Funerals and Funeral Games (H. Lovatt)

The starting point for both epic funerals and epic games is Iliad 23, though not all funerals have games (Hector in Iliad 24) and not all games are associated with funerals (the Phaeacian games in Odyssey 8). Since the point of this article is to investigate the structural functions of epic type scenes, it will focus on major funerals and sets of games that form significant points in the structure and narratives of the poems concerned, not individual scattered or briefly mentioned events. Major sets of games include: Iliad 23 for Patroclus, Odyssey 8 (welcoming Odysseus to Phaeacia), Aeneid 5 (for the anniversary of Anchises' death), Thebaid 6 (for Opheltes) and Punica 16 (for the Scipios). They are positioned either at the end or in the middle of the narrative, and have various functions including the performance of social integration, metapoetic competitiveness, strengthening characterisation, achieving closure through ritual, offering a spectacle to the gods, and producing a microcosm of the poem concerned.

Funerals provide space for ritual and reflection as well as a pause in narrative intensity. Significant funerals include: Cyzicus in both Apollonius and Valerius Flaccus, Pallas in the Aeneid, the burial of Pompey in Lucan, Paulus in the Punica, arguably the deaths of Hercules and Achilles in the Metamorphoses. When funerals and games come together, they often have a dual function of looking both backwards and forwards: for instance to the death of Patroclus and the death of Achilles. Both funerals and games are important sites of intertextual negotiation, evoking on the one hand the theme of inheritance, on the other that of competition. As well as having important structural significance outside the scope of the episode, games in particular use structures of events to create meaning. If epic is a genre primarily about mortality, driven by the hero's desire to achieve memory beyond death, both funerals and games are very important structural features of epic poetry.