Criticism of Greek athletics

P266Greek athletes often found themselves in the center of attention, just like today. The great champions were admired for their speed and strength and for their moral qualities, such as endurance during the hard trainings and self-control. At the same time they were also a butt for criticism and ridicule. The uselessness of athletics was the main point of criticism: athletics were not an ideal military training for soldiers and their physical achievements did not contribute to a better government of the city. Then as now the high financial prizes and rewards for top athletes were a thorn in the flesh of many intellectuals, who considered themselves far more valuable. Therefore, some of these, e.g. Tyrtaeus, Xenophanes, Euripides and Lucillius, criticized athletics in their writings.

Doctors, such as the famous Galenus, were likewise negative about sports. Because of the excessive exercising many athletes put to much pressure on their bodies, which resulted in injuries. Many combat sporters were, moreover, too heavy because of their eating habits.

Most people were, however, very enthousiastic about athletics. This did not change until late Antiquity. One of the reasons for this decline was the rise of Christianity.

© KU Leuven, 2012