When Athene and we first see the Suitors of Penelope, they are playing a game called pessoi (“counters”) in front of the house doors (Od. 1.106-108). The board games known under this name in antiquity were games of strategy and skill (see esp. Pl. Resp. 487b-c) in which - in contrast to dice games (kubeia) - chance played no role. In the version of pessoi called “cities” (poleis), massed counters were placed and moved between spaces defined by lines on a board. The object was to isolate and immobilize or drive from the board the counters of one's opponent (Austin 1940, 260-261, 263-266). Although the sources are much later, we may imagine the Suitors playing some such game, since the type is known in various cultures and periods (for what it is worth, Plato's Socrates ascribes the invention of pessoi and kubeia to the Egyptian god Theuth: Phdr. 274c-d).
Kurke (1999a, 254-260; 1999b, 253-255) suggests that this programmatic introduction presents the Suitors as “bad aristocrats” because they are engaged in an activity that is “disembodied,” like the animal skins on which they sit as they play (see also Aristocracy). We may also trace a progression from this amusement to the Suitors’ games with discus and javelin (17.167-169) to the contest of the bow, culminating in the actual battle of Book 22. The series characterizes them as fit only for play and not the serious business of fighting, but it also reflects the fundamental linkage between games and warfare (see also Sport). According to Austin, pessoi belongs to the class of “battle-games.”
In the 5th century bce, the invention of board games was ascribed to Palamedes (Soph. frs. 429, 479 Radt; Gorgias fr. B11a D-K). The scene of Achilles and Ajax playing a board game, popular on Athenian vases from around the mid-6th century to 480 bce (see Iconography, Early), has often been thought to illustrate a scene from one of the Cycle epics, but Kurke has suggested that it instead reflects “a civic appropriation of the Trojan War story” (1999a, 261), and Morris and Papadopoulos (2004) have argued that it carries funereal symbolism derived ultimately from Egypt (cf.Vermeule 1979, 77-82).
See also Competition.
Games and game-playing were popular activities of adults and children in ancient Egypt. Children played with dolls, movable figurines, and wheeled t
Games discussed in this article include games with dice, board games, and games of skill played by children or adults, excluding athletic, acrobatic
When Athene and we first see the Suitors of Penelope, they are playing a game called pessoi (“counters”) in front of the house doors (Od. 1.106-108)