Eros and Greek Athletics
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Ancient Greek athletics offer us a clear window on many important aspects of ancient culture, some of which have distinct parallels with modern sports and their place in our society. Ancient athletics were closely connected with religion, the formation of young men and women in their gender roles, and the construction of sexuality. Eros was, from one perspective, a major god of the gymnasium where homoerotic liaisons reinforced the traditional hierarchies of Greek culture. But Eros in the athletic sphere was also a symbol of life-affirming friendship and even of political freedom in the face of tyranny. Greek athletic culture was not so much a field of dreams as a field of desire, where fervent competition for honor was balanced by cooperation for common social goals.
Eros and Greek Athletics is the first in-depth study of Greek body culture as manifest in its athletics, sexuality, and gender formation. In this comprehensive overview, Thomas F. Scanlon explores when and how athletics was linked with religion, upbringing, gender, sexuality, and social values in an evolution from Homer until the Roman period. Scanlon shows that males and females made different uses of the same contests, that pederasty and athletic nudity were fostered by an athletic revolution beginning in the late seventh century B.C., and that public athletic festivals may be seen as quasi-dramatic performances of the human tension between desire and death. Accessibly written and full of insights that will challenge long-held assumptions about ancient sport, Eros and Greek Athletics will appeal to readers interested in ancient and modern sports, religion, sexuality, and gender studies.
reconstructing ancient sport 19 foolishly lead a life ending in an obscure old age without his allotted portion of all good things? So this contest [a[eqlo"] is my lot, may you in turn grant the fair deed. (Ol. 1.81–85) The athletic value of aidos has a range of meanings including “moderation,” “restraint,” “shame,” or “respect,” all of which indicate that the athlete’s achievement needs to be tempered or checked in view of given realities of power, authority, or convention. Furthermore aidos
power over important aspects of women’s life. The complex of athletic values surrounding female competitions diﬀered almost entirely from those of men. Thus, before we proceed further, we need to understand the place of the female in the system. In classical Greece, female arete and reputation were in general very diﬀerently deﬁned, most famously perhaps in the dictum of Thucydides’ Pericles, who says that “[f]ame will be great for you not to fall short of your nature, such as it is, and for the
of athletics with Greek religious festivals and cultic activities from the earliest historical periods, largely under the inﬂuence of the games at Olympia, will be discussed in chapter 1. Chapter 2 examines the attempts to reconcile disparate Roman and Greek interests in the latter centuries of the Olympics and shows how athletics was a tool of cultural uniﬁcation. The relation between athletics, homosexuality, and rituals that marked the initiation of young males to adulthood is surveyed in
patroness of marriages reinforces the importance of the festival for marriage at least by Pausanias’ time. Since the participants are maidens, one might well expect Artemis, a very popular goddess at Olympia,64 to be the patroness of the festival. But it has been suggested that Hera, due to prior and predominant inﬂuence in the area, may have become patroness of adolescent prenuptial rites that were elsewhere associated with Artemis.65 The association of the Heraian games with Hera and
Chloris legend, also Panhellenic from the eighth century on, or possibly only from the early sixth century on due to strong Spartan inﬂuence during a reorganization then (Paus. 5.16.5)? The integral importance of the cult and legend of Hippodameia alongside the legacy of Pelops, and the presence of other female cults and groups of priestesses at Elis suggest that at least a women’s festival for Hippodameia and Hera existed in early times alongside the men’s for Pelops and Zeus. It is rather more