The Democratic Support of Athletics in Classical Athens

Pritchard, David M. (2013) The Democratic Support of Athletics in Classical Athens.

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Title The Democratic Support of Athletics in Classical Athens
Date 2013-01-01
Author Pritchard, David M.
Open Access Status Other
Additional Notes This is chapter 3 from D. M. Pritchard 2013 (in press), SPORT, DEMOCRACY AND WAR IN CLASSICAL ATHENS, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press). Before the last decade of the classical period the Athenian dēmos was content for hē gumnastikē to be an upper-class preserve and hence took no public measures to facilitate the participation of lower-class citizens in athletic education or competition. Significantly, however, they were neither disinterested in athletics nor disdainful of those who were able to train and compete as athletes. On the contrary, the Athenian democracy introduced and maintained many athletic agōnes, costing the public purse and private citizens considerable amounts of cash and lost earnings each year. Lower-class citizens viewed fellow citizens who were victorious at one of the Panhellenic games as civic benefactors of the first order and hence rewarded them with some of their highest civic honours. They also kept a watching brief on the city’s sporting facilities, voted for public funds to be spent on their building and expansion and strongly discouraged the comic poets from ridiculing athletes as they did the other conspicuous members of the polis. The manifestly high estimation which the Athenian dēmos had of athletes and athletics impacted in other ways on comedy, tragedy and satyric drama. Although the poets of each type of drama used athletics in distinct ways to meet genre-specific purposes, their common starting point was that athletics was an overwhelmingly good thing, which was closely aligned to important personal virtues and justice. In addition, the treatment of athletics in popular literature differed in one critical respect from that of other upper-class preserves, such as the drinking party, political leadership, pederastic homosexuality and horsemanship. While a few of these other activities were also publicly supported by classical Athenians, each faced a mixed and often highly critical assessment in their popular culture. The lack of comparable direct criticism of athletics in public discourse especially marks out it as an anomaly of the classical Athenian democracy.

Document type: Preprint
Collection: UQ Cultural History Project
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Created: Tue, 01 Jul 2014, 11:55:41 EST by Dr David Pritchard on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry