral games in ancient Greece are known from the late sixth century BC until the end of the Hellenistic period. They could celebrate either civic heroes, such as the founders of cities, or private individuals, and in either case might become annual events.[7]

Civic heroes

Persons considered heroes sometimes became the focus of hero cults, in which case funeral games might be held as part of their cult ritual. In a civic context, games might be held to honor public figures acclaimed as heroes, or sometimes whole groups of people, such as soldiers from the city who had fallen in battle. It was customary for the participants to be citizens of the towns where the games were held.[7]

One example of such games was held at Amphipolis, in honor of the Spartan general Brasidas. Brasidas had fallen in battle while capturing the city of Amphipolis during the Peloponnesian War, in 422 BC. After the battle, he became revered as the new founder of the city, displacing Hagnon, who established an Athenian colony there in 437. Subsequently, Brasidas' funeral games became an annual event at Amphipolis.[7]

Private individuals

On the island of Amorgos in the Cyclades, Aleximachus Critolaus held a series of funeral games at the town of Aigiale in honor of his son, Aleximachus. The celebrations, which became an annual festival, included sacrifices, a banquet, and a variety of athletic competitions for which prizes were awarded. The most important event was the pankration; but the dead Aleximachus was always declared the winner of this competition, suggesting that he had been an athlete himself.[7]


A variety of prizes were awarded to the competitors at Greek funeral games. The most common prize was an olive wreath or crown, made from the branches of a sacred olive tree. This crown was the most revered prize awarded. In the early period, other prizes awarded included useful commodities such as tripods, kettles, double cups, and various farm animals.[8] In later times, precious metals such as gold, silver, bronze, or steel were also awarded.

Pre-Christian Ireland

Competitions known as Aonachs were held in Ireland in the Bronze Age. The most famous of which was the Aonach Tailteann "Tailtin Fair", held at Tailtin (Teltown) in Mide. According to the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, the fair was established by the legendary king Lugh Lámhfhada (reigned 1849 to 1809 BC) in honor of his foster-mother, Tailtiu.[9] These games are known to have been held during Ireland's medieval period, perhaps as early as the sixth century, but died out after the Norman Invasion of Ireland in the twelfth century. Some sources date the games themselves to the midpoint of Lugh's reign, in 1829 BC, claiming that they predate the Greek Olympics by over a thousand years, and even that they were the inspiration for the Olympic Games.[10]


  1. ^ a b David Chiu (1 August 2004). Wrestling: Rules, Tips, Strategy, and Safety. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-1-4042-0187-3. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  2. ^ Gardiner, E. Norman (2002). Athletics In The Ancient World. United Kingdom: Dover Publications. p. 20. ISBN 0-486-42486-3.
  3. ^ Poliakoff, Michael B. (1987). Combat Sports In The Ancient World. Bethany, Connecticut: Yale University Press. pp. 151–157. ISBN 978-0-300-06312-7.
  4. ^ Homer, Iliad book 23.
  5. ^ Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneid book 5.
  6. ^ Wendy J. Raschke (15 June 1988). Archaeology Of The Olympics: The Olympics & Other Festivals In Antiquity. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 22–. ISBN 978-0-299-11334-6. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d Roller, Lynn E. (1981). "Funeral Games For Historical Persons". Stadion: 1–18.
  8. ^ Homer. Iliad. lines 256-270.
  9. ^ Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters: From the Earliest Period to the Year 1171 John O'Donovan, translator and editor (Dublin, 1849).
  10. ^ William H. Freeman (21 January 2011). Physical Education, Exercise and Sport Science in a Changing Society. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-0-7637-8157-6. Retrieved 12 August 2012.

In Roman mythology, Acestes or Egestes (Greek Ἄκέστης) was the son of the Sicilian river-god Crinisus by a Dardanian or Trojan woman named Egesta or Segesta.According to Servius, this woman Egesta or Segesta was sent by her father, Hippotes or Ipsostratus, to Sicily, that she might not be devoured by the monsters, which infested the territory of Troy, and which had been sent into the land, because the Trojans had refused to reward Poseidon and Apollo for having built the walls of their city. When Egesta arrived in Sicily, the river-god Crinisus in the form of a bear or a dog sired with her a son named Acestes, who was afterwards regarded as the hero who had founded the town of Segesta.A slight variation on the tradition has it that Acestes welcomed Aeneas when he arrived in Sicily. The funeral games of Aeneas' father Anchises were held there. Those of Aeneas' folk who wished to voyage no further were allowed to remain behind with Acestes and together with Acestes' people they founded the city of Acesta, that is Segesta.


An Aonach or Óenach was an ancient Irish public national assembly called upon the death of a king, queen, notable sage or warrior as part of ancestor worship practices. As well as the entertainment, the óenach was an occasion on which kings and notables met under truce and where laws were pronounced and confirmed.

The Aonach had three functions; honoring the dead, proclaiming laws, and funeral games and festivities to entertain. The first function took between one and three days depending on the importance of the deceased, guests would sing mourning chants called the Guba after which druids would improvise songs in memory of the dead called a Cepóg. The dead would then be burnt on a funeral pyre. The second function would then be carried out by the Ollamh Érenn, giving out laws to the people via bards and druids and culminating in the igniting of another massive fire. The custom of rejoicing after a funeral was then enshrined in the Cuiteach Fuait, games of mental and physical ability accompanied by a large market for traders.

The most notable fair, that held under the auspices of the High King of Ireland and the Uí Néill, was the Óenach Tailten or "Tailteann Games", which is given prehistoric origins by medieval writers. This was held at Teltown, in modern County Meath, as late as 1770. The compilers of the Irish annals considered violence and disorders at this óenach, or the failure of the incumbent High King to hold the fair, to be of note. The Irish Free State held revivals of the Tailteann Games from 1924 to 1932.

Other important assemblies included that of Tlachtga, held on the Hill of Ward at Samhain, that of Carman, held in County Wexford, that of Uisnech, held at Beltane and that of Raigne in Osraige. Not all had pagan calendrical associations. The Óenach Colmáin, probably held at Lynally, was named for Saint Elo Colman.


In the Iliad, Asteropaios (; Greek: Ἀστεροπαῖος; Latin: Asteropaeus) was a leader of the Trojan-allied Paeonians along with fellow warrior Pyraechmes. Asteropaios was the son of Pelagon, who was the son of the river god Axios and the mortal woman Periboia, daughter of Akessamenos (Greek: Ἀκεσσάμενος). Asteropaios was a newcomer to the war at the start of the Iliad; he had only been in Troy for less than two weeks.Asteropaios had the distinction in combat of being ambidextrous and would on occasion throw two spears at once. In Book XII of the Iliad as the Trojans attacked the Achaean wall, Asteropaios was a leader of the same division as the Lycian warriors Sarpedon and Glaucus, the division which pressed hard enough to allow Hector and his division to breach the wall.In Book XXI, as Achilles is mercilessly slaughtering Trojan warriors alongside the river god Scamander and polluting the waters with dead bodies (including one of Priam's sons, Lycaon). With the river god pondering how he might stop Achilles, Achilles in turn attacks Asteropaios (himself the grandson of a river god) whom Scamander instills with courage to make a stand against Achilles.Achilles and Asteropaios thus engage in one-on-one combat, Asteropaios throwing two spears at the same time at Achilles. One spear hit Achilles' shield, while the other reached his right forearm and drew blood. Asteropaios was the only Trojan in the Iliad who was able to draw blood from Achilles. However, he fails to kill Achilles, and is slain. And Achilles boasts that though Asteropaios may be descended from a river-god, that he, Achilles, is descended from a mightier god, Zeus. Later, in the funeral games for the slain Patroclus, the bronze and tin corslet and the silver-studded sword of Asteropaios are awarded as prizes.

The asteroid 4805 Asteropaios is named after the hero.


Diomedes ( or ) or Diomede (; Greek: Διομήδης, translit. Diomēdēs, lit. 'god-like cunning' or 'advised by Zeus') is a hero in Greek mythology, known for his participation in the Trojan War.

He was born to Tydeus and Deipyle and later became King of Argos, succeeding his maternal grandfather, Adrastus. In Homer's Iliad Diomedes is regarded alongside Ajax the Great as one of the best warriors of all the Achaeans (behind only Achilles in prowess). Later, he founded ten or more Italian cities. After his death, Diomedes was worshipped as a divine being under various names in Italy as well as Greece.


Euryalus (; Ancient Greek: Εὐρύαλος, Eὐrúalos) refers to the Euryalus fortress, the main citadel of Ancient Syracuse, and to several different characters from Greek mythology and classical literature:

Euryalus, named on sixth and fifth century BC pottery as being one the Giants who fought the Olympian gods in the Gigantomachy.

Euryalus, a suitor of Hippodamia who, like all the suitors before Pelops, was killed by Oenomaus.

Euryalus, one of the eight sons of Melas, who plotted against their uncle Oeneus and were slain by Tydeus.

Euryalus was the son of Mecisteus and Astyoche and one of the Argonauts. He attacked the city of Thebes as one of the Epigoni, who took the city and avenged the deaths of their fathers, who had also attempted to invade Thebes. In Homer's Iliad, he fought in the Trojan War, where he was brother-in-arms of Diomedes, and one of the Greeks to enter the Trojan Horse. He lost the boxing match to Epeius at the funeral games for Patroclus. He is mentioned by Hyginus, who gives his parents as Pallas and Diomede.

Euryalus, the name of two of Penelope's suitors, one of whom came from Zacynthus, and the other one from Dulichium.

Euryalus was the name of a son of Euippe and Odysseus, who was mistakenly slain by his father.

Euryalus (or Agrolas), brother and fellow builder of Hyperbius the Athenian.

Euryalus, son of Naubolus, one of the Phaeacians encountered by Odysseus in the Odyssey.

In the Aeneid by Virgil, Nisus and Euryalus are ideal friends and lovers, who died during a raid on the Rutulians.

Euryalus, a surname of Apollo.

Funeral Games (disambiguation)

Funeral games are athletic contests held in honor of a recently deceased person.

Funeral Games may also refer to:

Funeral Games (novel), a novel by Mary Renault

Funeral Games (play), a play by Joe Orton

Funeral Games (novel)

Funeral Games is a 1981 historical novel by Mary Renault, dealing with the death of Alexander the Great and its aftermath, the gradual disintegration of his empire. It is the final book of her Alexander trilogy.

Funeral Games (play)

Funeral Games is a 50 minute television play by Joe Orton.Along with Orton's The Good and Faithful Servant, the play was originally written for the Associated Rediffusion series Seven Deadly Virtues, the sequel to its earlier Seven Deadly Sins, which had included his The Erpingham Camp.Funeral Games followed the general format of the other plays by other writers in the series, in that viewers were expected to decide which virtue they were witnessing before the answer was revealed in the closing credits. The choices were courage, faith, hope, prudence, justice, charity, and temperance. The Good And Faithful Servant and Funeral Games represented faith and justice respectively, but ultimately only the first was included in the series, with the justice episode being The Whole Truth by John Bowen. Both were directed by James Ormerod, who had previously handled The Erpingham Camp.The Funeral Games script eventually passed to Yorkshire Television, which produced it - along with an adaptation Entertaining Mr Sloane - as contributions to the Playhouse series. Sloane (directed by Peter Moffatt) was broadcast on 15 July 1968, and Games (directed by Ormerod) on 26 August 1968, both post-dating Orton's death. Both these plays still exist.

The play can be seen as a satire on the theme of Christian charity. It is also an attack on hypocrisy in general, and on religion and middle-class morality in particular. It displays Orton's hallmarks of black humour, outrageous characters, deliberate bad taste and surreal situations.


In Greek mythology, the name Hippocoön (; Ancient Greek: Ἱπποκόων, Ἱppokóōn) refers to several characters:

Hippocoon, in one account, father of Neleus, who is otherwise called son of Cretheus or Poseidon.

Hippocoon, a Spartan king, father of Enarephoros and brother of Tyndareus from whom Hippocoon seized the kingship, then exiled Tyndareus.

Hippocoon, the great-grandfather of Amphiaraus. The lineage is as follows: Zeuxippe, daughter of this Hippocoön, married Antiphates and gave birth to Oecles and Amphalces; Oecles, in his turn, married Hypermnestra, daughter of Thespius, and to them were born Iphianeira, Polyboea and Amphiaraus.Hippocoon, a Thracian counsellor and a kinsman of Rhesus, who fought at Troy. Awakened by Apollo, he is the first to discover the damage caused by Odysseus and Diomedes in the Thracian camp.

Hippocoon, in the Aeneid, son of Hyrtacus, one of the participants in the archery contest at Anchises's funeral games. His arrow misses, striking the mast to which the target dove is tied.

Julia (daughter of Caesar)

Julia Caesaris Filia (Classical Latin: IVLIA•CAESARIS•FILIA), c. 76 BC–54 BC, was the daughter of Roman dictator Julius Caesar by his first wife Cornelia, and his only child from his three marriages. Julia became the fourth wife of Pompey the Great and was renowned for her beauty and virtue.


Menestheus (Greek: Μενεσθεύς), the son of Peteus, son of Orneus, son of Erechtheus, and either Polyxene or Mnesimache, was a legendary King of Athens during the Trojan War.

He was set up as king by the Dioscuri when Theseus travelled to the underworld, and exiled Theseus from the city after his return.Menestheus was one of the suitors of Helen of Troy, and when the Trojan War started he brought "fifty black ships" to Troy. In the Iliad it is noted that no one could arrange chariots and shield-bearing warriors in battle orders better than Menestheus, and that only Nestor could vie with him in that respect. In Herodotus, he is referred to as 'the best man to go to Troy and to draw up and marshal the troops' (7.161.3) by the Athenian sent to request aid from Gelon, the dictator of Syracuse.

Yet, further he is characterised as not valiant. When Agamemnon was reviewing his troops he found Menestheus in the back rows seemingly avoiding action. Later when Sarpedon attacked the portion of the Greek wall that he was in charge of, Menestheus shivered and had to call on Telamonian Ajax and Teucer for aid. Menestheus was one of the warriors in the Trojan Horse. After Troy was sacked, he sailed to Mimas, then to Melos where he became king.When Menestheus died, Athens passed back to the family of Theseus.The name Menestheus may also refer to:

Menestheus, son of Clytius and grandson of Aeolus, a companion of Aeneas

Menestheus, an Athenian youth who was sacrificed to the Minotaur

Menestheus, a warrior in the army of the Seven Against Thebes, participant of the disk-trowing competition at the funeral games of Opheltes

Iphicrates has named his son Menestheus, after the legendary King of Athens during the Trojan War.


Mnestheus is a character from Roman mythology, found in Virgil's Aeneid. He is described by Virgil as the ancestral hero of the Memmii and "Of the house of Assaracus". One of a handful of vaguely defined lieutenants under Aeneas, he appears to be Aeneas's most senior captain, taking charge in Book 9 in his absence. He takes second place in the boat race during the funeral games of Anchises in Book 5.

Nemean Games

The Nemean Games (Greek: Νέμεα or Νέμεια) were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, and were held at Nemea every two years (or every third).

With the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games were held both the year before and the year after the Ancient Olympic Games and the Pythian Games in the third year of the Olympiad cycle. Like the Olympic Games, they were held in honour of Zeus. They were said to have been founded by Heracles after he defeated the Nemean Lion; another myth said that they originated as the funeral games of a child named Opheltes. However, they are known to have existed only since the 6th century BC (from 573 BC, or earlier). The winners received a wreath of wild celery leaves from the city of Argos.

Nisus and Euryalus

Nisus and Euryalus are a pair of friends and lovers serving under Aeneas in the Aeneid, the Augustan epic by Virgil. Their foray among the enemy, narrated in Book nine, demonstrates their stealth and prowess as warriors, but ends as a tragedy: the loot Euryalus acquires (a glistening Rutulian helmet) attracts attention, and the two die together. Virgil presents their deaths as a loss of admirable loyalty and valor. They also appear in Book 5, during the funeral games of Anchises, where Virgil takes note of their amor pius, a love that exhibits the pietas that is Aeneas's own distinguishing virtue.In describing the bonds of devotion between the two men, Virgil draws on conventions of erotic poetry that have suggested a romantic relationship to some, interpreted by scholars in light of the Greek custom of paiderastia.


In Greek and Roman mythology, Salius is an Acarnanian who in one alternative tradition was the legendary founder of the ancient Roman priesthood of the Salii.Varro says that Salius had come to Italy with Evander, the Arcadian king to whom several Roman religious institutions were attributed. In Book 5 of the Aeneid, Salius, who lives in Segesta, competes in the funeral games held for Anchises. Salius is among the runners in the footrace, along with Nisus and Euryalus. When the frontrunner Nisus falls, Salius finds himself in the lead, but Nisus trips him deliberately to secure the victory for his friend Euryalus. Salius expresses his indignation at the foul, and receives a fine lion skin as a consolation prize. The episode is given comic treatment, particularly in John Dryden's translation.Salius remains among the company of Aeneas in Latium. In Aeneid Book 10, he is killed by Nealces in the war against the local population.The Latin name Salius is the equivalent of Halios (Ἅλιος), the Phaeacian dancer in the Odyssey who loses his athletic competition. Plutarch says that a Salius from Samothrace or Mantinea was reputed to be the legendary founder of the Salian priests, but that the sodality in fact was named from the leaping (Latin salire) of their armed dance.

Tailteann Games (ancient)

The Tailteann Games, Tailtin Fair, Áenach Tailteann, Aonach Tailteann, Assembly of Talti, Fair of Taltiu or Festival of Taltii were funeral games associated with the semi-legendary history of Pre-Christian Ireland.

There is a complex of ancient earthworks dating to the Iron Age in the area of Teltown where the festival was historically known to be celebrated off and on from medieval times into the modern era.

The Erpingham Camp

The Erpingham Camp (1966) is a 52-minute television play by Joe Orton.The play was produced by Associated-Rediffusion for inclusion in the Seven Deadly Sins series, representing pride. Directed by James Ormerod, it was broadcast on 27 June 1966. Originally made in monochrome on videotape, it survives as a 16mm film telerecording.Orton subsequently contributed scripts for The Good and Faithful Servant and Funeral Games to the sequel Seven Deadly Virtues series - as faith and pride - but only Servant was actually included.

The Funeral Games of Patroclus

The Funeral Games of Patroclus is a 1778 fresco by Jacques-Louis David. It shows the funeral games for Patroclus during Trojan War, with his body and Achilles at the foot of the pyre and Hector resting on his chariot on the right. It was first exhibited at the Palazzo Mancini in Rome in September 1778, where it was a critical success. It was then lost until 1972, when it was acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland, its present home.

What the Butler Saw (play)

What the Butler Saw is a farce written by the English playwright Joe Orton. It was premièred at the Queen's Theatre in London on 5 March 1969. It was Orton's final play and the second to be performed after his death, following Funeral Games in 1968.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.