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Sport and Democracy in Classical Athens March 26, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Greek Culture Heritage, Olympic Games, Sports & Games.
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University of Sydney historian explains why he thinks evidence suggests that sporting activity did not help promote peace in ancient Greece

26-03-08_ancient_olympia1.jpg  26-03-08_ancient_olympia2.jpg  Male dancers (above) form the Olympic circles with olive branches during a rehearsal for the lighting of the flame in Ancient Olympia, where the Olympics were born in 776 BC. Actress Maria Nafpliotou (right), in her role as the high priestess at the actual ceremony on Monday, holds up the Olympic Flame after it was lit using the sun’s rays.

Sport in ancient Athens has long been a paradox for ancient historians. The world’s first democracy may have opened up politics to everybody but it had no impact on sporting life. Athletics continued to be an exclusive pursuit of wealthy citizens.

In spite of this, the vast majority of the citizens, who as poor men were very critical of the aristocracy, actually lavished time and public money on sporting competitions and facilities, esteemed elite sports stars above all other public figures and handed international victors the metaphorical keys to the city.

Recent scholarship on sport and war helps us solve this baffling state of affairs. In the lead-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, we are constantly reminded of the cherished belief of the Olympic movement that international sport reconciles hostile countries and encourages world peace.

As noble as this may be, a generation of scholarship has shown this belief to be almost entirely false. Sport and war – we know now – often manifest the same values and practices, such as aggressiveness and cruelty, and tend to legitimize each other. As such, the military hyperactivity of the ancient Athenian democracy gives us a clue to understanding the paradox of its sporting life.

Panathenaia > The Athenians provided tens of thousands of liters of sacred olive oil and silver crowns as prizes for sportsmen at their local games of the Great Panathenaia. This was the large-scale version of the city’s annual festival in honor of its patron deity, Athena, which was staged every four years.

It included over a hundred contests or bouts, not just in athletics and the athletic team event of the torch race, but also in horsemanship, music and choral singing. The people of Athens also carefully administered and renovated the city’s athletics fields and witnessed a massive expansion in the number of wrestling schools.

They awarded free meals and front-row seating at their regular sporting and cultural events for life to those citizens who had won an athletic or equestrian event at one of the Panhellenic or international games, which were staged,every two or four years at Isthmia, Nemea, Delphi and, of course, Olympia.

Since these were the democracy’s highest honors, their granting to athletic victors points to an extraordinarily high estimation of these stars. Such a high regard of athletes also left its mark on the irreverent comedies of the 5th century BC, in which the city’s athletes were the only group in the public eye to escape the abuse and ridicule of the comic poets.

For the youths of classical Athens, training in athletics was given in the regular school classes of the athletics teacher. Isocrates explains how they instruct their pupils in “the moves devised for competition,” train them in athletics, accustom them to toil and compel them to combine each of the lessons they have learnt. According to this Athenian philosopher, all of this turns pupils into competent athletic competitors as long as they have some natural talent.

Sports and learning > Often athletics teachers are represented in Athenian art as giving classes in wrestling or in the other “heavy” events of boxing and the “no holds barred” pankration, which is an unsurprising state of affairs, as many of these teachers owned wrestling schools and some had been victors in such events in their youth. Nonetheless we also find athletics teachers training their charges in the standard “track and field” events of ancient Greek athletics.

Predictably the expense of buying and raising horses ensured that contestants in the chariot and horse races would always be those Aeschylus calls the “super-rich,” such as leading politicians, tyrants and Kings. More surprising is that athletics was out of reach to the vast majority of Athenians.

Since the Athenian state did not finance nor administer education, each family made its own decisions about how long their sons would attend school and whether they would pursue each of the three traditional disciplines: athletics, music and letters.

The Athenians understood very well that the number of educational disciplines a boy could pursue and the length of his schooling depended on the resources of his family. Money determined not only whether a family could pay the fees of the letter teacher, lyre [a musical instrument] teacher and athletics teacher but also whether they could give their sons the required leisure to pursue disciplines that were taught concurrently.

Most poor citizens needed their children and wives to help out with family farming or business concerns. As a result, poor Athenian families passed over music and athletics and sent their sons only to the lessons of the letter teacher, which they believed to be the most useful for moral and practical instruction.

Thus it was only wealthy boys who received instruction in each of the three disciplines of education. Without school-based training in athletics, which everyone recognized as necessary for effective competition, poor youths simply did not enter athletics contests. In the world’s first democracy, sport was only practiced by wealthy Athenians.

There were other activities in classical Athens, such as the drinking party, horsemanship, pederastic homosexuality and political leadership, which were also the exclusive preserves of the wealthy.

However these upper-class pursuits – in contrast to athletics – were ridiculed and heavily criticized in the debates and public conversations of the democracy. Poor Athenians may have hoped to enjoy, one day, the lifestyle of the rich, but they still had problems with their exclusive pursuits, frequently associating them with stereotypical misdeeds of this social class.

Into battle > Critically, classical Athenians thought of and described athletic contests and battle with a common set of concepts and words. Most importantly, both were considered an agon or a contest decided by mutually agreed rules.

Today, when even democracies sometimes wage war contrary to international law and break the Geneva Convention, it is hard to recognize that European warfare was once a highly regulated activity and viewed as an honorable way to settle disputes between states.

The battles of the ancient Greeks were no exception, being conducted according to a shared set of nomoi or customs. Thus a Greek city informed another of its intention to attack by sending a herald. By agreement, their phalanxes of heavy infantrymen met on an agricultural plain. After hours of hand-to-hand fighting, the decisive moment was the trope or turning, when the hoplites of one side broke up and ran for their lives.

The victors only pursued them for a short distance, as they had much left to do on the field of battle. There they collected the bodies of their dead comrades, stripped the bodies of the enemy, and used some of the weapons and armor so acquired to set up a trophaion or trophy. When the defeated had time to regroup, they sent a herald to those controlling the battlefield for a truce to collect their dead. Custom dictated that the victors could not honorably refuse this request.

The citizens of classical Athens also thought battle and athletics involved the same ideals and tribulations. Both activities were recognized as involving ponoi or painful toils bring honor and kindinoi or dangers, with athletes, especially in the “heavy” events, frequently being injured, maimed or killed.

They believed it was the arete or manly excellence of individual soldiers and athletes, inherited from ancestors, and the support of gods and demigods, which secured nike or victory. Victory brought fame to the city of athlete and soldier, while defeat or the refusal to compete, in either activity, was a sign of cowardice and a cause of personal shame.

Although Athenian warfare, before the democracy, was a predominantly upper-class activity, the democratic revolution of the late 6th century BC subjected warfare to a profound democratization practically and ideologically. With the creation of a city-based army of hoplites, the construction of a massive war fleet, in the late 480s, and the introduction of state pay for military service, soldiering – like politics – was opened to every class of Athenian.

Democracy > To fight and, if necessary, die for the city became the solemn duty of all citizens, which, in an unprecedented era of Athenian bellicosity, they did with disturbing regularity. Warfare was now the main public expenditure and business of the Athenian democracy and its martial achievements were glorified in public speech, drama and public art and architecture.

Critically the egalitarianism of the democracy resulted in the traditional values of war, such as arete and ponoi, which had once been the preserve of the heroes of Homer and the aristocrats of the pre-democratic era, being recognized in the military actions of rich and poor citizens alike, whether they served as heavily armed infantrymen or sailors.

This democratic ethos also saw every Athenian soldier given equal credit for the city’s military victories and – if killed in action – a sumptuous funeral and veneration as a demigod. Every Athenian soldier was now treated like Achilles or Hector.

This democratization of war had a profound impact on the standing of athletics. Poor Athenians came to believe that upper-class athletes exhibited the same moral qualities and experienced the same ordeals as they did when fighting battles.

This affinity of theirs with the values of sport ruled out serious criticism of sportsmen in public discourse and underwrote the exceptionally high estimation of athletics. In short, the democratic style of war in classical Athens legitimized and supported elite sport.

Dr David Pritchard is an ancient historian at the University of Sydney. He will be speaking at the Australian Archaeological Institute in Athens, 2 Promachou Street, Makriyianni, Athens, on April 1 at 7 p.m. This talk is free and open to the general public.

Copyright notice > Article by Dr David Pritchard for the Greek daily Kathimerini. All rights reserved.

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A high-end sports village for Mazotos village in Cyprus March 20, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Infrastructure, Cyprus Limassol, Sports & Games, Tourism.
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A branded sports tourist village featuring 300 properties has been announced near the village of Mazotos. Located between Larnaca and Limassol, the name behind the development is ex-England and Davis cup Tennis player David Lloyd.

The development will be a self-contained village created in a traditional Cypriot style, while affording the luxury and convenience demanded by modern life. The focus will be on sport, particularly racquets, but also canoeing and football. With meandering cobbled streets and a selection of coffee shops, eateries and supermarkets sprinkled throughout the development, it promises to deliver a self-contained environment with its own unique ambience.

Properties will be either one bedroom or two bedroom apartments, split 20% to 80% respectively, and will make up the development. A beach is 300 meters away, a marina which is scheduled for expansion and plans for a theme park two kilometres away. A Four Seasons 5-star luxury hotel in the immediate area is also being built. A journey time of 25 minutes from Larnaca airport allows for easy access.

The village will also be a magnet for those interested in taking their sport seriously, with the climate providing ideal training conditions for professional and novice athletes alike. Consequently, the rental yield is likely to be very high. Commercially, the development already has an independent rental guarantee programme in place which operates on a sliding scale depending upon the level of personal usage the owner wishes to take. The minimum is five per cent although higher rates can be obtained. There is no compulsion to take the rental guarantee. Owners may wish to control this aspect themselves instead.

Overseas property specialists Thomson OPI have announced their involvement in the project which they claim will deliver all the attributes of an outstanding investment. Mike Thomson, Managing Partner at the firm said: “It is rare for all the variables in property investment to come together at the same time. With this project all of the critical elements of successful property investment are positive. With low or no entry deposits, no stage payments and a remarkable ten-year index linked rental guarantee scheme offering 6.25 per cent per annum it means that investors can access the Cyprus property market with security.”

According to its website, “Thomson OPI sets itself apart by specialising in pure investment properties. While this is the primary criteria, superb lifestyle purchases can also be excellent investments.” The company is inviting investors to register their interest early to obtain preferential options in the development.  “We offer to our clients our hand-picked properties which we ourselves have invested in,” Thomson explained. “This gives a measure of confidence to our clients that the appropriate due diligence has been completed. Additionally, we offer carefully selected opportunities through our partnership programmes.”

The likely financial structuring for acquisition in the development is consistent with Thomson OPI’s objective of delivering high capital growth opportunities whilst enabling easily affordable deposits payable over a long period of time. Sizes and prices are yet to be released, with completion scheduled for summer 2010.

According to the BuySell property index, 2007 saw prices increase by over 20 per cent, with the island set to enjoy continued double digit capital growth over the coming years. Key features of the development can be obtained by contacting Thomson OPI at: info@thomsonopi.com.

The project in summary > 
300 apartments, Sold fully furnished, Indoor and outdoor tennis, Full range of other sports activities, 300m to the beach and the marina, Water based activities, Concierge greeting service, Restaurants, bars, banqueting suite, Commercial Business Centre,
Supermarkets and shops, All year sunshine, PGA golf course 15 minutes away, Rental guarantee available (up to 10 years at a minimum of 6.25%), Low entry costs, 10% deposit with 5% upon delivery, Capital growth c. 12-15% per annum.

Sex Gods February 4, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Gay Life, Sports & Games.
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Sports stars have been erotic icons since the time of ancient Greece > The ancient Greeks thought that going to the gym regularly was a good way to prepare young men for war, and a necessary training for the body’s health. It was also the place to pick up boys.

Socrates, the philosopher, always had an eye for the cute young man, and he describes the scene at Taureas’ gym when the hunk of the day walked in. ‘The fellow looked absolutely amazing: his beauty, his size. Everyone seemed to me to fancy him – they were so dumb-struck and confused when he came in – with a great crowd of lovers following him.’ A friend adds: ‘If he took his kit off, you wouldn’t bother with his face …’

This was a familiar scene to Socrates’s audience. The classical Greeks were obsessed with beautiful bodies and spent a good deal of time talking about them, honing them, and looking at each other’s flesh. In the gym, men – and men only – took all their clothes off, poured oil over their bodies and then had it scraped off, and then they exercised naked, including wrestling together. In a culture that supported affectionate and erotic relations between males, it is no surprise that going to the gym was a pretty sexy affair.

04-02-08_runners.jpg  This was part of the good life. Every Greek city worth its name had a string of gymnasiums and many citizens went to the gym every day. One little poem celebrates the ideal vividly: ‘He’s a lucky guy, who’s in love, goes to the gym, comes home and sleeps with his beautiful boy all day.’ These words were written for performance by a man among his friends, drinking happily at a symposium – the evening parties at which men relaxed together. For the ancient Greek, sex and sport went together naturally.

The professional athlete on his way to the Olympic Games was sometimes advised not to have sex before the day to save his strength. But the man who won at the Olympic Games returned home in a procession as grand as any ticker-tape parade, and, like any modern celebrity, became a sex-bomb overnight. Even the cabbage-eared boxer, sweaty from the fray, had his passionate admirers.

Sport was where masculinity was on display – and masculinity was a turn-on for the Greek spectators. In a city such as Athens, the Greek man was surrounded by statues of beautiful heroes and warriors – naked bodies, impossibly developed, and perfectly formed. These statues are now seen as the masterpieces of classical art. But these wonderful bodies, like pictures of supermodels for women today, were a frightening ideal to live up to. The gym could also be an anxious experience.

Men should ‘glow with fabulous conditioning: neither lean nor skinny, nor excessive in weight, but etched with symmetry’. That’s Lucian, a Greek satirist from the Roman Empire, spelling out what to aim for: a six-pack, good legs, to be beautifully symmetrical but not too heavy with muscles …

Socrates was famous for wandering up to acquaintances in the street and warning them that they had got flabby and clearly weren’t working out hard enough. Looking at citizens’ bodies and being looked at critically was all part of the life of the gym. In the city, there was no place to hide. Your body was open to the public gaze – and revealed what sort of a man you were.

Athenians found it disgusting that in Sparta women also exercised. For them it was an all-male business. And they recognized that sport in the gym was very much like the grapplings of the bedroom. ‘Before wrestling under the rules of the Goddess of Love,’ wrote the novelist Achilles Tatius, ‘boys get to grapple on the wrestling mat, publicly locking bodies together in the gym – and no one says that these embraces are immodest.’ Wrestling is a training for when ‘bodies rub firmly against one another in the athletics of pleasure’.

Achilles Tatius is a sly and wicked writer, but he touches the heart of the issue. For ancient Greeks, going to the gym was never just about sport. It was always about sex, too.

Article by Simon Goldhill, a professor of Greek literature and culture at the University of Cambridge. © Copyright The Guardian

See a slide show of pictures from the Athens 2004 Olympic Games > click here

Hunting ban in Greece November 11, 2007

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The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, in a ruling yesterday banned hunting in parts of Greece affected by the devastating summer fires until the end of February.

The court made the decision after an application was filed by an environmental group on the grounds that the fire had created imbalances in the country’s ecosystem and problems for wildlife. The temporary hunting ban applies to only parts of the burnt areas, according to the ruling.

Cyprus hunting season begins November 7, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Sports & Games.
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Thousands of hunters were out on Sunday, the first day of the new hunting season, which began with appeals by the government for safety.

This year there is more game, with the number of hare released in the wild up by 15-20 per cent and about 150.000 partridges freed for the season.

Interior Minister Christos Patsalides has urged hunters to comply with the written as well as the unwritten laws governing this sport and to pay the utmost attention to their safety and the safety of others.

The UN peace-keeping force in Cyprus has warned hunters not to venture into the buffer zone as “they are running the risk of drawing fire from either of the opposite forces.” The buffer zone, patrolled by UNFICYP, separates the Turkish occupied and military controlled, since July 1974, northern part of The Republic of Cyprus from the southern government controlled areas of the Republic. The military of both sides maintains positions along the buffer zone.

Greece to host 2013 Med Games October 30, 2007

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The central Greek cities of Volos and Larissa were awarded the Mediterranean Games for 2013, a multi-sport event held every four years, after emerging victorious from voting procedures held on Saturday in Pescara, Italy, host of the next games in 2009.

The joint Greek bid received 37 votes, five more than the Croatian city of Rijeka, in the second round of voting. A third candidate, Turkey’s Mersin, was eliminated in the first round with 13 votes, against 24 for Rijeka and 31 for Volos and Larissa.

“These games are of major importance for Volos and Larissa and the wider region of Thessaly, which will acquire infrastructure that it lacks, infrastructure that will improve the quality of life of its citizens and significantly bolster the regional economy,” noted Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.

At a news conference shortly after the Volos-Larissa win was announced, the Bid Committee’s Chief Isidoros Kouvelos, Bakoyannis’s husband, said the event’s committee had “embraced the ambitious Greek proposal for upgrading the Mediterranean Games.” Kouvelos described the joint Greek bid as difficult, noting that the relevant campaign commenced several months after the other two candidate cities had already begun preparations.

Held under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee and currently involving over 20 countries from three continents, the Mediterranean Games were first held in 1951 in Alexandria, Egypt, after the idea was proposed at the 1948 Olympic Games by Muhammed Taher, Chairman of the Egyptian Olympic Committee.

Initially, the sporting event was held one year before the Olympic Games, but since 1993, it has been staged the following year. Italy leads the all-time medal tally. Greece is ranked sixth.

Related Links > http://www.2013volos.gr/index.htm

Team walks out of sports competition over name dispute October 20, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Politics, Sports & Games.
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A 150-member FYROM team walked out of a youth athletics competition in northern Greece on Saturday after objecting to the name used to introduce them, the latest sign of a sharpening bilateral dispute over FYROM’s official name.

Saturday’s walkout follows renewed warnings in the past two days by Greece’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister that Greece will block FYROM’s attempts to join NATO and the European Union unless it compromises over the name issue.

Saturday was the penultimate day of the inaugural Southeastern European Countries Games, a week-long youth competition involving teams from 12 southeastern European countries, including Turkey. The FYROM’s team refused to be introduced as “FYROM”, the acronym for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,  rather than its preferred “Macedonia.”

A published poll on Saturday showed that more than half of Greeks surveyed believe that if FYROM insists on retaining the name “Macedonia”, Greece should veto its NATO and EU bids. The survey, conducted by pollster Metron Analysis and published in the mass-circulation newspaper “Eleftheros Typos,” showed 58.3 percent of respondents urged the veto and said the word Macedonia should not appear in the country’s name. Another 30.2 percent favor a compromise and 6.3 percent say FYROM should be able to call itself what it wants. No margin of error or sample size was given.

Greece has opposed FYROM’s calling itself by that name since the early 1990s, saying it implies territorial designs on the northern Greek Macedonia province of the same name.

Last week, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis threatened to wield the veto in April when FYROM’s bid to join NATO comes up for consideration at a planned alliance summit in Bucharest. Earlier Saturday, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis told the central committee of his conservative New Democracy Party that the time had come to resolve the longrunning dispute with its northern neighbor.

UPDATE > Greek Prime Minister tells Merkel Greece will block EU, NATO bids if name solution not found

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday impressed upon German Chancellor Angela Merkel Greece’s determination to push for a solution to its dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) regarding the latter’s name before Skopje proceeds with its possible accession to NATO.

“It is inconceivable for FYROM to join NATO or the EU without a mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute,” Karamanlis is reported to have told Merkel on the sidelines of a European Council summit in Lisbon. According to sources, Greece’s PM hinted that Athens would exercise its veto if necessary. Karamanlis was due to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy later yesterday.