THE ATHLETIC IDEAL
WE have seen how the joy of effort and the love of competition that characterized the Greeks produced the athletic festival, and how with the multiplication of competitions and the rivalry of the city states the Greeks became in the sixth century literally a nation of athletes. Though we have no means of comparing their athletic performances with those of our own time, it may be safely asserted that no nation ever attained so high a level of physical fitness as the Greeks did at the close of the sixth and the beginning of the fifth century. But the Greeks were also a nation of artists, and in the beauty of the athlete the Greek artist found an inspiration no less strong than that of religion and indeed closely related to it. Thus there arose an athletic art which in its turn refined athletics and helped to produce the athletic ideal which found its highest expression in the sculpture of the fifth century.
The sixth century was an age of organized competition. But though gymnastics were already an essential part of education there was as yet no science of training. Such training as there was was merely traditional, differing little from that of the Homeric warrior, save that all classes now shared therein. Sport was still largely recreational, and was purely amateur. It was in the stage in which football was half a century ago in our schools and universities and clubs, when the game existed for the benefit of the players, not for the spectators and the press.
THE AGE OF STRENGTH
The characteristic of the sixth century is strength. The typical athlete of the period is the strong man, the boxer or the wrestler. These exercises, always the most popular, were also when practised in the true amateur spirit the most practical training for warfare. The great boxers and wrestlers, men whose names became proverbial, Milo of Croton, Glaucus of Carystus, Theagenes of Thasos, all belong to the close of the sixth century and beginning of the fifth century. We hear indeed of great runners, but they are less famous, the popular idea that the foot-race was honoured beyond all other events being purely fallacious. The object of the old gymnasts, says Philostratus,⁵⁴ was to produce strength only, and in consequence of their healthy life the old athletes maintained their strength for eight or even nine Olympiads. There was nothing artificial or unnatural about their training: the careful dieting, the elaborate massage, the rules for exercise and sleep introduced by later trainers were unknown. The trainers of those days were themselves athletes and confined their teaching to actual athletics, especially to the art of boxing and wrestling, and the athletes owed their strength to a healthy, vigorous, out-of-door life.
The stories told about these old athletes illustrate this fact. The father of Glaucus we are told discovered his son’s strength one day from seeing him hammer in a ploughshare with his naked fist. So Tom Sayers one of the heroes of the prize-ring owed the severity of his punch to his practice in heaving bricks as a bricklayer. Theagenes displayed his strength at the age of nine by shouldering a bronze statue in the market-place and carrying it off. There are many stories of contests with wild beasts that recall the exploits of Samson, but the most characteristic exercise of the period was weight lifting. Milo practised it on most scientific principles with a young bull-calf which he lifted day by day till it was fully grown. But even he was defeated by the Aetolian shepherd Titormus. Challenged by Milo to show his strength he threw off his mantle, seized a huge boulder that Milo could hardly move, raised it first to his knees, then on to his shoulders and after carrying it sixteen yards threw it away. As a further proof of his strength he seized and held fast by the heels two wild bulls.⁵⁵
These stories have been strangely confirmed by discoveries in Greece. At Olympia a block of red sandstone was found weighing 315 lb. with a sixth-century inscription stating that one Bybon with one hand threw it over his head. He must have raised it to his shoulders like Titormus, balanced it on one hand, and then thrown it. A still larger block weighing nearly half a ton (480 kilos) was found at Santorin, bearing the following inscription, also of the sixth century, ‘Eumastas, the son of Critobulus, lifted me from the ground.’ ⁵⁶
Swimming was also a favourite exercise. Tisander, a celebrated boxer of Naxos, kept himself fit by swimming daily out to sea. The old athletes, says Philostratus, hardened themselves by bathing in the rivers and sleeping in the open air on skins or heaps of fodder. Living such a life they had healthy appetites and were not particular about their food, living on porridge and unleavened bread and such meat as they could get. The strong man is naturally a large eater; and all sorts of tales were rife about their voracity. Milo, according to an epigram, after carrying a four-year-old heifer round the Altis at Olympia ate it on the same day. The Homeric heroes had equally heroic appetites, probably because meat was not an ordinary part of their diet. These tales are the invention of a later age when the strong man was trained on vast quantities of meat. But this was not the diet of the sixth century. The athletes of this age were healthy, free from disease, preserved their strength, and lived long. Nor did athletics unfit them for the duties of ordinary life and military service. Many of them won distinction in war, and the effects of athletics on the nation were shown in the Persian Wars.
When we turn to the records of art we still find strength the predominant characteristic of the period. We see this in those early nude statues, widely distributed throughout Greece and the islands, which are generally classed under the name of Apollo, though better described by the vaguer term kouroi. Whether they represent a god or a man, there is no doubt of their athletic character. In all of them we see the same attempt to render the muscles of the body, whether in the tall, spare type of the ‘Apollo’ of Tenea (Fig. 16), or the shorter, heavier type of the Argive statues (Fig. 15). It is in the muscles of the trunk rather than of the limbs that real strength lies, and it is the careful rendering of these muscles that distinguishes early Greek sculpture from all other early art, and that particularly characterizes the sculpture of the Peloponnese. The typical figure of the sixth century is that of the bearded Heracles, not the clumsy giant of later days but the personification of endurance and strength, a man, as Pindar says, ‘short of stature but of unbending soul”. So he is represented on the black-figured vases (Figs. 149, 194, &c.), and the type survives in the pediments of Aegina and the metopes of Olympia (Fig. 20)
THE AGE OF ATHLETIC BEAUTY
In the art of the fifth century we note a change which is most marked in vase-paintings. On vases of the sixth century the type of athlete commonly represented is the fully grown man (Fig. 155); he is usually bearded and, though of ordinary stature, is of powerful physique. The scene depicted is usually some actual competition, particularly in boxing or wrestling. On red-figured vases of the early fifth century the type is that of athletic youth, strong but beautifully developed and graceful. The scene is taken not from competition in the stadium but from the practice of the gymnasium or palaestra, and every variety of sport is depicted, especially the exercises of the pentathlon, throwing the diskos and the javelin, and jumping. The hero of the red-figured vase-painters is not Heracles but Theseus, usually represented as a youthful wrestler conquering his enemies by the art of the wrestling school (Figs. 161, 166, 167). If strength is the key-note of the sixth century, that of the fifth is the union of strength and beauty which belongs especially to the age of full-grown youth and early manhood.
PHYSICAL TYPES IN EARLY SCULPTURE
15. MARBLE STATUE OF CLEOBIS OR BITON (Hdt. i. 31) by Polymedes of Argos. Delphi Museum. About 600 B. C. The attitude is borrowed from Egypt, but in the close study of the forms of the human body the work is thoroughly Greek. The heavy proportions arc typical of Argive art, see Figs. 25, 26, 27.
16. MARBLE STATUE OF YOUTH, found at Tenea near Corinth, generally known as the ‘Apollo of Tenea’. About 550 B.C. Munich. Fünfzig Meisterwerke der Glyptothek, pl. IV.
17. MARBLE STATUE OF YOUTH (kouros) generally known as the Strangford Apollo. British Museum. About 490 B.C.
18. THE CHOISEUL-GOUFFIER APOLLO. Roman copy of a bronze original of about 470 B.C. British Museum.
19. FIGURE FROM THE E. PEDIMENT OF THE TEMPLE OF APHAIA, AEGINA. About 490–480 B. C. Munich. The figure is that of an attendant who rushes forward to help his fallen master. The arms are modern. Fünfzig Meisterwerke der Glyptothek, pl. XII.
20. HERACLES AND ATLAS. Metope from the temple of Zeus at Olympia. About 460 B. C. Olympia Museum. Heracles supports the heavens on his shoulders while Atlas brings to him the apples of the Hesperides. Athene stands behind and lends a helping hand.
The change may be attributed partly at least to the growth of city life, to the increasing importance of the gymnasium in the life of the city, and to the organized education of the Epheboi. In most states youths between the ages of sixteen and eighteen were enrolled in corps and underwent two years of strict military and athletic training. They learnt to use their weapons and ride, they hardened their bodies by athletics and hunting, and they gained practical experience by serving as patrols on the borders of their state. Much of this training took place in the public gymnasia, which were not buildings so much as recreation or sports-grounds often situated on the outskirts of the city in a grove beside a river. There under special trainers they could ride, run, wrestle, practise any form of exercise. Men of all ages would come to join in the sports or watch the contests of others. So the gymnasia became the daily resort of the whole city.
To the gymnasium is due the intimate connexion between Greek athletics and art. It has been well said that without athletics Greek sculpture cannot be conceived. The gymnasium was the Greek sculptor’s studio. There daily he could watch men and boys of every age engaged in every form of sport, and there he acquired that consummate knowledge of the naked human body that is his chief glory. For the Greek, whether in competition or in practice, as the word gymnasium implies, stripped absolutely naked. Even the loin-cloth is rarely seen on sixth-century vases. To be ashamed to be seen naked was to the Greek the mark of a barbarian.
This custom of nudity, which was the Greek sculptor’s opportunity, had no little effect on athletics. It is not merely that exposure to the air and the sun-bath are, as doctors now tell us, the very best of physic, but it served as a valuable incentive to the youth of Greece to keep themselves in good condition. The Greek with his keen eye for physical beauty regarded flabbiness, a pale skin, want of condition, or imperfect development as disgraceful, and the ill-developed youth was the laughing-stock of his companions. Of this we have a delightful illustration on a vase in the British Museum (Fig. 21). In the centre is a stool with clothes on it. To the right two graceful youths practise the diskos and the javelin. On the left two ill-developed youths, one lean and skinny, the other pot-bellied, are wrangling. Can it be that the painter is caricaturing two of his contemporaries?
EARLY ATHLETIC STATUES
There was a still closer connexion between athletics and sculpture. As early as the middle of the sixth century the strange custom had arisen of allowing victors in the Great Games to commemorate their successes by dedicating life-size statues sometimes in their native cities, more often in the national sanctuaries, especially at Olympia. How the practice arose we cannot say for certain; possibly it was from the older practice of offering little votive statuettes for victory. At Olympia, among thousands of votive offerings, are miniature bronze chariots and charioteers, mounted horsemen, and statuettes of naked warriors, which may well have been offerings in payment of vows for victory in the Games. The earliest of these victor statues were those of Praxidamas of Aegina, who won the boxing in 544 B.C., and of Rhexibius of Opous, victor in the pankration eight years later. But Pausanias tells us of earlier victors whose victories were commemorated by statues at Olympia, and at Phigaleia he mentions a statue to the memory of Arrhichion, the famous pankratiast of 564 B.C., who died at the very moment that his opponent gave up, but though dead yet received the victor’s crown. To the same period belong the earliest of the prize Panathenaic vases with their pictures of the various events in the Games. From this period there was a continuous demand for athletic statues which produced the athletic school of sculpture at Argos and Sicyon and influenced the whole development of Greek art.
There were hundreds of athletic statues at Olympia alone. Yet of all the number there or elsewhere only a few fragments remain. They were mostly of bronze and were melted down for the sake of the metal. The only victor statue that has survived whole is the bronze charioteer from Delphi. But many are known to us from marble copies of various dates, though the identification of them with particular athletes is purely conjectural. These statues were not as a rule portrait statues. Pliny tells us that only those who had won three victories were allowed to commemorate their success by portrait statues.¹ But this statement can only apply to later times. For before the fourth century portrait statues were almost unknown.
21. Palaestra scene. Attic r.-f. kylix in British Museum E. 6. About 520 B.C. To l. altercation between a fat and a lean youth. In centre stool heaped with clothing. To r. javelin thrower pushing the amentum tight, cp. Figs. 142, 143. For diskobolos, cp. Figs. 122, 129. [See B.S.A. 46, p. 9, no. 4.]
The earliest athletic statues must have been of the type of those early kouroi mentioned above. In the sixth century, while strength is always the predominant motive, there is a remarkable diversity of physical type which might tempt us to suppose that the sculptors were trying to represent different types of athlete. Thus in the Apollo of Tenea (Fig. 16), slim and long-limbed with spare flanks and muscular legs, we seem to see the long-distance runner just as he is depicted on Panathenaic vases (Fig. 92). On the other hand, the heavy, thick-set forms of the two early Argive statues from Delphi (Fig. 15), with their powerful limbs and massive heads, obviously represent the strong man. But between the two extremes are numerous intermediate types, such as that
N.H. xxxiv. 16.
of the Strangford Apollo from Boeotia (Fig. 17), and it would be safer to conclude that the diversity of type is due to the predominance of different physical types in different parts of Greece. For Greek art was widespread as Greek athletics, and everywhere in this archaic art we find, to quote Professor Beazley’s words, the same ‘loving study and systematic exploration of the human body’. This explanation is confirmed by the continuance of this diversity of type in the more varied and highly developed art of the early fifth century. At the one extreme we have the Choiseul-Gouffier Apollo (Fig. 18), tall, broad-shouldered, with powerful chest and back, essentially a big man. Somewhat similar are the tall, long-limbed forms of the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton, a group set up in Athens in 486 B.C. Here perhaps we may recognize the Attic type. At the other extreme are the slim, wiry warriors of the Aeginetan pediments (Fig. 19). Between the two are the Lapiths from the temple at Olympia (Fig. 35) and the sturdy little bronze figure from Ligurio (Fig. 25), short like the Aeginetan, but heavier and more fleshy, which may be taken to represent the Argive type, afterwards developed by Polyclitus. But Greek art like Greek athletics was working towards an ideal, and in the latter half of the fifth century this diversity of type tends to disappear partly owing to the influence of Polyclitus and Pheidias.
BRONZE STATUETTES OF ATHLETES
22. JUMPER SWINGING HALTERES. Etruscan work of early 5th century. Rome, Villa Giulia. This very vigorous little figure represents a standing jump, see p. 149. Photograph obtained by Mrs. Strong.
23. ATHLETE PUTTING A STONE. Etruscan bronze, late 5th century. Museo Civico, Bologna. This is as far as I know the only representation of putting the stone, though it doubtless was a familiar exercise. Photograph from the Director of the Museum.
24. HOPLITODROME IN THE ATTITUDE OF STARTING. Height 164 m. 490–480 B.C. Tübingen. The shield on right arm and crest of the helmet are lost. For the position see Figs. 87, 88, 96. Hauser, Jahrb. 1887, p. 95; 1895, p. 182; de Ridder, B.C.H. 1897, p. 211; Gardiner, J.H.S. xxiii, p. 269. [See also B.S.A., 46, p. 10.]
25. STATUETTE OF ATHLETE, found at Ligurio in Argolis, generally known as the Ligurio Bronze. Middle of the 5th century. Now in Berlin. The heavy jowl and thick sturdy figure are typical of the Argive School. The object held in the left hand is probably an apple. See A. Furtwängler, 50th Winckelmannsprogramm, 1890.
But in all this diversity of physical type it is difficult to say what class of athlete, if any, is represented. The fact is that the real specialization of the athlete was only beginning, and the universal athletic training had produced in the first half of the fifth century so uniform a standard of development that, with the possible exception of runners, it must have been difficult to distinguish between the representatives of other events in all of which strength was essential. Hence the early sculptors, in order to indicate in what event victory had been gained, would put into the hands of the statue a diskos or a pair of jumping-weights for the pentathlete, boxing-thongs for the boxer. Later they represented the athlete in some typical position, a boxer sparring with an imaginary opponent or a pentathlete swinging the diskos or jumping-weights (Figs. 22–5, 125–8). An excellent example of this is the little bronze in Fig. 24, which shows an armed runner practising starts.
ATHLETIC STATUES BY POLYCLITUS AND LYSIPPUS
26. THE DORYPHOROS OF POLYCLITUS. Graeco-Roman copy in marble of the bronze Doryphoros of Polyclitus, known as the Kanon. About 440 B. C. Found in the old palaestra at Pompeii. Now in Naples Museum. The spear is modern. Photo. Brogi.
27. THE DIADOUMENOS OF POLYCLITUS. Athlete binding a fillet round his head, possibly Apollo. Marble copy of a bronze original about 430 B. C. Found in Delos. National Museum, Athens. Photo. Alinari.
28. STATUE OF AGIAS. A late 4th-century marble statue of the pankratiast Agias, found at Delphi, a copy of a bronze statue by Lysippus. The ankles are modern. Museum, Delphi. Photograph from a cast.
29. THE APOXYOMENOS. Athlete scraping himself with a strigil. Marble copy of a bronze statue by Lysippus. Late 4th century. In the Vatican. Photograph from a cast.
MODERN ATHLETIC ART
Three bronzes by Professor R. Tait McKenzie, Philadelphia, to whose kindness I am indebted for the photographs.
30. THE COLLEGE ATHLETE. The figure represents an athlete holding a dynamometer. The original bronze is one-quarter life-size and the proportions are taken from the average proportions of fifty picked athletes.
31. THE DISKOS THROWER. This figure illustrates how far the style of the modern diskos-thrower approximates to that of Myron’s statue. The chief points of difference are the more crouching position of the body, the position of the head, and the turn of the diskos in the right hand.
32. THE STARTER. This represents the modern crouching start. It is stated in various books that the Greeks started off their hands in this way. There is not the slightest evidence for such a statement.
MYRON AND POLYCLITUS
This naturally brings us to the most famous of athletic statues, the Diskobolos of Myron (Fig. 117). He and his great contemporary Polyclitus both belong to the middle of the fifth century. Their most important athletic statues are known to us from numerous marble copies, and are of peculiar interest because they are not statues made to commemorate victories but are studies in athletic genre, a clear proof that the artists of this age were consciously working out ideals.
Myron, whose work fell between 480 and 440 B.C., devoted himself especially to the study of the athlete in motion. In the Diskobolos he has chosen the only moment that could rightly be fixed in bronze, the only moment that combines stability and motion. At the top of the backward swing there appears to be a momentary pause which suggests stability, while the contorted position of the body and the rope-like pull of the right arm imply the movement that has preceded it and the yet stronger movement that is to follow. Another famous statue by Myron represented the runner Ladas apparently at the very finish of the race straining forward in expectation of victory. We would give much to know how he succeeded in solving this far more difficult problem of fixing in bronze a runner at full speed. For here there is no moment of pause or balance. But, alas, not even a copy of the statue is left to us, possibly because it was quite impossible to transfer it to marble.
Polyclitus, who was a few years junior to Myron, was the most famous of the great Argive school of sculpture. His best-known works, the Doryphoros and the Diadoumenos (Figs. 26, 27), are like the Diskobolos works of athletic genre, but they are studies not of action but of proportion. They are standing figures, but by introducing a new stance, placing all the weight on one leg, and drawing the other back so that it only lightly touched the ground, Polyclitus contrived to give to the standing figure a life and rhythm unknown before. Indeed the Doryphoros is just on the point of moving forward. In this statue Polyclitus embodied his theory of bodily proportion; he called it his kanon or rule, and wrote a treatise explaining its proportions. The Doryphoros is of medium height, square set, and solidly built, with body and limbs finely developed, yet without any exaggeration or over-development. The head is somewhat long with a powerful jaw that harmonizes well with the figure. The impression that the statue produces is of power and determination. It is a type equally fitted for athletics or for warfare. He is not a specialist, certainly not a champion runner, though he can probably hold his own with most men in the race, but a good all-round athlete, and we feel that in any competition he will be hard to beat. A severe type possibly; but to Polyclitus as to Pindar athletics were not play, ‘victory comes not without toil’. The Diadoumenos represents a somewhat older youth winding round his head the victor’s fillet. The attitude is more graceful, with a slight suggestion of weariness after the struggle, the forms are somewhat rounder and softer; yet the proportions of the two statues are similar.
It is interesting to compare with the kanon of Polyclitus the fourth-century Apoxyomenos (Fig. 29). The existing statue is probably a faithful copy of the work of Lysippus, who is said to have worked out a new scheme of proportions, and it may certainly be taken as representing this new scheme. The contrast between the two works is obvious. The Apoxyomenos is beautifully developed and in superb condition, but the small head, the greater slimness of body, the greater length of limb, suggest the runner or the jumper rather than the all-round athlete. Still more do we miss the stern resolution of the Doryphoros: there is a restlessness in the attitude, a want of steadfastness, and in spite of his superb physique we doubt whether his heart is in the contest, whether he will finish well if hard pressed.
Lastly, let me set beside these two statues a work by a modern sculptor, Dr. Tait McKenzie (Fig. 30). Himself an athlete, a medical man, and Professor of Physical Culture at Philadelphia, Dr. McKenzie has had the same opportunity that the Greek sculptor had of studying the daily practice of athletes of all descriptions, and the delightful bronzes in which he has embodied the results of his observation are the nearest parallel that the modern world has produced to the athletic art of the Greeks. The College Athlete is a study in proportion. It is based on the average measurements of a number of picked American athletes, and it is remarkable how closely in its general type it agrees with the kanon of Polyclitus. On the same plate I have given two other bronzes by Tait McKenzie (Figs. 31, 32), one representing the crouching start, the other a diskobolos in the modern style which it is interesting to compare with Myron’s statue.
THE ATHLETIC IDEAL IN ART
The effect of this striving after an ideal is seen in an increasing uniformity of type during the second half of the fifth century. This is but natural. The ideal cannot be found in any extreme of type, in strength or beauty by itself, but only in a combination of the two. His athletic training had taught the sculptor the value of physical strength, systematically trained and developed; his artistic sense taught him that no subject was worthy of his art which did not present beauty of line and proportion. Hence that union of strength and beauty which characterizes the art of this period.
The union of strength and beauty belongs especially to the time of full-grown youth and opening manhood. And it is the ideal of youthful strength and beauty that dominated the art of the Periclean age. Indeed the art of this age has been truly described as the glorification of the Ephebos. The beautiful bronze statue of a youthful athlete at Florence known as the Idolino (Fig. 14) is possibly an original work of this period; other statues are known to us in copies. But the ephebos is best known to us from grave-reliefs, numbers of which still survive, and from the frieze of the Parthenon.
If we would realize how completely athletic experience permeates Greek sculpture in the fifth century we have only to look at those great temple sculptures to which I have already referred. Two examples will illustrate the skill which the Greeks had acquired in representing the human body alike in violent action and repose—the young Lapith on the pediment of Olympia straining every nerve in the struggle, and the so-called Theseus of the Parthenon, a perfect example of strength in repose (Figs. 33, 34).
The influence of athletics is equally marked in the lesser arts, in coins, gems, and above all on vase-paintings. Pl. 35 shows a selection of coin types taken from the Games. It is noticeable that the diskos types and the wrestling types belong to the fifth century. Of vase-paintings I need say no more. To them we are indebted for most of our knowledge of the details of Greek athletics, and from them are drawn the majority of the illustrations in this book.
This intimate connexion between athletics and art had a strong influence on athletics. To it we may ascribe perhaps the most distinctive feature of Greek athletics, the importance attached to style and rhythm of movement. Of this we shall find abundant evidence in the following pages.
33. Figure from E. pediment of the Parthenon, generally known as Theseus. British Museum. 438–433 B. C.
34. Lapith from the W. pediment of the temple of Zeus at Olympia. About 460 B. C. Olympia Museum. Buschor and Hamann, Die Skulpturen des Zeustempels zu Olympia
THE ATHLETE AT REST AND IN ACTION
35 AGONISTIC TYPES ON GREEK COINS
Winged figure of Agon holding crowns. Tetradrachm of Peparethus. Early 5th century. J.H.S. xxvii. pl. IV. 1.
Prize table bearing crowns, five apples, vase and crow. Imperial bronze coin of Delphi. B.M. Coins, Delphi, 38.
Victory seated, holding in r. hand palm. Olive branch in exergue. Tetradrachm of Elis. 5th century. B.M. Coins, Elis, 51.
Diskos-thrower (see p. 160) on tetradrachm of Cos. Beginning of 5th century. J.H.S. xxvii, p. 30; P. Gardner, Types of Greek Coins, p. 116.
Crown of bay-leaves of Pythian games. Imperial bronze coin of Delphi. B.M. Coins, Delphi, 39.
Diskos-thrower. Didrachm of Abdera. Late 5th century. P. Gardner, Types of Greek Coins, p. 110. In B.M. Coins, Abdera 30, the diskos is described as a patera.
Wrestlers on staters of Aspendos. 431–371 B.C. P. Gardner, Types, p. 144; B.M. Coins, Pamphylia, p. 95 sq. In g the left-hand wrestler has seized his opponent’s left arm with both hands: notice the realistic treatment of the wrist hanging limply down. In h the wrestler to r. seems to be seizing his opponent’s thigh.
Torch-race on horseback. Silver stater of Tarentum. 3rd century B.C.
Mule chariot race. Silver tetradrachm of Rhegium. Early 5th century, commemorating the victory of Anaxilas at Olympia. Head, Historia Numorum, p. 108.
Naked horseman dismounting from galloping horse. Didrachm of Himera. 5th century.
Victorious jockey. Silver tetradrachm of Philip II of Macedon.
. Wrestlers, Heracles and Antaeus. Alexandria. Bronze coin of Antoninus Pius. This group shows an extraordinary resemblance to the bronze group, Fig. 171.
Victorious chariot. Nike crowning the charioteer. In the exergue a shield, helmet, cuirass, and greaves. Silver decadrachm of Syracuse. One of a series of coins connected with the defeat of the Athenians at the river Assinarus, commemorated by the festival of the Assinaria first held in 412 B. C. The arms are doubtless the spoils taken from the Athenians, offered as prizes.
In all these figures the prevailing impression is one of perfect harmony, an absence of all exaggeration. Beauty is not exaggerated into softness, nor strength into coarseness. There is, too, a graceful ease of movement and of action which tells of an education in which music goes hand in hand with gymnastic. The influence of music is especially suggested in the rhythmic poise and movement of the Diadoumenos. Hence these harmonious forms produce an effect deeper than that of mere beauty; they seem to be the expression of the spirit within. The heads, too, are in perfect harmony with the bodies, the heads of healthy, vigorous youths, to whom all activity of body or mind is a joy. Their expression is calm and dignified, but modest withal and without a trace of arrogance or pride (see Frontispiece). We may note the modesty in the downcast eyes of the Diadoumenos as he binds the fillet of victory round his head. This combination of dignity and modesty is what the Greeks called Aid s, the key-note of Pindar’s athletic ideal.
THE ATHLETIC IDEAL OF PINDAR
For the spirit of this athletic art we need not depend on mere impression, it is interpreted for us by Pindar. This brings us to another strange custom which illustrates the extraordinary importance attached to athletics and athletic success in the sixth and fifth centuries. Not only were the greatest sculptors employed to commemorate victories in the Games, but the greatest lyric poets also celebrated the victor’s praises in Epinikia or hymns of victory to be sung by choirs of boys in the triumphal procession that welcomed the victor to his native city, or else at Olympia on the evening of the victory when in joyous revel victors and their friends went round the altars to pay their vows to the gods or heroes to whom they owed their victory. The earliest writer of Epinikia, Simonides of Ceos, wrote at the end of the sixth century. Of his poems only a few fragments survive. Nor was much more known of his nephew Bacchylides till a few years ago when portions of some thirteen of his poems were found on an Egyptian papyrus. He came of an athletic stock, and he dwells with delight on details of the games, but of their spirit he tells us nothing. For that we must turn to his contemporary, Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of the fifth century, and almost the last writer of Epinikia. For while the custom of dedicating athletic statues survived even in Roman times, we hear of no hymns of victory after the fifth century.
Pindar’s earliest poems were written at the beginning of the century, his last in 444 B.C., but the majority were composed after the Persian War in that great outburst of enthusiasm for athletics which followed the triumph of Greece. He was himself a Theban and an aristocrat, but his muse, he tells us, was a hireling, and he wrote for those who could afford to pay him, for those princes and well-born youths who competed in the chariot-races and in athletics for no mercenary or selfish motive but for sheer joy in the competition and love of fame. ‘The shepherd and the ploughman and the fowler and he whom the sea feedeth strive to keep fierce famine from their bellies; but whoso in the games or in war hath won delightful fame, receiveth the highest of rewards in fair words of citizens and of strangers.’ ⁵⁷
The qualities of the true athlete are summed up in Pindar’s eleventh Olympian Ode in honour of the youthful boxer Agesidemus: ‘If one be born with excellent gifts then may another who sharpeneth his natural edge, speed him, God helping, to an exceeding weight of glory. Without toil there have triumphed very few.’
First and above all the athlete must be born with excellent gifts. Strength and beauty are the gifts of Zeus, of the Graces, of Fate, and they are bestowed especially on members of ancient and honourable families. But physical beauty must be matched by beautiful deeds; the athlete must not shame his beauty. Natural gifts imply the duty of developing them, and excellence can only be attained, God helping, by ‘cost and toil’.⁵⁸ Here, as Professor Gildersleeve has well said, Pindar gives a moral dignity to athletics: for the cost and toil are undertaken not by compulsion but for fame. Even the desire for fame is not wholly selfish. Victory is a delight and honour to the victor’s city, to his family, even to his dead ancestors. Moreover, the true sportsman ‘delights in the toil and the cost’.
The expense of competing in the chariot- and horse-races was naturally far heavier than that of competing in athletic events; yet even these involved considerable sacrifice of time and money for those who competed at the national games. It is true that athletics were hereditary in certain families like that of Lampon of Aegina,⁵⁹ whom Pindar describes as a ‘whetstone among athletes’, bestowing practice on all that he does, and exhorting his sons to follow the precept of Hesiod, ‘Practice perfects the deed’. But as a rule the services of a professional trainer were called in and he was doubtless highly paid. The most popular events among Pindar’s patrons were boxing, wrestling, and the pankration, sports which involved not only toil but risk to limbs, if not to life. But the risk only adds zest to the sport. ‘Deeds of no risk’, the poet tells us, ‘are honourless whether done among men or among hollow ships.’⁶⁰ It follows, then, that the most necessary qualities for an athlete are courage and endurance. Heracles, his ideal athlete, is a man of unbending spirit.
But the most characteristic quality of the athlete to Pindar is what is expressed by that untranslatable word Aid s, the quality that wins him the favour of the gods and averts their jealousy. That jealousy is excited by all excess, by pride, by insolence. Aid s is the exact opposite of insolence (βρiς): it is the feeling of respect for what is due to the gods, to one’s fellow men, to oneself; the feeling of reverence, modesty, honour. It distinguishes the athlete from the bully. Strength may tempt a man to abuse it; success may beget ‘braggart insolence’.⁶¹ But aid s puts into the heart ‘valour and the joy of battle’.⁶² No sports demand so high a standard of honour as boxing and wrestling, and none are so liable to corruption. But aid s makes a man ‘a straight fighter’, the epithet by which Pindar describes Diagoras of Rhodes ‘who walks in the straight path that abhors insolence’.⁶³ It is a feeling incompatible with the commercial spirit, for ‘aid s is stolen away by secret gain’. It is akin to that typical Greek virtue of self-control, S phrosyne, but is something more subtle and more indefinite, and its comprehension may help us to understand how even sports that seem to us brutal are under the special patronage of those fair-haired Graces who give and grace the victory ‘from whom come unto man all pleasant things and sweet and the wisdom of man and his beauty and the splendour of his fame’.⁶⁴
Aid s has much in common with the feeling of honour which is the essence of that much-abused term, a sportsman. But though aid s is a much deeper feeling, we miss in it, or at least in its practice, that chivalrous generosity towards the loser that is perhaps the finest thing in our English tradition of sport. No Greeks ever shook hands after a fight, no Greek ever was the first to congratulate his conqueror; defeat was felt as a disgrace, and for this reason perhaps the Spartans forbade their citizens to take part in boxing competitions or the pankration, because it was disgraceful for a Spartan to acknowledge defeat. They could not feel that it was better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all. So the losers got little sympathy from their fellows. ‘By back ways they slink away sore smitten by misfortune. No sweet smile greets their return.’ ⁶⁵
The Greek ideal is unique, nor are the circumstances that produced it ever likely to occur again. How far was it ever realized and for how long? Perhaps for a few years under the wave of patriotic enthusiasm that followed the Persian Wars. But about the middle of the fifth century a change began, owing to the rise of professionalism, and athletics fell out of fashion. Yet the ideal continued to exist as a refining influence, and we find it restated in the second century after Christ in Lucian’s Anacharsis. One illustration must suffice. It is from the Memorabilia of Xenophon written at a time when the word athlete had come to mean a professional. ⁶⁶ Socrates meets an ill-developed youth and rebukes him for his very amateurish condition of body. ‘Of course,’ replies the youth, ‘I am not a professional.’ Whereupon the philosopher reads him a lecture on the duty of developing the body to the utmost. ‘No citizen’, he points out, ‘has any right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training: it is part of his. profession as a citizen to keep himself in good condition, ready to serve his state at a moment’s notice. The instinct of self-preservation demands it likewise: for how helpless is the state of the ill-trained youth in war or in danger! Finally, what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and the strength of which his body is capable!’ To develop his beauty and his strength to the utmost is the duty of a citizen. This is the Greek ideal.