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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.

Cyprus’ archaeology moulds a passion for pottery March 25, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Cyprus, Books Life.
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Brimbank, Australia, Deputy Mayor Dr Kathryn Eriksson has just had her third book published and has plans for two more.

A passion for archaeology since she was a young girl has led Brimbank’s Deputy Mayor, Dr Kathryn Eriksson, to have three books published, with plans for another two in the next two years. Dr Eriksson’s latest work is on the archaeology and history of ancient Cyprus.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I’d always been interested in archaeology. I was the little girl in class always saying I wanted to be an archaeologist and the other kids would ask, ‘What’s that?’”

Dr Eriksson, whose work is internationally renowned, has been working on the book for five years on behalf of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

Titled The Creative Independence of Late Bronze Age Cyprus, it is said to be the most comprehensive and definitive account of this period of ancient Cyprus (1580 to 1180 BC) ever published. It is volume 10 of a 14-book series. Dr Eriksson is a specialist in the area of ancient Cypriot ceramics of the Bronze Age.

In her earlier book, Red Lustrous Wares, she was able to establish that this form of pottery originated in Cyprus and not in Syria. The recent book adds to the previous one with a comprehensive analysis of another pottery form, White Slip Ware.

FYROM talks in the final stretch March 9, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Politics.
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As United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz prepares to invite diplomats from Athens and Skopje to the next phase of talks in a flagging effort to resolve the Macedonia name dispute, Greek government officials are preparing for a flurry of diplomacy.

Nimetz is to invite Adamantios Vassilakos and Nikola Dimitrov, the representatives of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) respectively, for talks in Geneva this week. The envoy, whose latest proposals were rejected by Skopje, is not expected to make any new suggestions but to press FYROM to shift its stance, sources said yesterday. The same sources said talks will continue until the very last moment.

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who on Thursday threatened Athens will use its veto against FYROM’s NATO bid, is preparing for a series of talks with European counterparts on the sidelines of an EU summit on Monday. She will then fly to Paris for talks with her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. Premier Costas Karamanlis will join the summit on Thursday.

Meanwhile FYROM has been promoting its NATO bid with a full-page ad that appeared in several international newspapers yesterday. It argues FYROM’s case for joining NATO and criticizes Greek pressure.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried arrived in Skopje last night for talks on the name dispute. Before his trip he called for “outstanding issues” to be resolved by the first week of April when the NATO summit will begin.

In search of the ancient Minoans March 8, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Culture History Mythology, Hellenic Light Europe.
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Archaeologist Nikolaos E. Platon (1909-1992), a native of the island of Cephalonia, was an expert in Minoan civilization who undertook many excavations in Boeotia, Evia, Fthiotida, the Sporades and Crete.

It was he who discovered the fourth Minoan palace and surrounding settlement, bringing to light a large number of exhibits, many of which are now in the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion in Crete.

In a lecture at the Hellenic Center, London, his son Lefteris, professor of prehistoric archaeology at Athens University, said he hoped that some of these could be transferred to the Siteia Museum. Lefteris Platon’s lecture for the Greek Archaeological Committee of Britain was held on February 20.

He described the work carried out by his father and the exploration that continues to this day, which he himself leads. Professor Platon presented a large number of slides showing Linear A inscriptions, gold and other objects, clay pots decorated with marine themes and stone objects.

The Carnival of Xanthi March 8, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Greek Culture, Greek Culture Heritage, Special Features.
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The carnival of Xanthi is not just  a parade of disguised people and there is no other like it and as it was inspired by a group of its founders who begun with the determination and the belief to make it an institution in Thrace and in Macedonia.

Not only does it consist of soulless colorful mechanized caricatures but it really  consists of folk celebrations with European and domestic bands. And the responsible committee about the organization of the carnival have succeeded as it is said by thousands of people who have attended the celebrations. It is officially then an institution. It is a fair, an aggregation of folk festivals in the season of the carnival and in times of entertainment. So the parade itself are are the complement of the whole festival which is Thrace’s vivid expression.

It is obvious that during the forty years of the celebrations the carnival festivals have undergone some changes and are redefined with novelties because it is just natural for an institution like that to go through some phases of reorientation.

Above all it has to do with an institution that cannot be met elsewhere. The institution stands for a platform on which many cultural activities take place, it transforms and every year it serves as a way of expression on various social and cultural issues. It looks forward to the future and accents the past assuring that it reflects a rich domestic vividness in an area where multicultural and multinational social groups coexist harmoniously.

Related Links > http://www.carnival-of-xanthi.gr/index.php?lang=en&nocache=1

The Carnival of Patras March 8, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Greek Culture, Greek Culture Heritage, Special Features.
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Albeit not as renowned as certain other Mediterranean and central European carnivals, Patras’s carnival is amongst Europe’s finest. Together with that of Nottingham, in London, it is the largest in terms of active participation (40.000 masqueraders in the Great Parade) and, without doubt, the first in participation of young people and therefore leading in enthusiasm and passion.

The Carnival started approximately 180 years ago and has since exhibited a historically interesting course and development. It all began in 1829, with masquerade balls thrown in the residences of the locals bourgeois. At some point, from 1870 onwards, the bourgeois also finances the construction of carnival floats and the parade comes into being. For many decades, the balls and parade constitute the official carnival of Patras and are the basis of its fame outside the city’s limits.

In its fringe, of course, there is a popular version, with parties in taverns or private residences and the mpoules (an improvised masquerade, usually with the help of clothing belonging to the opposite sex, one’s grandmother ect). The floats and masquerades are constructed by popular artisans, a fact reflecting on their style. The Carnival however, remains a bourgeois festival as the tone is set by flamboyant balls and the organization and financing of the parade and floats. And, with the exception of the mpoules, the bourgeois is behind its few but representative customs – the waxed egg war, the chocolate-war and the balls of the “bourboulia”.

This carnival, indeed, is purely of Italian origin and is completely unrelated to the pagan carnival customs of the rest of the country, whose roots are lost in time, dating back to the ancient god Dionysus, and whose phallic symbols and wantonness in disguise and song constitute the rural rituals for springtime fertility and the productivity of land and flock.

Its western character is enforced by the fact that apart from the de facto cosmopolitan composition of the local bourgeois (Greeks from the colonies, together with English, Germans and others as local representatives or businessmen themselves in the raisin commerce) popular participation in the carnival is represented mostly by the city’s large Italian community (political fugitives from their country) and by the islanders from the Ionian Islands who have settled in Patras in search of work.

At times more robust or less inspired – in proportion to concurrent political and financial situation, the Patras Carnival, with its Italian, bourgeois and “prim and proper” features, marched on until 1940. In the period between 1940 and 1950 the carnival was not celebrated because of the war, the enemy occupation and the Civil War that ensued in Greece after liberation from the Nazis. It will resume from 1951 with one modification: from now on the organizer shall be the Municipality of Patras.

The greatest subversion, however, came from within, and indirectly reflected the social changes in the young generation’s rights and perceptions after 1968, albeit superficially resulting from two coincidental events. In 1966 a game was tried, in the context of the carnival: a treasure hunt for the crews of the carnival float cars. 94 people participate, and numbers will gradually rise within the following years, as the ownership of a car, as a condition for participation is abandoned. (Amongst these 94 we find the presenter Alkis Steas, who from the following year until .. contributed greatly to the treasure hunt and the carnival of Patras in general).

In 1981 the Municipality’s failure, due to financial difficulties, in producing an adequate number of carnival floats for the Great Parade lead, as a compulsory solution, to the participation of carnival groups. That was it. The participation of young people in the treasure hunt groups rises rapidly and when, after 1987, the organizing Municipality fully accepts and encourages the fact, the rise in participation is effectuated by geometric progression. The Patras carnival becomes a matter of youth; it evolves into a public festival of the people of Patras and thus experiences a wild development in all parameters.

Related Links > http://www.carnivalpatras.gr/index.php?section=7

It’s Carnival time all over Greece March 7, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Culture, Greek Culture Heritage, Special Features.
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The Germans, the Venetians and the people of Rio de Janeiro are renowned celebrators at Carnival time, but Greeks also have a deep-rooted Carnival tradition.

The Greek word for Carnival is Apokria. This is derived from apokreos, which in turn means abstaining from meat, because Carnival is followed by a period of fasting. The Carnival period, or Triodio, begins three weeks before Clean Monday. In these three weeks, you really must make the most of all the celebrations, because for the following 40 days of fasting leading up to Easter, going by the Julian calendar, the Orthodox Church allows no festivities. The first and second Sundays are Meat Sundays (Kreofagou), and the third Sunday is Cheese Sunday (Tirofagou). The main focus of the Carnival celebrations starts on the Thursday (Tsiknopempti in Greek) before Sunday – Kiriaki tis Apokrias.

In the north, people don goatskins and bells and go from house to house, wishing everyone a prosperous year and successful harvest. But the real celebrations take place in the Peloponnese region. In Patras, they celebrate the legendary “white ball”. All the principles of a centuries-old Orthodox tradition seem to be suddenly forgotten. Everyone, even the women, feel free to make fools of themselves. Clad from top to toe in black, groups of women walk through the streets, flirting with every man they like the look of, and dreaming of liberty and equality. The Patras Carnival celebration lasts four weeks and ends on Clean Monday. This is followed by a period of inner and outer purification. Another equally attractive custom practised throughout the country on Clean Monday is kite flying.

07-03-08_carnival_dancers.jpg  Dancers from the Aegean island of Skyros perform the ‘Struggle of the Yeri’ in central Athens streets

Skyros, an island in the Sporades, is famous throughout Greece for its Carnival celebrations. These go back to the story of a herdsman who lost his entire flock in a snowstorm. Beside himself with grief, the yeros (old man) took the skins from his animals, hung their bells about his body and returned to the village. Ever since the men of the island have dressed up in skins, bells, and masks once a year in his memory to perform the “Struggle of the Yeri”. According to how the clothes are worn, the yeros is a herdsman from the waist down and a goat from the waist up. On Clean Monday, the islanders gather in the streets, dance, roar and fight with each other, ringing their bells, which weigh up to 88 pounds (40 kilograms).

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