Eumaios and the Skunks (Part 4/Conclusion)

Michael O. Varhola


Eumaios began to cautiously make his way closer to the site of imminent battle, limping down the bluff and across the fields toward a group of men that looked like they might have been part of a militia unit; none of them seemed readied for battle, but perhaps he would be able to learn something from them. By the time he reached them he was just a few hundred yards from the opposing units of hoplites and the Rhodians had completely formed up in a simple arrangement similar to that of the Koan forces. There did not seem to be any art or strategy in play and only the heavy infantrymen appeared poised to engage each other. As he neared the men he had walked toward, in fact, he could see that they were chatting amongst themselves while they munched on snacks and passed wineskins back and forth between them. He noted that their shields bore the symbol of the nearby village of Zipari, the low walls of which lay just to the east.

None of the men seemed to notice his approach and, before Eumaios could ask them anything, a great cry went up from the opposing lines of heavily-armored troops and they charged each other. Spirited cheers followed from the onlookers, and the men around him yelled excitedly and thrust their shields and spears into the air.

Spears ... something had been bothering him and he had not quite been able to put his finger on it but now he realized what it was — neither group of charging combatants was bearing spears! This absolutely baffled him, as the longspear was the essential weapon of the hoplite, and he peered at the quickly-closing lines of troops to see what else they might be armed with and could not see anything. Then, the twin syntagmas struck with a resounding crash, shield-on-shield, and he could hear the grunts and gasps of the more than five-hundred antagonists as the lines slammed into each other.

Then a desperate struggle began, with each line pushing against the other, the men in the front ranks almost face-to-face with their enemies and the men in the second and subsequent ranks pressing their shields into the backs of those ahead of them and trying to push them forward, everyone digging their hobnailed sandals into the ground and driving forward with all their might. This