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Ages of Athletes: Generational Decline in Philostratus’ Gymnasticus and Archaic Greek Poetry

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Stocking, Charles. “Ages of Athletes: Generational Decline in Philostratus’ Gymnasticus and Archaic Greek Poetry.” CHS Research Bulletin 1, no. 2 (2013). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:StockingC.Generational_Decline_in_Philostratus_Gymnasticus.2013

§1  The Gymnasticus, written in the third century CE by the Athenian sophist Philostratus, is one of our latest, most important, but also most underappreciated texts on ancient athletic training.[1] Earlier scholars had largely dismissed the text as incoherent and encyclopedic.[2] More recently, however, there have been considerable efforts to situate the Gymnasticus within the historical and intellectual context of the Roman Imperial period.[3] Most importantly, Jason König has demonstrated how the Gymnasticus fits into the larger program of Second Sophistic literature by “explicating and refashioning the embodied and institutionalized heritage of the Greek past.”[4] In other words, the Gymnasticus upholds the Greek past as something to be emulated, but also adapts that past to the current intellectual and social circumstances of the Roman Imperial period in order for Greek athletics to be used as a mode of elite self-fashioning.[5] The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how this combined nostalgic-didactic perspective of the Gymnasticus is not limited to the time period of the Second Sophistic, but is a common rhetorical and philosophical perspective on athletic training that has been used throughout Greek and Roman cultural history. In order to consider the longue durée of Philostratus’ project, I will focus on how the Gymnasticus organizes athletic time and history through the use of themes that date back to Archaic Greek poetry.

§2  In the first introductory paragraph of the Gymnasticus, Philostatus presents his own vision of the relationship between athletic training in the present and that of the Greek mythic and historical past:

ἡ μὲν γὰρ πάλαι γυμναστικὴ Μίλωνας ἐποίει καὶ Ἱπποσθένας, Πουλυδάμαντάς τε καὶ Προμάχους καὶ Γλαῦκον τὸν Δημύλου, καὶ τοὺς πρὸ τούτων ἔτι ἀθλητάς, τὸν Πηλέα δήπου καὶ τὸν Θησέα καὶ τὸν Ἡρακλέα αὐτόν, ἡ δὲ ἐπὶ τῶν πατέρων ἥττους μὲν οἶδε, θαυμασίους δὲ καὶ μεμνῆσθαι ἀξίους· ἡ δὲ νῦν καθεστηκυῖα μεταβέβληκεν οὕτω τὰ τῶν ἀθλητῶν, ὡς καὶ τοῖς φιλογυμναστοῦσι τοὺς πολλοὺς ἄχθεσθαι. Gymnasticus 1 [K261.15-262.2][6]

For the old athletic training used to make Milos and Hippostheneses, and Pouludamases, and Promachoses and Glaukos son of Demulos, and also athletes before them, Peleus, and Theseus, and Herakles himself. But athletic training in the time of our fathers knew lesser men, but still amazing and worthy of recollection. But the training that has been established now has harmed the affairs of athletes so much that many are burdened by those who take delight in athletic training.

§3  The immediate impression one receives from this introductory historical sketch is one of progressive decline, from mythic heroes such as Herakles to the present era, where the athletes themselves have become a metaphorical burden. Of course, one can easily understand the rhetorical function of this pessimistic historical perspective. The ill condition of present day athletes provides the very raison d’être for the Gymnasticus. And yet, the Gymnasticus is not a training manual per se, and Philostratus makes no claims that he himself can improve the condition of athletes. Instead, he refers his readers to other training manuals, hupomnêmata, for such information.[7] In addition, another strange feature of this history is that it is not an indictment of athletes, but of actual athletic training that has produced these athletes. As the text states, old athletic training “produced,” epoiei, athletes of the past, and it is athletic training of the present, which “has harmed,” metabeblêken, athletes.[8] In other words, this is not just a history of physical decline, but a history of the decline of athletic training itself.

§4  What is so strange about Philostratus’ history of decline in athletic training is the fact that Philostratus opens the Gymnsticus, just prior to his description of decline, with a statement asserting the validity of athletic training as a form of technical knowledge. He first lists different technai including philosophy, music, geometry, medicine, etc. and then proclaims, “Concerning athletic training, let us call it a sophia no less than any other technê,” περὶ δὲ γυμναστικῆς, σοφίαν λέγωμεν οὐδεμιᾶς ἐλάττω τέχνης.[9] As König has demonstrated, Philostratus is most likely responding to criticisms of athletic training such as those voiced by Galen in his Protrepticus, where Galen argues that athletic training is not a valid technê worth pursuing.[10] Yet the fact that the Gymnasticus is meant to be a defense of athletics as a form of knowledge makes his historical sketch problematic. How can athletic training qualify as a valid and worthy technê, let alone a sophia, if athletic training itself has been on a path of continuous decline since the time of Greek mythic heroes? Would not this history of decline only justify Galen’s claim that athletics is not worthy of pursuit?

§5  In order to answer this problem and make sense of the introduction to the Gymnasticus, this paper considers Philostratus’ history of athletes and athletic training in relation to the more general theme of physical performance and generational decline, which is especially prominent in Archaic Greek poetry. As early as Homer, there is a standard belief that the past has always been physically superior to the present. Yet such a belief is not merely nostalgia for what is no longer possible, but almost always has a more practical, didactic purpose. Philostratus’ history of athletic training, I will argue, has a similar aim. In fact, a close reading of Philostratus diachronic model of athletic decline reveals an organizational structure and logic that is comparable to the story of the ages of man in Hesiod’s Works and Days.[11] Just as Hesiod’s ages of man is organized into antithetical pairs that ultimately present a contrast between dikê and hubris, so Philostratus’ “ages of athletes,” I shall argue, also forms antithetical pairs that negotiate between different contrasting conceptual categories, not dikê and hubris, but technê and phusis.[12] Where Hesiod’s ages of man is clearly meant to favor dikê over hubris, however, Philostratus’ temporal structure is meant to demonstrate how technê and phusis are not necessarily opposites, but were once mutually interdependent in the Greek mythic past. Hence, for Philostratus, it is possible to re-embody the Greek past, by re-aligning the declining technê of athletics with phusis. By adopting an archaic Greek model of generational decline and adapting it to athletic training as a form of technical knowledge, Philostratus creates a new, more physical way of participating in that common Greek and Roman practice of “backing into the future.”[13]

§6  Before considering the relationship between Philostratus’ history of athletes and Archaic Greek constructions of decline, we should first consider the internal logic of Philostratus’ athletic history based on the specific individuals he names. According to Philostratus, the first “athletes” that the old athletic training produced were in fact Greek mythic heroes – Peleus, Theseus, and Herakles. From an athletic perspective, each of these figures is famous for wrestling. Herakles, of course, is the mythic patron of wrestling, and athletes successful in wrestling and pankration were called “those from Herakles.”[14] Yet, despite Herakles’ close association with wrestling, Pausanias reports that “Theseus first discovered the art of wrestling,” παλαιστικὴν γὰρ τέχνην εὗρε Θησεὺς πρῶτος, because he conquered Kerkuon through intelligence, sophia.[15]  Thus, Pausanias’ description of Theseus as a founder of wrestling is consonant with Philostratus’ attempts to define athletic training on the whole as a sophia. Lastly, where Herakles and Theseus were famous for wrestling beasts and barbarians, Peleus, the father of Achilles, was famous for wrestling women.[16] In Pindar, the story of Peleus wrestling with the shape changing Thetis in order to marry her was used as a coming-of-age theme for young victorious wrestlers.[17] The image was often depicted in vase-paintings and was also described in Herodotus, Apollodorus, and Pausanias.[18] Peleus was also depicted in painting and literature as the wrestler of the famous androgynous female huntress Atalanta during the funeral games of Pelias, prior to his match against Thetis.[19] In general, each of these mythic figures, Peleus, Theseus, and Heracles wrestled against opponents, who ultimately represented an “otherness,” whether female, barbarian, monster, or all three. Similarly, when Philostratus describes the discovery of wrestling as “utility in war,” ἐς τὸ πρόσφορον τῷ πολέμῳ, later in the Gymnasticus, he explains that it was wrestling that determined victories at Marathon and Thermopylae— two historical battles that had a definitive effect in shaping Greek identity against the Persians.[20] Hence, Philostratus’ account implies that wrestling itself is a signifying practice for Greek identity, and it is the success of these mythic figures in wrestling against “otherness” that determined their foundational status.

§7  The second group of athletes in Philostratus’ model is comprised of historical Greek athletes— Milo, Hipposthenes, Pouloudamas, Promachos, and Glaukos, son of Demulos. Like Peleus, Theseus, and Herakles, these figures are famous for their success in the “heavy” events of boxing, wrestling, and the pankration.[21] In addition, as a group, they present either imitations of Greek mythic heroes or intimations of heroized cult. Milo of Croton, the six-time Olympic champion in wrestling, is said to have worn all six of his Olympic crowns and dressed as Herakles in a battle against the Sybarites.[22] Similarly, the Olympic victor in pankration, Pouludamas of Skotoussa is said to have imitated Herakles by wrestling lions and bulls and even killed three Persian “Immortals” in an exhibition contest for the Persian king Dareios.[23] According to Pausanias both Milo and Pouludamas are said to have died as a result of excessive pride in their own strength.[24] This effort to imitate Herakles seems to speak to the ambitions of Greek athletes for cult worship.[25] The other athletes mentioned by Philostratus – Hipposthenes, Promachos, and Glaukos –do seem to have achieved heroized status. Like Milo, Hipposthenes was a six time Olympic victor in wrestling and Pausanias reports that he was given honors by the Spartans “as though to Poseidon.”[26] Likewise, Pausanias also tells us that the Pellenians insisted that Promachos, another Olympic victor in the pankration, defeated the supposedly undefeated Pouludamas, and the Pellenians “ lead him in honor especially,” τὰ μάλιστα ἄγουσιν ἐν τιμῇ.[27] This particular phrase, “to lead in honor” does not just refer to social esteem but is used elsewhere in Pausanias for cult worship of divinities.[28] Lastly, Pausanias also describes the boxer Glaukos as a descendant of the sea deity Glaukos, which Currie interprets as an indication of the boxer’s heroized status.[29]  Glaukos is perhaps most famous for the praise given to him by Simonides of Ceos, reported by another second sophistic author Lucian, that “Neither the mighty Poludeukes could have stretched out his hands against him nor the iron-hard son of Alkmênê.”[30] All in all, therefore, Philostratus’ “old athletic training” produced two separate orders of specifically Greek athletes— mythic heroes who contended with divine beings and historical athletes who sought to emulate and compete with these previous heroes to achieve their own heroized status.

§8  The third group of athletes, according to Philostratus, are those not from the distant Greek past, but part of Philostratus’ own era. Here too Philostratus makes a temporal distinction, identifying predecessors, who were produced from athletic training “in the time of our fathers,” ἡ δὲ ἐπὶ τῶν πατέρων, and those from “athletic training established now,” ἡ δὲ νῦν καθεστηκυῖα. It is the age of the fathers embedded between the “old training” and that of the present, which takes on a truly mediating role in the overall path of decline, less than the previous generation, but still “worthy to be remembered” compared with those of the present.[31] Philostratus’ temporal arrangement is unique compared to other writers of the Second Sophistic, who also make use of Greek athletics in order to articulate a relationship with the Greek past. Galen for instance, approaches the topic of athletics from an entirely synchronic perspective and will use Hippocrates, Euripides, and stories of Milo, together with his own observations in order to denigrate athletics. The effect is that Galen constructs a unified notion of Greek culture, in which he himself is participating and promoting.[32] Pausanias, on the other hand, does create temporal distinction, but his distinction seems to follow a single binary opposition between mythic past and historical present. In his description of Pouludamas’ height, for instance, Pausanias explains that Pouludamas is the “tallest of all men except those called heroes” and further states that he is “tallest of men in our time.”[33] By opposing heroes and historical athletes and by suggesting that a 5th century BCE athlete such as Pouludamas is an athlete “in our time,” Pausanias, like Galen, makes the Roman Imperial period synchronous with the culture of Archaic and Classical Greece.[34] Unlike Pausanias’ categorization, Philostratus categorizes the historical Greek athletes as part of a time prior to that of his own era. Where Pausanias seeks to erase temporal differences, Philostratus’ multiple categories of athletes magnify temporal distance.

§9  Although Philostratus’ temporal arrangement may seem at odds with other Second Sophistic authors, his model can be viewed simply as an extension of a more traditional belief dating back to Homeric poetry that earlier generations are almost always physically superior. In the Iliad and Odyssey speakers frequently invoke mythic figures such as Theseus and Herakles in order to highlight the inferiority of the warriors in the “present time” of the Homeric epics. Perhaps the most famous example is Nestor’s intervention in the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, when he explains how the Lapiths and Theseus were “the strongest and fought with the strongest mountain-dwelling beasts,” κάρτιστοι μὲν ἔσαν καὶ καρτίστοις ἐμάχοντο φηρσὶν ὀρεσκῴοισι.[35] Nestor’s repeated superlatives to describe this previous generation contrasts with his use of comparatives a few lines later to describe Achilles and Agamemnon relative to each other as “stronger,” karteros, and “mightier,” pherteros, respectively.[36] In other words, for Nestor, as for Philostratus, the distant past presents an absolute standard by which to compare the present.[37]

§10  But even within the present time of the Homeric epics, older age entails superior physical performance. Thus, in the funeral games of Patroklos, when Antilochos loses in the footrace to both Ajax and Odysseus, he explains, “The immortals still honor older men,” ἀθάνατοι τιμῶσι παλαιοτέρους ἀνθρώπους, because Ajax is older by a little, but Odysseus who won the race, is part of an “earlier generation,” προτέρης γενεῆς.[38] And the physically superior age of Odysseus also presents itself in the Odyssey, when Odysseus competes against the Phaeacian youths.[39] After Odysseus surpasses the Phaeacians in the discuss throw, he challenges them to every other athletic event except for running.[40] In his challenge, he boasts of his superiority over all living men, but still demonstrates restraint and respect for age when he states that he does not wish “to contend with earlier men, neither with Herakles nor with Eurutos of Oichalia.”[41] Of course, Odysseus’ statement is doubly ironic, first because the poet implicitly compares Odysseus and Herakles throughout the Odyssey, and second because Odysseus’ own bow did in fact once belong to Eurutos.[42] Nevertheless, for the purposes of this paper, we can simply note the same basic theme as that used by Nestor and his son Antilochos, that age and earlier generations are necessarily superior. Hence, in Philostratus and Homeric epic, the same mythic heroes are invoked as the earliest generation and held as a standard of comparison. In Homer, and especially with Nestor, this mythic past is almost always invoked for the sake of a more practical, rhetorical purpose.[43] It is for this reason too that the temporal structures follow a simple past versus present opposition. One might expect Philostratus to have used a similar binary opposition, contrasting “old athletic training” with training of the present: ἡ μὲν γὰρ πάλαι γυμναστικὴ…. ἡ δὲ νῦν. Yet Philostratus presents a more complicated diachronic model of physical decline. Why?

§11  Philostratus’ construction of athletic time seems to follow a different Archaic model of generational decline, namely, the ages of man in Hesiod’s Works and Days 106–201, and it is this more involved temporal arrangement, I believe, which can help us better understand how Philostratus’ diachronic model fits into the larger program of the Gymnasticus. In effect, Philostratus presents four separate generations of athletes defined by descending physical performance: Greek mythic heroes, historical Greek athletes, athletes in the age of “fathers,” and the present generation. Similarly, Hesiod’s ages of man seems to have been based originally on four separate ages, gold, silver, bronze, and iron, where the descending value of the representative metals implies a process of decline.[44] Hesiod, however, inserted an additional fifth generation into his scheme, the age of heroes. The effect of this addition is the transformation of a linear sequence into two structural sets of opposing pairs of ages: the gold versus silver ages on the one hand, and the age of bronze versus the age of heroes on the other, while the age of iron acts as a coda. Rather than follow a strictly linear logic, these oppositional pairs create a more general opposition between the conceptual categories of dikê and hubris and form a type of moral chiasmus ABBA, where the golden age and the age of heroes are superior to the silver and bronze ages respectively.[45] These oppositional pairings in the ages of man episode follow a more general pattern throughout the Works and Days, which Richard Martin has referred to as “didactic doubling”: Hesiod and Perses, the two forms of Eris, Zeus and Prometheus, Prometheus and Epimetheus, etc. In each case, structural pairings are used to establish moral hierarchies.[46] Yet, Vernant had focused so intensely on the creation of oppositional pairs that he denied any notion of linear time in the story of Hesiod’s ages of man.[47] Both Clay and Calame, however, have convincingly argued that there remains a strong sense of diachrony throughout Hesiod’s narrative that is working in unison with these structural oppositions.[48] If we understand that the ages of man tale is part of the general didactic project to instruct the addressee Perses to behave justly, then from a more pragmatic perspective, the model of continuous decline will create a sense of discomfort and urgency (“Things have only been getting worse, doesn’t that make you nervous?”), while the technique of didactic doubling, good versus bad/ dikê versus hubris, is intended to lead Perses to a choice in favor of dikê in reaction to the hybristic conditions of the present era.[49]

§12  It is this very structure of didactic doubles overlaid onto a process of diachronic decline that is also at work in what we might term Philostratus’ “ages of athletes.” Philostratus’ four ages are essentially structured into oppositional pairs. The Greek mythic heroes and historical athletes form one pair that may be set in opposition to each other, since the Greek athletes attempt to imitate the Greek mythic heroes, while the second pair consists of the “age of fathers,” who are superior to the present era. Like Hesiod, Philostratus also organizes his four ages of athletes into a chiastic structure. Rather than follow a strict linear structure that creates the chiasmus Good-Bad-Bad-Good, Philostratus inverts it, beginning with the lesser age of historical athletes, then the superior Greek mythic heroes, then the fathers who are better than the present age: Later/Lesser (Greek Athletes), Older/Better (Mythic Heroes), Older/Better (Fathers) Later/Lesser (Present-day Athletes). Of course these two pairs also create a macro level of didactic doubling, where the “old athletic training” is opposed to both the training of the fathers and to the present-day athletes.[50] In Hesiod, we also see that the gold and silver ages take on a religious dimension, worshipped as daimones and makares respectively.[51] Similarly, Philostratus’ mythic heroes such as Herakles and Theseus as well as the Greek athletes such as Hipposthenes, Promachos, and Glaukos were also recipients of cult worship. Thus, for both Hesiod and Philostratus, this macro-level of didactic doubling seems to be informed by a belief that temporal distance from the present implies a closer proximity to divinity.

§13  While Hesiod’s pairs stand in contrast to each other in the same manner that dikê stands in opposition to hubris, the Gymnasticus seeks to negotiate between a different set of seemingly antithetical pairs, not dikê and hubris, but “art” and “nature,” technê and phusis.[52] On the one hand, as we have seen, the Gymnasticus as a whole can be viewed as a response to criticisms of Galen, who asserts that athletic training, gumnastikê, is not a technê in the same capacity as medicine.[53] Yet Philostratus also asserts that the purpose of the Gymansticus is “to defend nature, who is being defamed” ἀπολογήσασθαί τε ὑπὲρ τῆς φύσεως ἀκουούσης κακῶς.[54] According to Philostratus, the Greek athletes that are part of “old athletic training” are closer to nature, whereas athletes in the present era have been weakened due to the influence of the medical technê. Later in the Gymnasticus, Philostratus explains that the older generation practiced athletics by lifting heavy loads, racing against horses and hares, bending and straightening iron, and wrestling lions and bulls. They bathed in rivers and springs, slept on the ground, and anointed themselves with oil from wild olive trees. [55] And in a fashion that hearkens directly back to Hesiod’s account of the near ageless gold and silver ages, Philostratus reports that these ancient athletes lived without illness and grew old late.[56] Overall, therefore, Philostratus paints a picture of ancient athletes who led an idyllic lifestyle that was grounded in nature.  After this idyllic age, however, Philostratus reports that “these things changed,” μετέβαλε ταῦτα.[57] In place of the more rustic modes of training, the medical profession introduced gluttony and flattery.[58] He claims that medicine is “a good art, but too soft to affect athletes,” ἀγαθὴ μὲν τέχνη μαλακωτέρα δὲ ἢ ἀθλητῶν ἅπτεσθαι.[59] Thus, Philostratus superimposes the phusistechnê contrast onto a past-present opposition such that the Greek historical and mythic past are closer to a “natural state.” In doing so, Philostratus effectively situates Galen’s own criticism of athletics into a broader mythic–historical context that makes medicine itself the cause of decline for athletics as a technê.

§14  Of course one might suggest that the analogy between Philostratus’ ages of athletes and Hesiod’s ages of man breaks down, since Philostratus has four ages whereas Hesiod presents five. But Philostratus does in fact add an additional fifth age to his model. In the Works and Days, it is Hesiod’s last age, the age of iron, which stands separate from the two pairs of binary oppositions.[60] In the Gymnasticus, Philostratus’ additional “fifth” age is in fact the first generation of athletes, which even precedes the Greek mythic heroes. This additional age is introduced in the context of explaining how the origin of athletic training comes from “the natural ability of man to wrestle adequately and to box and to run correctly,” τὸ φῦναι τὸν ἄνθρωπον παλαῖσαί τε ἱκανὸν καὶ πυκτεῦσαι καὶ δραμεῖν ὀρθόν.[61] But rather than provide a rational explanation for these “natural” origins, Philostratus provides a brief narrative account in Hesiodic fashion.[62] According to Philostratus, Prometheus was the first to practice athletic exercises and Hermes was the first to train others. Those “shaped,” plasthentes, by Prometheus first wrestled in the mud.[63] While Hermes was always closely associated with the gymnasion, we have no other mythic accounts of the association of Prometheus with athletic training, save perhaps for the Athenian torch race.[64] In order to explain this strange mythic aside, we should note that part of his account for the “natural” origins of athletics is based on the argument of natural substance or material cause. He explains that “just as iron and bronze are the origin of the blacksmith’s craft and material from the earth is the origin of farming, and the sea is the origin of navigation” so athletic training is “inherent,” sumphua, in man.[65] On analogy with this argument from substance, we can assume that Prometheus made men from the mud such that men will necessarily wrestle in the mud.[66] While Prometheus is the first being to have exercised, the people he created are in fact the very first generation of athletes. However, the relationship Philostratus established between Hermes and Prometheus is also significant to his larger concerns with phusis and technê. Traditionally both gods are closely related to each other as gods of human technology.[67] Their relationship is best illustrated with the two accounts of the origins of fire. On the one hand, according to Hesiod, Prometheus gave fire to humans, after having stolen it from Zeus.[68] But according to the Hymn to Hermes, it is Hermes who invented the technê of fire.[69] Just so, in the Gymnasticus, Prometheus is attributed with the origins of athletic exercise, but Hermes is responsible for the teaching of athletics as a technê. Hence, in attributing the “natural” origins of athletics to Prometheus and the teaching of athletics to Hermes, Philostratus provides his own mythic account for the origins of athletes in which technê is not so entirely antithetical to nature, but intertwined and inseparable from it.

§15  Ultimately, in appropriating an Archaic Greek model of embodied time, where the past is physically superior to the present, Philostratus articulates his own proximity to the past, which he holds as a model for future athletes. At the same time, Philostratus also makes use of this Archaic Greek model for different ends from his poetic predecessors. Rather than create a series of antithetical pairs in order to choose one over the other, as Hesiod does, Philostratus’ technique of doubling is designed to integrate two categories, technê and phusis, which are, at first glance, and even in Philostratus’ own treatment, relatively opposed to each other. This general strategy of integrating opposites is articulated by Philostratus in an even more obscure text, the Dialexis, which Simon Swain calls attention to in discussing the more common philosophical antithesis between nomos and phusis. Philostratus states:  “For me, however, nomos and phusis not only do not appear opposites, but are most closely related, alike and coextensive. Nomos must be accessible to phusis and phusis to nomos.”[70] Just so, Philostratus’ Gymnasticus seems to be an effort to realign the seemingly antithetical pair of technê and phusis, but which, in the Greek past, were “related, alike, and coextensive.” In demonstrating how Philostratus makes use of Archaic Greek models in order to articulate a new perspective on athletics in the Roman Imperial period, we have a small glimpse into the ways that the Gymnasticus is far more than a sophistic text, but lends itself to an appreciation of the reception of athletic themes that are adopted and adapted throughout Greek and Roman cultural history. Indeed, there is something about physical performance in and of itself which induces temporal comparisons and makes reception of the past a constant and integral part of the discourse of athletics, whether it is Odysseus denying but also inviting comparison with Herakles, Philostratus invoking the glories of historical Greek athletes, Pierre de Coubertin calling for a “return to the Greeks” when renewing the Olympic Games, or modern sports casters debating who is the “G.O.A.T., Greatest Of All Time,” LeBron James or Michael Jordan. Time and comparability are the constants of athletics, but considering how these two constant factors are divided, structured, and organized differently in different periods of history underscores constantly changing ideologies.

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[1] On the dating of the Gymnasticus, see Müller 1995:317; De Lannoy 1997:2407–2407; Billault 2000: 28–31; On the relationship of the Gymnasticus to other works of Philostratus, see Elsner 2009.

[2] On modern criticism of the Gymnasticus as a text which should not be taken seriously, see Harris 1964, 1972; Reardon 1971:195–198; Anderson 1986:269; Müller 1995:328; For appropriate skepticism on the Gymnasticus as a reliable source for historical aspects of Greek athletics, see Golden 1998:48­–50.

[3] Van Nijf 2003, 2004; Newby 2005; König 2005, 2007, 2009.

[4] König 2005:305.

[5] Indeed, using the Greek tradition for the sake of elite-self fashioning seems to be the calling card of Second Sophistic literature, on which see Gleason 1995; Swain 1996; Gleason 1999; Goldhill 2001; Whitmarsh 2001; König 2005; Whitmarsh 2005; Whitmarsh 2007; König and Whitmarsh 2007; Swain et al. 2007; Eshleman 2008; Bowie and Elsner 2009; Gill et al. 2009; Eshleman 2012.

[6] The text of Gymnasticus is from Jüthner 1909. I also include page and line numbers from the Teubner Kayser edition in brackets.

[7] Gymnasticus 1 [K261.14–15]. On ancient athletic treatises, ὑπομνήματα, see Jüthner 1909: 116–118.

[8] One should note the pluralization of historical Greek athletes, “Milos, Hippostheneses, etc.” as though these prominent athletes were reproducible.

[9] Gymnasticus 1[K261.13–15].

[10] König 2005:315–325; König 2009:257–267; Jüthner 1909:118–120 considers Philostratus’ engagement with medical texts indirect, through the debates in treatises on athletic training.

[11] Weiler 1981:98 briefly mentions Hesiod’s ages of man as a model of degeneration similar to Philostratus’ organization of athletic time. However, Weiler notes the parallel only to suggest that  the Hesiodic model has little impact on Philostratus. While there is no doubt that Philostratus’ model is unique, this paper demonstrates how Philostratus makes use of Archaic Greek constructions of temporality in a far more involved manner than Weiler suggests.

[12] On the opposition between dikê and hubris in Hesiod, see Vernant 2006:25–51 and discussion below.

[13] Knox 1994:1–6.

[14] See Forbes 1939. For Herakles as founder and double victor in wrestling and pankration in the Olympic games, see Pausanias 5.8.4, 5.21.10. For Herakles as founder of the Olympic games in general, see Nagy 1990:119n.16. For the poetic analogy between the labors of Herakles, aethla, and athletic competition, see Nagy 1990:138–140.

[15] Pausanias 1.39.3. See Weiler 1974:153–156. For Theseus as a wrestler, see also Plutarch 19.2–3, based on Philochoros, where Minos let Theseus wrestle Tauros, and his victory freed the Athenians of the tribute of youths.  For the relationship between Theseus and Herakles, see Weiler 1974: 129–152. According to Photios’ Library 190, 151, Herakles and Theseus engaged in a wrestling match that earned Theseus the name “the other Herakles.” Similarly, Plutarch Theseus 6.6 reports that Theseus decided to travel to Athens by land in imitation of Herakles. According to Pausanias, 4.32.1, Hermes, Herakles, and Theseus were honored universally in the gymnasia of Greece and also among the “barbarians.”

[16] Weiler 1974: 158–163.

[17] Pindar Nemean 3.35, Nemean 4.63–65; Burnett 2005:133. For the cosmic implications of Peleus’ marriage to Thetis see Slatkin 1991:53–84. For the relationship between athletes and heroes in the genre of ainos, see Nagy 1990:150-152, 199–214.

[18] Herodotus 7.191.2; Apollodorus 3.13.5; Pausanias 5.18.5; for visual depictions, see LIMC, s.v. Peleus nos.79–195.

[19] Weiler 1974:163–166; Ley 1990; Barringer 1996; Scanlon 2002:175–198; LIMC, s.v. Atalanta nos. 62–80.

[20] Gymnasticus 11 [K265.26–32].

[21] For Philostratus’ classification of “heavy” and “light” events, see Gymnasticus 3 [K262.24–29].

[22] Diodorus Siculis 12.9.5–6; Kurke 1993:134–135. On Milo more generally, see Poliakoff 1987:117–119, 182–183 n.3 with bibliography; Kyle 2007:200. Our primary source on Milo is Pausanias 6.14.5-8, though he does not make any explicit connection between Milo and Herakles.

[23] Pausanias 6.5.5–6.5.7. Pausanias reports that some of Pouludamas’ exploits are mentioned on a pedestal of his statue at Olympia. In fact, there is a pedestal at the Olympia museum (inv. No A 45) which has depictions of the Persian king watching Pouludamas fight with another man, as well as depictions of him wrestling with a lion and sitting on a lion skin.  See Taeuber 1997.

[24] For Milo’s death, see Pausanias 6.14.8. Galen’s Protretpicus 34–35 uses the death of Milo as an example of the uselessness of strength compared to other practices. For the death of Pouludamas, see Pausanias 6.5.8-9. Pouludamas’ death was reportedly caused by attempting to hold up the roof of a collapsing cave. A similar story is told of Milo, who is said to have saved the philosopher Pythagoras and his symposiasts by successfully holding up the roof of a collapsing building. See Strabo 6.1.12. The similarities may suggest a conflation of stories regarding these two athletes.

[25] We have no evidence for cult worship of Milo, but see Currie 2005:156. For Pouludamas, Lucian Council of the Gods 12 states that the statue of Pouludamas at Olympia gave cures, which is most likely an indication of cult. See Kurke 1993:150; Currie 2005:122.

[26] Pausanias 3.15.7; Currie 2005:136–139.

[27] Pausanias 7.27.7

[28] See Pausanias 1.26.4 for Artemis, 1.26.6 for Athena; 8.36.6 for Boreas, 8.38.9 for the Nymph Theisoa, and 9.17.6 for Dionysos.

[29] Pausanias 6.10.1; Currie 2005:122. Pausanias 6.10.1 and Philostratus, Gymnasticus 20[K2–9] both refer to the anecdote of Glaukos’ first Olympic victory resulting from the coaching cue to use the “plough strike” because Glaukos was reported to have straightened a plough with his fist. Where Pausanias attributes the coaching cue to Glaukos’ father, Philostratus claims that it was the gymnastês Tisias who coached him to victory. The difference demonstrates how stories will be adapted to fit the aims of different authors.

[30] Lucian Pro Imaginibus 19; Poltera 2008, F18 (PMG 509). To suggest that a mortal is superior to a divine hero was by no means an orthodox practice and Lucian suggests as much, though he upholds Simonides’ statement as a proper mode of praise.

[31] Gymnasticus 1[K261.20–21]

[32] In general, Galen seems to make typological rather than temporal distinctions. See for instance, Galen De Dignoscendis Pulsibus Libri IV, 843 on proper classes of comparison. For Galen’s effort to align himself with the Greek tradition in a manner similar to other second sophistic authors, see Gill et. al. 2009.

[33] Pausanias 6.5.1

[34] One sees this same temporal construction in Pausanias’ discussion of two levels of foundation for the Olympic games in Pausanias 5.7.6–5.9.6. Pausanias also specifically contrasts his description of athletic statues with the chronographies of Olympic victor lists, thereby emphasizing the synchronicity of Olympia. See Pausanias 6.1.2 and König 2005: 196–197.

[35] Iliad I 267–268. For issues regarding the mention of Theseus in the Iliad as part of a Peisistratean recension, see Dué 2006:94–95; Nagy 2010:353–355. As Dué 2006:95n12 notes, Iliad I 265 is mentioned as Homeric by Dio 57.1.9 and Pausanias 10.29.10, but absent from many manuscripts. The same line from Iliad I 265 also occurs in the Shield of Herakles, 182.

[36] Iliad I 280–281. For the use of these comparatives in the Iliad and the problems involved with the basis of Agamemnon’s social superiority see Muellner 1996:110.

[37] This is no doubt related to the age of Nestor, who lived past two generations and rules in the third, Iliad I 250–252, effectively making him a reflex of the Greek mythic past. Indeed, his age is indicative of a much older Indo-European tradition in the Greek epics, on which see Frame 2009.

[38] Iliad XXIII 788–790. See Purves 2010:536–538. On Antilochos’ respect for age here and its relation to the outcome of the earlier chariot race of Patroklos’ funeral games, see Frame 2009:156, 208n109.

[39] The contest can be viewed as one between age and youth. Laodamas, the son of Alkinoos first addresses Odysseus as “stranger father” xeine patêr in his first challenge to Odysseus, Odyssey viii 145. Likewise, Odysseus refers to the Phaeacians as “youths” neoi, Odyssey viii 202.  Odysseus himself also confesses that hêbê is no longer with him, Odyssey viii 181-182. See Nicholson and Heintges 2010:107–108. On the social tensions of the games of the Phaeacians, see Thalmann 1998:141–153.

[40] Odysseus explains that his legs have lost their condition due to rough sea travel, which prevented training (Odyssey viii 230–233). Purves 2005:537–538 notes the contrast between this figure of Odysseus and the one who won the footrace in the games for Patroklos. As Purves notes, his weakened knees might be an indication of the effects of age that make him more similar to Nestor.

[41] Odyssey viii 223–224.

[42] On Odysseus and Herakles, see Finkelberg 1995, esp. 2-5; Schein 2002: 94–99; Wilson 2002. For the relationship between Odysseus and Eurutos, see Clay 1983: 89–96; Schein 2002: 94­–99.

[43] For Nestor’s rhetorical use of memory see Martin 1989:80, 106–109; Dickson 1995:10-20; Lardinois 2000:648–651; Kullman 2001:394–395; Minchin 2005; Nestor’s use of memory however, is not just rhetorical but also has thematic unity, on which see Frame 2009.

[44] West 1978:173–174; West also notes that iron was indeed precious, citing Iliad VI 48; IX 366, XXIII 261, Homeric Hymn to Hermes 180. Vernant 2006:27 argues, however, that there is no indication of decline.

[45] Walcott 1961:4–7; Vernant 2006:29-30; Querbach 1985:2–5;

[46] Martin 2004:41.

[47] Instead he argues for cyclical time on analogy with Plato’s Statesman, on which see Vernant 2006:81–82.

[48] Clay 2003:82–85; Calame 2009:84–85.

[49] As Clay notes 2009:81 notes, “The world stands at the crossroads, and only Hesiod’s teaching can prevent the final catastrophe.”

[50] As seen in the use of particles: ἡ μὲν…. ἡ δὲ… ἡ δὲ.

[51] Works and Days 121-126, 141–143. Vernant 2006:30; West 1978:182–183, 186–187; On the problem of the silver race as makares, see Clay 2003:88–90, who sees them as evil spirits that are called “blessed” for apotropaic purposes. Calame 2009:74, by contrast compares the honors this generation receives with figures such as the Dioscouri at Odyssey xi 301–304. Indeed, as Calame also notes, these men of the silver age ironically share the quality of “blessed” makares with the gods, even though they gave no honors to the gods (Works and Days 241, compared with lines 136 and 139).

[52] In Hesiod, dikê and phusis are indeed related to each other. As Slatkin 2004:28 has noted, phusis is not used in Hesiod, but this does not preclude its conceptual operation. Thus Slatkin 2004:29–30 argues, “From the very outset, Works and Days establishes our relationship to nature by framing it temporally, locating it within a mythic history of the evolved human condition precisely as a function of our changed relationship to the “earth” and its productions.”

[53] See n. 8 above.

[54] Gymnasticus 2 [K2625–6]. As Swain 2009:40 argues, “Essentially Gymnasticus is a call to rebalance human skill and nature and to harness natural potential to human endeavor…Nature comes first, and human activity builds on its offerings.”

[55] Gymnasticus 43[K284.21– 285.6]. A similar paradigm is used in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonios Tyana 554, when he describes the companion of Herodes Atticus, Agathion, also referred to as “Herakles” who has immense size and strength but holds current athletics in contempt and explains that he contends against animals not humans. See König 2005:340–341; König 2009:279–280.

[56] Gymnasticus 43 [K285.7–9]. On Hesiod’s ages of man organized according to biological age, see Falkner 1989.

[57] Gymnasticus 44 [K285.13].

[58] Gymnasticus 44 [K285.18–286.3]. See König 2005:323–324.

[59] Gymnasticus 44 [K285.19-20]. The use of the verb haptesthai here is most likely metaphoric, in the sense of wrestling, i.e. “to take hold of athletes.” Thanks to Thomas Scanlon for this suggestion.

[60] Vernant 2006:42–44 views Hesiod’s iron age as one that also creates its own antithetical pair. But see Calame 2009:84, who views the description of the iron age as only an open ended potential rather than a closed circuit.

[61] Gymnasticus 16 [K270.7–9].

[62] For his non-historical divine explanation, Philostratus states that “a certain logos is sung..” λόγος δὲ ᾄδεταί τις (Gymmnasticus 16 [K270.15-16]). Similarly Hesiod also describes his narrative of the ages of man as a logos, Works and Days 106. For the significance of Hesiod’s narrative as a logos, see Calame 2009:60.

[63] Gymansticus 16[K270.16–24].  On Prometheus as the creator of mankind out of mud, see Aesop fable 516, Ovid Metamorphoses 1.82–88, Apollodorus 1.7.2; Pausanias 10.4.4. Philostratus plays on the notion “shaping” as a form of creation and as part of askesis culture in morally shaping the body, on which see Plato Timaeus 88c, Republic 2.377C; Plutarch Moralia 3e; Artemidoros 3.17. For askesis culture in the Roman Imperial period, see Gleason 1995:70–73. For the contribution of athletics to askesis culture in the Roman Imperial period, see Van Nijf 2003.

[64] On Hermes’ close association with athletics, see Scanlon 2002:251–253. On the Athenian cult of Prometheus in Athens and the torch race, see Pausanias 1.30.2; Kyle 1987:70–72, 192; Fisher 1998:90–94; Dougherty 2006:53–56; Kyle 2007: 165.

[65] Gymnasticus 16[K270.11–15]. For arguments from material cause, see Aristotle Physics II 3. Thanks to Thomas Scanlon for noting the connection with Aristotle.

[66] See note 60 above. It seems that Philostratus is behaving in a sophistic fashion similar to the figure of Protagoras in Plato’s Protagoras, who also makes use of Prometheus in his own myth of origins. Interestingly, where Protagoras makes the critical distinction between muthos and logos in his account (Protagoras 320c), Philostratus does not seem to make any such distinction, using the term logos instead for his explanation. For muthos and logos in the Protagoras, see, among others, Morgan 2000:132–154, Lincoln 1999:3–43, Calame 2012.

[67] The bibliography on this topic is immense, but for Prometheus see Detienne and Vernant 1978; Vernant 1989 and for Hermes see Brown 1947, Kahn 1978, Clay 1989, Jaillard 2007, Versnel 2011, Vergados 2012.

[68] Theogony 565–567; Works and Days 50–51.

[69] Hymn to Hermes 108–111.

[70] Dialexis 2.4[K2602-6]. Translated from Swain 2009:42.

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