Lucillius' criticism of athletics

Lucillius is a satirical poet, who wrote in the period the emperor Nero (mid first century AD). He explored the edges of reality and idealism and challenged them. In some of his epigrams Lucillius mocks the Greek athletic ideals: the athletical beauty, glory, and the associations between athletes and the army. Moreover, he does this in Doric, the dialect in which Pindar glorified the athletes.

In the following example Lucillius emphasises the gap between athletic ideals and athletic reality, by using phrases for a glorious winner for an archetypical loser.

"In every boxing contest organized by the Greeks
have I, Androleos, participated.
In Pisa I had one ear left, in Plataia one eyebrow.
In Delphi I was carried off knock-out.
My father Damoteles and my fellow-citizens were summoned by the herald
to carry me out of the stadion, dead or mutilated."


In this epigram about the athlete Androleos Lucillius parodies the formulas of honorific inscriptions. The frequent phrase "in all competitions in which I was enrolled, I obtained the victory" here becomes "I PARTICIPATED in ALL the competitions". The reader now expects, as in the inscriptions, a list with the number of victories in the great games, e.g. one at the Olympic games, two at the Isthmian games, ... , but rather than victories the boxer Androleon left a part of his body at each contest. The ideal of 'victory or death' is ridiculed as well: as opposed to athletes like Arrichion, who found glory in their death, Androleos was carried out of the stadion of Delphi half dead and without glory. The proclamation of the athlete, through which his father and city shared the athletic glory, was normally a moment of intense happiness and prestige. Here the proclamation becomes a painful moment of insuperable disgrace.

Other epigrams: Anth. Pal. XI 258 & XI 5

© KU Leuven, 2012