"Athletics in satyric drama", Greece and Rome 59.2

Pritchard, David (2012) "Athletics in satyric drama", Greece and Rome 59.2.

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Title "Athletics in satyric drama", Greece and Rome 59.2
Abstract/Summary Satyric drama introduced athletics much more regularly as an activity than either comedy or tragedy. Many of its villains defeated hapless travellers in a boxing or wrestling bout before murdering them. Satyr-plays were often set at athletic contests where the satyrs of the chorus encountered athletes or tried to be competitors themselves. In one of his plays Euripides provided the most detailed critique of athletes in any genre of classical Athenian literature. Explaining this striking prominence of athletics in satyric drama and what light it might shed on the standing of this elite activity in classical Athens has not proven easy. Poets probably dramatized the myths of villainous athletes because of their physicality and black-and-white morality, which theatre goers would have relished after the ethical quandaries of tragedy. But this does not explain why they regularly had satyrs encountering or attempting to be athletes. This appears to have been a consequence of the unusually central role of the chorus of satyrs. The behaviour of these imaginary creatures was the antithesis of popular morality. With their unrestrained appetites for sex and wine satyrs lacked the important virtue of sōphrosunē (‘moderation’). Nor did they have aretē (‘courage’). Poets got theatre goers to laugh by dropping the chorus into a scenario which required them to display these virtues. They always failed to do so and only regained their carefree lives through the intercession of Dionysus or a hero. Mixing up satyrs and athletics was a sure way to get this positive response. Athletics and sōphrosunē went together. Sporting victory required manly courage and the enduring of ponoi (‘toils’). As satyrs had neither virtue and knew only the ‘ponoi’ of fornicating and carousing, they were very incongruous athletes. Thus the genre employed athletics as a foil for drawing out the pleasing foibles of its chorus. In his Autolycus Euripides deliberately broke with this common use of athletics as a morally normative activity by having his eponymous villain rehearse traditional and new criticisms of athletes. As theatre goers would have rejected his critique and generally had a dim view of anybody who criticised sportsmen, he clearly introduced this diatribe for the sake of characterisation: this wholesale attack against a highly regarded group made Autolycus appear still more villainous in the audience’s eyes.
Keyword Ancient history
Sports history
Satyric drama
Olympic Games
Cultural history
Date 2012-10-01
Subjects 210306 Classical Greek and Roman History
Author Pritchard, David
Open Access Status Other
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Unknown
Additional Notes 23 pages

Document type: Preprint
Collection: UQ Cultural History Project
Available Versions of this Record
  • "Athletics in satyric drama", Greece and Rome 59.2 (Current Record)
  • Athletics in satyric drama Journal Article (deposited 28-11-2013)
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Created: Wed, 05 Oct 2011, 19:28:28 EST by Dr David Pritchard on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry