Eros and Greek Athletics

Eros and Greek Athletics

Eros and Greek Athletics

Eros and Greek Athletics

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

When I first began teaching and researching in the area of Greek athletics twenty years ago, I immediately saw that it was both a rich area for innovative study and one of the most fascinating windows on the ancient world for students. This study took shape over the past decade, following naturally from a series of three studies I did on women in Greek athletics. A vase in the Getty Museum (figure 8-1) depicting Eros with an athlete first pointed me to the explicit connection of the god with the agonistic sphere. Further study of literary and artistic sources has filled in the abundant and complex associations. Athletics was for the Greeks less a field of dreams than one of desire, where Eros himself played a productive role in the formation of both male and female youths into adults and the establishment of social hierarchy by bestowing honor on victors.

I owe very much to friends and colleagues who have substantively influenced my thinking on Greek culture and athletics generally, and this work in particular: Nigel Crowther, Colin Edmonson, Donald Kyle, Mark Golden, David Larmour, Steve Lattimore, Hugh Lee, Stephen Miller, Harry Pleket, Michael Poliakoff, David Romano, and David Young. I am grateful to Robert Barney of the University of Western Ontario, David Larmour of Texas Tech University, and David Konstan of Brown University for the opportunity to present earlier versions of chapter 8 at their campuses; at each place the feedback of the audience was most appreciated.

I am indebted to dozens of individuals who were helpful in obtaining the photographs for the figures in this text, with particular thanks to the following: Nicoletta Mehrmand and Theda Shapiro of the University of California, Riverside; Jacklyn Burns and Marit Jentoft Nilsen of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Jane Cody of the University of Southern California; Ian McPhee of Latrobe University in Australia; Richard Keresey and Katherine N. Urban of Sotheby's, New York; Robert A. Bridges, Maria Pilali, and especially Marie and Craig Mauzy of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. George Steinhauer, Director of the Piraeus Museum, Lydia Palaiokrassa of the University of Athens, and Lily Kahil all helped with access to the Arkteia vases in Attica. Faith Tilley, Linda Casteel, and Emily Papavero of the University of California, Riverside, were invaluable in their assistance in contacting rights holders, sending permission fees, and other tasks.

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