Saturday, February 06, 2016


Not All Perfect Athletes

H.W. Parke (1903-1986), Festivals of the Athenians (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 46, with note on p. 193 (bracketed phrase in original):
In Aristophanes we have a sarcastic caricature of what could happen in the torch-race. In the Frogs Aeschylus is represented in the Other World as accusing Euripides of being responsible for producing a generation of Athenians of whom 'no one is able to carry a torch any longer through lack of athletic training.' Dionysus supports this charge with a reminiscence: 'No indeed, by Jove, and at the Panathenaia I split myself laughing when a slow fellow was running, doubled up, white and flabby, left behind and in a terrible state. Then the men from Kerameikos [the workmen's quarter through which the course went] in the gates were butting him on the belly and ribs and flanks and buttocks. When he was beaten on the road he gave a fart, blew out his torch and fled.' The episode is perhaps not all mischievous fantasy and is certainly a corrective to any romantic and sentimental notion of classical Greeks who were all perfect athletes.30

30 Ar. Ra. 1089 ff.
Cf. id., p. 12:
Not only was feasting an appropriate act of worship, but even athletics and play-acting were proper institutions for holy days. The pious psalmist, sure in his knowledge of the nature of Jehovah, might assert: 'He hath no pleasure in the strength of an horse; neither delighteth he in any man's legs.' But the Athenian when he took part in chariot-racing or running at the Panathenaic games believed that Athena was honoured by these exertions.

Torch race on bell krater, Arthur M. Sackler Museum
(Harvard University), object no. 1960.344

Related post: Torch Relays and Races.

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