Eumaios and the Skunks (Part 4/Conclusion)

Michael O. Varhola

was the classic method of combat between opposing forces of hoplites and, normally, would have begun with a clash of spears and any number of impaled and grievously-wounded men. Then, many of the pike hafts shattered and it being increasingly difficult for the men in the front ranks to use long weapons anyway, the antagonists would battle each other with broken-off spears, their iron-spiked butt ends, swords, and other close-combat weapons.

This battle was somewhat different, and seemed to be a contest of shield-against-shield; he could see some men lashing out at those across from them with their fists, sometimes pounding them into exposed flesh but even more often pulling them back bloodied from their impact with helmets or other protective gear. Men began to drop as they were injured or stumbled in the press against the other line, and when they did they were sometimes able to crawl back through their own companions or were dragged back by them. Other times they were stamped on as men from the opposing side pressed forward into the breaches; individual men grappled and fought each other one-on-one, and Eumaios could hear crunching and howls of pain and rage as the lines surged back and forth and became melded into one.

This battle continued for an hour, and eventually about half the men on either side had fallen from their injuries or reached the point where they could hardly keep their shields raised or lift their arms to strike at one another. Then, twin trumpet blasts blared out from the direction of the officials' pavilions, and the fray abruptly ended. Healers and other observers rushed in from both sides to tend to the injured and unconscious and carry them to where they could be treated, some of the opponents nodded to each other or traded words of admiration, and the men still capable of moving around on their own either sat down on the spot to rest or staggered back in the direction from which they had originally come.

It did not take Eumaios long to learn that the battle he had witnessed was the result of a maritime incident between the two rival nations that could only be answered by a show of force if either side was to publicly maintain its honor and integrity. Both sides had consummate diplomatic corps, however, and leaderships that wanted to avoid a costly, bloody, and