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53.6.Potter

When I arrived in Ann Arbor in 1986 there was a long tradition of teaching a course on ancient sport, the class having evolved from a course concentrating on Greek sport when it was created by Professor Waldo Sweet, to one focusing on the Romans and taught by Professor John Humphrey. Either version of the course was revolutionary for the time because they challenged students to integrate text with image to discuss problems in Roman social history. When I took the course over it seemed to me to offer an opportunity to introduce students to issues in Roman social history since it is impossible to understand sport outside its social context. The problem that we faced at that time was the absence of suitable materials, and after a number of years David Mattingly, with whom I split the teaching of the course in alternate years, developed the collection of essays published by the University of Michigan Press as Life, Death and Entertainment in the Roman Empire. At the time we published that book we planned a second volume which would focus on issues of dominance and subordination. That has been a victim of circumstances, but the new edition of the book remedies what seemed the most obvious deficiency, which was a discussion of slavery, for which we used Keith Hopkins’ study of the Life of Aesop. The point that Hopkins makes for the ancient world is equally valid for the modern: students learn best through stories that they can sink their teeth into. The new edition includes translations of two major texts—the decree on public combatants under Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian’s letters on public entertainers which are not readily available in accessible English editions with accessible commentaries

The story of Life, Death and Entertainment reflects a fundamental problem in teaching Roman Sport, which is the accessibility of source material and of secondary readings. Courses on Greek Sport are very well served with both readings and collections in translation—I would single out Waldo Sweet’s Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece and Stephen Miller’s Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources, while for the Roman side we had to wait a long time for Alison Futrell’s The Roman Games, which now routinely answers the call. A crucial aspect of these books is that they show students how to use the range of available material. From the point of view of a Classical Civilization program this is a genuinely important aspect of this sort of course. A second aspect that is important is that such courses automatically invite comparison with issues in the modern world. Since these issues are best addressed as they arise it means that there is always something new to talk about and students can see how a Classics course addresses issues in their daily lives.

Finally there is the issue of outreach. On a campus such as that of the University of Michigan, there is an opportunity to develop links with other units, ranging from the Athletic Department or School of Kinesiology to programs in film study or sociology. Campus information officers and local media outlets, especially in an Olympic year, are likely to reach out to people teaching ancient sport which can be very helpful in showing people that what we do has meaning in their lives. A course on Roman Sport can serve as a dollop of curricular honey to draw in both students who might not otherwise be attracted to Classics and to draw in members of the public who might not otherwise think that members of the Classics Department are there for them. The fact that this is material that is constantly renewed both through archaeological discovery, media interest such as the Starz series on Spartacus, and current events reminds those who run our institutions that our subject is one that is in constant ferment—and that is a good thing.

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