The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture

The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture

The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture

The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture

Synopsis

A survey of Greek athletics from Homeric times through the fourth century C. E. From the games of the "Iliad, to the foundation of the Olympic games, to the poetry of Pindar and the Olympic Festival, this book covers all aspects of Greek athletics: the events themselves--from the running events held at the first competitions to the later "heavy" events of wrestling, boxing, and the pankration, to the pentathlon, jump, discus, and javelin, held only at festival; the religious and athletic centers; the festivals in which the games took place; the voices of the games' celebrators (like the poet Pindar), critics, and the athletes themselves; the "gyymnasion and its culture; and the evidence--literary, artistic, archeological, and historical. The introduction examines the nineteenth-century bias that created the myth of Greek amateurism. An extensive bibliography aids the reader in pursuing further study.

Excerpt

This study surveys Greek athletics and the changes it underwent through the Archaic and Classical periods. This endeavor is not without difficulties. the casual way in which Athenian tragedians and writers of comedy, poets working in popular media, incorporate the language of athletics leaves no doubt that the Greeks were familiar with the events of their athletic program. But that same familiarity has left the modern investigator, someone trying to imagine the shape and look of a particular event or institution, at sea. One must, as it were, piece together the ship from the flotsam, the event from references scattered hither and yon in sources from the sixth century B.C.E. to the fifth century C.E.and later. the result has been to make difficult the examination of the changes that happened through time to individual events and contests.

No source is more essential to this task than Pausanias' Description of Greece. Pausanias wrote a guide for tourists about the Greek world of the second century C.E. He talks about the history and topography of cities, records local myths and rituals, and dwells upon sanctuaries, temples, and images of gods and goddesses. His willingness to ponder inscriptions written on statues at Olympia, many of them faded and in an ancient dialect or script, bequeathed to scholars a rich heritage of names and achievements, vignettes of the athletic scene. His work has become a goldmine for scholars at their desks who, like his first recorded reader, the grammarian Stephanos of Byzantium (sixth century C.E.), probe it for information. I refer to him often, always grateful that he is there.

Among the modern authorities that I have consulted, a few stand out. in matters of archaeology, I have rarely strayed from Alfred Mallwitz's chapter “Cult and Competition Locations at Olympia” and Catherine Morgan's Athletes and Oracles: the Transformation of Olympia and Delphi in the Eighth Century bc. the works of Oscar . . .

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