Department of Classics

War Minus the Shooting: Sport and Democracy in Classical Athens

David Pritchard of the University of Sydney will be speaking to us on"War Minus the Shooting: Sport and Democracy in Classical Athens." Please join us for coffee and cookies at 4:00.

Fri, March 21, 2008 | WAG 116 (Lounge)

4:30 PM

The demos of classical Athens authorized the spending of public money on sport, discouraged attacks on sportsmen by the poets of Old Comedy, and awarded sporting victors lavishly. Such public support and high estimation occurred in spite of athletics remaining an exclusive pastime of the wealthy under the democracy. Sport of course was not the only preserve of elite Athenians. But in contrast to their other pursuits, such as the mannered drinking-party, pederasty, horsemanship and political leadership, it escaped the otherwise persistent criticism of exclusively upper-class activities in Athenian popular culture. The major reason for its exceptional treatment – and one which scholars have not explored fully – is the close relationship between athletics and the new democratic style of warfare that classical Athens developed and waged. Classical Athenians conceived of athletic contests and battles in identical terms: they were agones involving ponoi, with victory in both depending on the arete of the competitors. Although Athenian warfare, in the sixth century, was a predominantly elite activity, in the next it was subject to a profound democratization practically and ideologically. With the creation of a city-based army of hoplites and a huge navy and the introduction of military pay, soldiering – like politics – was opened to every class of Athenian. Under the democracy the power non-elite citizens had to shape the city’s culture ensured that every hoplite or sailor was now recognized for his arete and ponoi in battle and considered equally responsible for victory. As a result lower-class citizens came to believe that upper-class athletes exhibited the same moral qualities and experienced the same ordeals as they did when fighting battles. This non-elite affinity with the values of sport ruled out public criticism of athletes and underwrote the exceptionally high standing of athletics under the democracy. Thus the democratic style of warfare in classical Athens legitimized and supported elite sport.

The paper divides into four parts:

1. The sporting passions of classical Athens
2. The anomaly of sport under the democracy
3. The cultural overlap between sport and war
4. The democratization of war.

Sponsored by: Department of Classics

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