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Panel 11: the funeral of a daughter of Troy


Priamos, through a messenger, asks for the body of Penthesilea. Achilles realises that he has little choice but to grant the request. Penthesilea’s body is taken to Troy and she is honoured by a funeral befitting a daughter of Troy. Achilles remains with his ship as the battlefield dead are buried. Agamemnon gathers the princes and feasts Danaan victories.


Achilles cleared his head and, in disgust, threw his sword and girdle to the ground, turning toward the body of Penthesilea, now draped with the clothes of Achaean princes. He took a binding cord with the intention of attaching her stripped body to his chariot. The assembly, dumbstruck by his swift moves, was slow to intervene. Just then a messenger came bearing the request of Priamos, who, begging again, after asking for the body of his beloved son Hektor, requested in exchange for ransom that the battle-eager maiden be delivered as queen in her armour and with her pony to the great funeral mound of Laomedon. Then did of pity the Atreid kings insist that Achilles, against his will, hold back his cruel ambitions and render up her body to Troy; for they too were awed by the imperial loveliness of Penthesilea.

penthesilea

The scion of Peleus became silent, picked up his armour, and returned to his ship to grieve Penthesilea in secret and in solitude as he prepared to return to his homeland.


The eyes of Penthesilea were closed gently, her body was covered with a clean sail and laid on a pallet of wood. Lamps were lit as the Klimakophoroi bore the body to the fountain near the Scaean Gates of Troy where it was received by Priamos and his family. The Trojan women thoroughly cleaned, anointed and wrapped the body in a simple linen shroud. Hecuba was there, barefoot and in mourning clothes, as was Helen. Penthesilea’s body was tended to by Cassandra, Medusa, Polyxena, Laodice, Medesicaste and the widow Andromache. Her remains were never unguarded as the highest-born wept and tore at their garments and kept vigil, for in death the queen was defenceless as she waited to pass the threshold where the Rich One would guide her to the Elysian Plains.


Penthesilea was mourned as a sister by the house of Troy. The women neither ate nor drank in the presence of her body for to do so would have been contemptuous of the Amazon queen, who from her twilight could not join them in a feast. From the day of her death until the morning of the twelfth day after the burial of the ashes, the women did no work, nor did they take comfort or pleasure. They did not bathe, nor put on fresh clothing nor did they lie with their husbands.


The king of Troy ordered a broad pyre to be constructed outside of the city walls. On the ebony summit they laid the warrior-queen in her armour now gilded in gold leaf. Around her they placed treasures of terebinth, coriander, frankincense, myrrh, almonds, figs, olives, pomegranates, ostrich eggs, fine oil and resinated wine. They decorated her with amber, ivory and finely made jewellery of all kinds, flowers and fleeces and linens. All these were offerings befitting a mighty queen who had died in battle. All was given in honour of Penthesilea with the knowledge that the war god demanded tribute for his child. Then suddenly ravenous flames consumed her. All around Trojans stood and when the fire cooled, they quenched the pyre with wine and gathered the bones, pouring sweet ointment over them. All that remained was laid in a fine casket and they sacrificed a calf as if for a beloved daughter of Troy. The night air was filled with heart-stricken wails and in the morning they buried Penthesilea beside the bones of old Laomedon.


Her Amazon sisters, all equal to men, all beautiful women who had fallen to Argive spears, were buried close to their queen and then, so that the poor would not receive less honour in death than the rich, the rest of the dead were laid, as best they could, in the ground with perfumed oil and flowers so that they too might sleep in honour.


Argives and Trojans, equally bereaved, burned their heroes. All day and night smoke could be seen from the far off plains to the shores of the Aegean. Many Achaeans had been slain by Trojan hands but above the rest they mourned Podarces who with his brother Protesilaus was oath-bound to defend Menelaus. In fight he had been no less mighty than his brother who had faced Hektor but Podarces had been struck down by the spear of Penthesilea, a woman. The Argive princes laid him on a pyre to the grief of all except Achilles who, under the watchful Antilochus, was wavering between pining for a lost queen and the cruel taunting of the Erinýes.


When the fires died, they built an earth mound in which they laid the bones of Podarces. Then they buried the rest of the dead heroes in the clay above the shoreline. In a pit they laid the common dead and on top of them all, they threw Thersites’ wretched corpse.


Then they returned to the ships in praise that Peleus had sent them such a hero. The feast in honour of Achilles’ victory was a spectacle of music and loud chatter.


The chair King Agamemnon sat in, like a burnished throne, glowed from the flames of the torches that reflected upon richly laid tables. Seated with Zeus were Hera and Athene.

Ares was there as was Hermes. Drapes and cushions of purple felt contrasted with the pale gold of the wood-wrought furniture. A mixture of odours from perfumes, unguents, spilled liquids and human smells filled the air and drowned the senses. In the presence of the feasting gods to whom they had made appropriate offerings, the heroes and princes repeatedly dipped cups into polished bronze cauldrons filled with wine and strong ales flavoured with the resins of terebinth and flower petals. Each consumed five portions of sweetened wine and ale and toasted the might of Achilles in his absence. They feasted on plentiful fish, two rams, a ewe, two goats and three pigs all roasted on wrought bronze spits. Maidens, some with breasts exposed and others in loosely fitting tunics, served food and appeared resigned to their duties until, softened by wine, they too danced around baskets of bread, olives and cheese through the night until the rosy fingers of Eos welcomed the morning sun.

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