The ancient Greek stadium is one of the best arenas for students to discover the classical world and to learn methods of wrestling with complex evidence. It combines the familiar, like gymnasia and athletic events, with the foreign, such as naked oily wrestlers and the brutal ethos of winning or dying. It introduces close reading of complex texts like Homer, Pindar, and Xenophanes, yet invites the comparanda from everyday experiences of modern young athletes. And it requires students to ‘read’ visual and material culture as well as inscriptions and sites.
In such courses at all levels, including undergraduate, graduate, and school presentations, my primary objectives have been the same, namely to engage interest, arouse curiosity, situate the contests centrally in Greek culture, and foster deductive reasoning from primary evidence.
My syllabus requires both a narrative text and a sourcebook, augmented by selected additional sources and articles. The course moves chronologically from the Bronze Age Mediterranean to the Greeks of late antiquity, with sessions also discussing the modern reception. Along the way we discuss, Homeric antecedents, the Olympics, the fundamentals of the contests, Panhellenic festivals, local agonistic festivals, heroes, professionalism, the economics of the games, the Spartan agogê, women’s games, and Greek sport in the Roman era. Beyond sport, these topics open up discussions of literature, religion, economy, gender, sexuality, sociology, politics, art, and architecture. The narrative text (Kyle, Miller 2004b, Spivey, Tyrell, Young) frees the instructor from having to provide the detailed historical, archaeological, and scholarly contexts. A sourcebook (Miller 2004a, Sweet, or Robinson) provides fodder for close discussion of ‘case studies’ on specific issues. Readers and handbooks afford ready complements to deeper issues (König, Kyle and Chirstesen [in press], Scanlon [in press], and Scanlon and Futrell [in preparation]).
Strategies for class sessions are discussed, including a ‘field day,’ visits from modern athletes or Olympians, and, at the core, ‘case studies’ of particular issues. Three specific examples of these studies will be presented as following: 1) games and status-anxiety in Homer; 2) women at the Olympics?; and 3) the gimmickry of the hyspex. Each will be seen as a paradigm for students to observe how classics scholars and archaeologists reason through the fragmentary data to arrive at possible and probable interpretations, and how, in broader scope, these issues relate to modern social issues beyond the stadium.
Christesen, P. and D. Kyle, eds. Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Sport and Spectacle in Greek and
Roman Antiquity, (in press).
König, J. ed. Greek Athletics. Edinburgh Readings in the Ancient World (Edinburgh, U.K.:
Edinburgh UP, 2010)
Kyle, Donald. Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
Miller, Stephen G. Aretê: Ancient Writers, Papyri, and Inscriptions on the History and Ideals of Greek Athletics and Games3 (Berkeley: UC Press, 2004a, 3rd ed.).
Miller, Stephen G. Ancient Greek Athletics (New Haven: Yale, 2004b).
Robinson, R. S., Sources for the History of Greek Athletics (Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1955, repr.
Scanlon, T., ed. Oxford Readings in Sport in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford
UP, in press)
Scanlon, T. and A. Futrell, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient
World (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford UP, in preparation)
Spivey, N. The Ancient Olympics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Sweet, W. C. Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1987).
Tyrell, W. B., The Smell of Sweat. Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture (Wauconda, IL:
Young, David. A Brief History of the Olympic Games (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).