Tyrtaeus' criticism of athletics

The poet Tyrtaeus lived in seventh century BC Sparta, where he urged the citizens to be brave soldiers. According to him athletics and military qualities could not be reconciled. In Tyrtaeus' time military techniques were changing: a soldier could no longer fight heroically man to man, but the technique of fighting in battle-array depended on fighting as one block. Collaboration and discipline were more important than individual achievements. Athletics now replaced war as the main stage for the typical individual Greek competitive spirit.

Military courage, which contributed to the welfare of the whole community, was however the only real virtue for Tyrtaeus. Athletic qualities, such as speed, skilfulness and strength, were individual qualities and therefore no real virtues. As opposed to military and civil duty in general, Tyrtaeus considered athletics an egocentric and useless phenomenon, of which even the value as military training was doubtful.

© KU Leuven, 2012