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Improving the Public Image Through Athletics: Young Victors in Hellenistic Thebes

Citation with persistent identifier:

Scharff, Sebastian. “Improving the Public Image Through Athletics: Young Victors in Hellenistic Thebes.” CHS Research Bulletin 5, no. 1 (2016). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:ScharffS.Improving_the_Public_Image_through_Athletics.2016

Introductory remarks

1§1 The Hellenistic history of Thebes begins with a tragedy: following the rumor that Alexander had died in Illyria, the Thebans rose against their Macedonian garrison, which had been installed on the Kadmeia after the battle of Chaironeia, and encouraged all the Greeks to join in their struggle for freedom. Yet, Alexander marched to Thebes very quickly and destroyed the city completely. More than 6.000 Thebans died, the others were sold into slavery. The city was systematically razed and her territory was split. Only the sanctuaries and the house of Pindar, who was greatly admired by Alexander, were spared.[1]

1§2 However, not all Thebans died or were sold into slavery;[2] and when Cassander rebuilt the city in 316 BCE,[3] many refugees returned. Over the Hellenistic period, Thebes remained constantly populated, but had lost its former political importance irrevocably. In 87 BCE, it came again under severe punishment by a foreign conqueror, this time the Roman general Sulla.[4] So for Strabo, writing in the Augustan age, Thebes, once the most powerful city in Greece “today does not preserve the character even of a respectable village.”[5]

1§3 Therefore, the Hellenistic history of Thebes was far from a success story. So why deal with the success of Thebans, precisely in the Hellenistic period? The first explanation is very easy. It has to do with our evidence. Although we know of only one Olympic victor from Hellenistic Thebes,[6] there is comparatively good evidence on the question of how Theban athletes wanted their victories to be understood: The four Theban poems[7] which have survived built one of the biggest regional groups of victor epigrams throughout the entire Hellenistic period.[8]

1§4 Another reason why athletics in Hellenistic Thebes seem to be a very rewarding topic is that we have the chance to analyze here what happened to the agonistic culture of mainland Greeks at a time that saw an enormous expansion of the Greek world, including the rise of a “new society of victors”[9].

1§5 I will argue today that locally typical elements prevailed in Theban victor epigrams. In order to demonstrate this, I will first construct an agonistic profile of Hellenistic Thebes. I will then focus on particularities in the self-representation of Theban athletes. In a third step, I am going to explain these particularities with regard to contemporary criticism of the political situation of the city.

The agonistic profile of Hellenistic Thebes

2§1 A detailed agonistic profile of the city can be construed through the collection of all the sources that indicate victories of Theban athletes in the Hellenistic period. Findings are striking in that out of 45 attested victories, which were achieved by 26 Theban athletes, two thirds were won in combat sports, nine in the running events and only two in the equestrian disciplines.[10] Victors who won repeatedly did so only in combat sports. Among these, the pankration dominates with 19 documents in support. Following this evidence, combat sports and in particular the pankration can be ranked as a Theban specialty in the Hellenistic period. That success in horse-racing is almost absent from the sources is striking, especially since there was a long tradition of successful Theban horse-owners.[11]

2§2 With regard to age categories, Theban athletes were particularly successful in ‘youth sports’: compare 24 victories won by boys and ‘beardless’ (ἀγένειοι) to 18 victories of older participants. This is striking in that we would expect it rather to be the other way round.

2§3 An analysis of the places of victory contributes to a clear agonistic profile of Theban athletes. Apart from the ‘big four’, which are all documented, the victories were achieved at the athletes’ own doorstep, a phenomenon which is quite typical for athletes active before the Imperial period.[12] Sources indicate victories at the Amphiaraia of Oropos, the Basileia of Lebadeia, the Eleutheria of Plataiai, the Erotideia of Thespiai, the Pamboiotia of Koroneia and the Soteria of Akraiphia.[13] The plurality of the Boeotian games, at which Theban athletes were successful, reflects the diversity of the Boeotian religious landscape, the landscape of an ethnos, which did not dispose of one federal sanctuary but of many.[14]

2§4 To sharpen our picture, we should combine the local and the chronological distribution of the Theban victories. It appears that the last success of a Theban athlete at a competition of the ‘big four’ in the Hellenistic period dates back to the last decade of the third century BCE. We can also see that a new wave of Theban successes sets in after the middle of the second century BCE, but now almost all of the victories were won in Boeotia itself.[15]

Hellenistic victor epigrams and the agonistic self-representation of Theban athletes

3§1 The second part of this paper focuses on how the agonistic profile of Hellenistic athletes from Thebes influenced their self-representation. An analysis of the surviving victor epigrams from the city lies at the heart of this enterprise. Methodically, common motifs of victor epigrams have to be discerned from more specific aspects. The fact that a comparatively large proportion of Theban victor epigrams has been handed down to us ties in with a very rich epigram tradition in Boeotia.[16]

3§2 The first victor epigram which dates to the time after the reconstruction of Thebes is the poem dealing with the agonistic success of Euankritos, son of Triax. It reads as follows:

[Π]άμμαχον, ὦ Θήβα, κρατέοντά με παῖδα[ς ἐν Ἰ]σθ̣[μῶι]

καὶ τὸ πάλιν μεσάταν ἁλικίαν τις ἐρεῖ

τοίας ἐκ προβολᾶς ΕΥΑΓΚΡΙΤΟΝ· ἁ δὲ Νέμειος

νίκα μοι λεκτῶν ἦλθεν ἀπ’ ἠϊθέων

πατρὸς δῶμα Τρίακος· ἄεθλα γὰρ οἱ παρὰ Δίρκᾱι

ἀμφαδὸν Ἑλλάνων πλεῖστα φέροντι νέοι.

“That as a pancratiast, o Thebes, I defeated the boys at Isthmus, and again, the beardless, me Euankritos: it is through such a stance of attack that this is going to be clearly distinguished, one will say. The Nemean victory, however, was awarded to me among chosen young men and came to the house of my father Triax. For as among the Hellenes, those who belong to the Dirke are obviously rewarded with the most prizes in their youth.”[17]

3§3 Around the year 300 BC, Euankritos won victories in the pankration in all the three age categories: as a boy and a beardless (ἀγένειος) at Isthmia and, presumably as a man, at Nemea. More relevant than the agonistic details, however, are the motifs that figure prominently in the epigram: Apart from common stylistic devices, like the apostrophe of the hometown in the first verse (ὦ Θήβα) and the attribution of the fame of the victory to the athlete’s father in verse 5 (“the Nemean victory … came to the house of my father Triax”), there is a description of the statue of the athlete which shows him in a “stance of attack” (verse 3). This choice of words evokes the idea of a lunge directed forward, active and powerful. Yet, this is more than the mere description of the posture of the statue; it is an element of the athlete’s self-presentation: This was exactly the moment of his career the athlete wanted to be remembered.

3§4 Even more important, however, is the sentence that follows:

ἄεθλα γὰρ οἱ παρὰ Δίρκᾱι

ἀμφαδὸν Ἑλλάνων πλεῖστα φέροντι νέοι.

“for as among the Hellenes, those who belong to the Dirke are obviously rewarded with the most prizes in their youth.”[18]

3§5 Dirke refers to the river, which originated close to Thebes, today’s Plakiotissas, which in poetics[19] and myths has been closely associated with the city. Hence Διρκαῖος became a synonym for Θηβαῖος. The poem thus closes with the thought that young Theban athletes were particularly successful. This idea is not insubstantial considering the high number of victorious Theban athletes in their youth. The epigram makes clear that this aspect was especially important for the Thebans – or at least for the sponsor of this poem – and was meant to be recognized by the public. This way, the numerous victories of young Theban athletes became a motif of Theban victor epigrams. See the last sentence of another victor epigram from Hellenistic Thebes: “Know that the youth of Thebes is not without share in divine crowns.”[20] The litotes οὐκ ἄμορος (“not without a share”) may sound modest, but only emphasizes the success of the young. Again the fame of Theban youth athletics is praised.[21]

3§6 Another Theban victor epigram deals with the victories of the ‘heavy’ athlete Kleitomachos. It differs from the other poems in that it came down to us not as an inscription, but as literary evidence:

Οἷον ὁρῇς, ὦ ξεῖνε, τὸ χάλκεον εἰκόνι λῆμα

Κλειτομάχου, τοίαν Ἑλλὰς ἐσεῖδε βίαν·

ἄρτι γὰρ αἱματόεντα χερῶν ἀπελύετο πυγμᾶς

ἔντεα καὶ γοργῷ μάρνατο παγκρατίῳ·

τὸ τρίτον οὐκ ἐκόνισεν ἐπωμίδας, ἀλλὰ παλαίσας

ἀπτὼς τοὺς τρισσοὺς Ἰσθμόθεν εἷλε πόνους.

μοῦνος δ’ Ἑλλάνων τόδ’ ἔχει γέρας· ἑπτάπυλοι δὲ

Θῆβαι καὶ γενέτωρ ἐστέφεθ’ Ἑρμοκράτης.

“Even as thou seest, stranger, his determination as strong as ore in the image, so Hellas saw the might of Kleitomachos. For when he had put off the blood-stained cestus from his hands, he straightway fought in the fierce pankration. In the third event he fouled not his shoulders in the dust, but wrestling without a fall won the three contests at Isthmus. Alone among the Greeks he gained this honor, and seven-gated Thebes and his father Hermokrates were crowned.”[22]

3§7 Central expressions here are the “determination as strong as ore” (τὸ χάλκεον λῆμα [verse 1]) and the power (βία [verse 2]) of the athlete, who not only succeeded in boxing, but also in the “fierce pankration” (verse 4), and was superior to his adversaries in wrestling, in such a way that he won the fight “without (taking) a fall” (ἀπτώς [verse 6]). Ancient wrestling was about bringing the opponent down to the floor three times. Winning without taking a fall oneself was especially honorable. Thus it is actually no exaggeration, when the epigram states that these victories seem to have been diligently and deservedly recognized by a panhellenic audience: “so Hellas saw the might of Kleitomachos” (verse 2).

3§8 Kleitomachos certainly was the most famous Theban athlete of the Hellenistic period, a superstar who was the subject of various illustrious stories.[23] Apart from his victories at the Isthmian games described here, he was victorious at Olympia twice and won three times at the Pythian games.[24] What is intriguing, however, is that not only his, but all four Theban epigrams lack reference to Herakles, the Theban national hero par excellence, who was born in Thebes according to myth and whose head was imprinted on the city’s coins.[25] Such a ‘mythological ornamentation’[26] would suggest itself, because this demigod, abounding with power and potency, was the main deity of the gymnasium for a reason and the most important identification figure for Greek ‘heavy’ athletes.[27]

3§9 Interestingly, there are only rare references to mythological elements in the Theban victor epigrams. They are restricted to Thebans’ characterization as οἱ παρὰ Δίρκᾱι[28] and the city as ἑπτάπυλοι[29]. This is surprising as, first, ‘mythological ornamentations’ were a common part of ‘agonistic poetry’ and were used in victor epigrams beyond Thebes precisely since the Hellenistic period.[30] Second, Boeotia disposed of a rich treasure of myths, among which the Theban foundation myths were still of great political importance in the Hellenistic period.[31] Their almost total absence, and especially the lack of references to Herakles in Theban victor epigrams asks for an explanation.[32] Would it go too far if we assumed that they were deliberately excluded, so as to better fit the picture of a young and vital polis as represented by their victorious youngsters, which did not rely on its glorious past alone, but was of prevailing importance?

3§10 But there was more to it than that: it is important to emphasize that Herakles had actually played a significant role in the self-representation of fifth century BCE Theban victors. The best example is most certainly the pankratiast Melissos who is described as a second Herakles in Isthmian 4. This ode, however, in which Herakles is explicitly said to be married to Hebe, the goddess of youth,[33] is dated to 474/3 BCE, a time shortly after the Persian wars. My argument builds upon the interpretation of Albert Schachter, who not only states that there was a general ideal “of courageous young manhood” for the people of Thebes, but that more precisely “in the dark years after the Persian wars, the Thebans presented themselves to the world behind the image of Herakles, embattled, but victorious,”[34] thus facing the criticism of their own medizing role in the Persian Wars by stressing a new beginning. If this was their way of dealing with foreign criticism in the fifth century, the Thebans certainly did not want to remember that discourse in the fourth. Thus, in the Hellenistic period they avoided the old pattern of references to young Herakles that Theban athletes had used before and that were strongly connected to the darkest years of the history of the city. Yet, the idea to emphasize new beginnings in the agonistic discourse was too good to be abandoned. So the motif of youthfulness became separated from the hero with whom it had been intertwined before.[35] But the self-representation of Theban athletes answered contemporary criticism in the Hellenistic period again, which I will have a closer look into in the following.

Agonistic success and political decline in Hellenistic Thebes

4§1 As we have seen, the agonistic profile of Thebes was mirrored by the victor epigrams, in which the theme of the successful youngsters figures prominently. In a synopsis, the poems paint a picture of powerful, young and vital citizens. This contrasts sharply with the depiction of Hellenistic Thebes by historiography, namely Polybius.[36] What he describes is a history of decline. In the historian’s own words:

οὗτοι γὰρ μεγάλην περιποιησάμενοι καὶ δόξαν καὶ δύναμιν ἐν τοῖς Λευκτρικοῖς καιροῖς, οὐκ οἶδ᾽ ὅπως κατὰ τὸ συνεχὲς ἐν τοῖς ἑξῆς χρόνοις ἀφῄρουν ἀμφοτέρων αἰεὶ τῶν προειρημένων, ἔχοντες στρατηγὸν Ἀβαιόκριτον. ἀπὸ δὲ τούτων τῶν καιρῶν οὐ μόνον ἀφῄρουν, ἀλλ᾽ ἁπλῶς εἰς τἀναντία τραπέντες καὶ τὴν πρὸ τοῦ δόξαν ἐφ᾽ ὅσον οἷοί τ᾽ ἦσαν ἠμαύρωσαν.

“They (sc. the Boiotians) had acquired great glory as well as great material prosperity at the time of the battle of Leuctra; but by some means or another from that time forward they steadily diminished both the one and the other under the leadership of Abaiokritos; and subsequently not only diminished them, but underwent a complete change of character, and did all that was possible to wipe out their previous reputation.”[37]

4§2 Polybius seems to address the Boeotians in a general manner, but the reference to Leuctra at the beginning of the passage makes it clear that the Thebans were very well included in this criticism. In any case, he explicitly contrasts the former fame of the city with its sobering present.[38]

4§3 A very similar picture of Thebes, if slightly more nuanced, is painted by Herakleides Kritikos in the second quarter of the third century.[39] Even though he ascribes some positive attributes to the Thebans,[40] common stereotypes prevail. What Herakleides really liked about the Thebans seems to have been their women.[41] His final conclusion, however, is less positive: “If you’re smart, get out of Boiotia.”[42]

4§4 In a previous catalogue, Herakleides tries to characterize every city of Boeotia by a word, which, in the case of Thebes, is hubris. This translates into the criticism that, although of no particular significance at the time, the Thebans still thought of themselves as politically important.[43] All in all, the picture of Thebes that emerges from the pages of Herakleides and Polybius is that of a once glorious city, now reduced to a political insignificant polis of inertia and inactivity. In short, Hellenistic Thebans did not have the best press.

4§5 This is, where the victor epigrams come into play. I would like to bring Polybius’ text and these epigrams together in an attempt to read them not as competing sources, but as complementary ‘accounts’. In my opinion, the victor epigrams can be read as reflexive responses to contemporary criticism, as brought about by Polybius and others. For in contrast to many other Greek-speaking communities in the Hellenistic world, the political problem of the Thebans did not consist in having to prove that they had always been Greeks and derived from a very old city. To the contrary, the city was a common reference for others who wanted to demonstrate their Greekness. The prevailing problem of the Thebans was to address the discrepancy between their glorious past and their recent political insignificance. It was at this point that the success of the Theban boys came in particularly handy to demonstrate the vitality of the city. It was in this context, that winners in combat sports even refrained from referencing the Theban hero Herakles. All this may well have been part of a coordinated Theban marketing strategy aiming at improving the public image of the city. In support of this, public sports sponsorship could have been established, as this kind of sponsorship became effective in other cities like Ephesus and Miletus at the same time as well.[44]

4§6 That there was something going on in Thebes concerning the improvement of the public image through athletics is probably best visible in the case of the victory statues of the Theban athletes Timokles and Korbeidas. According to Albert Schachter and others, their statues were rescued from the ruins of Thebes and set up on the same base when the city was rebuilt.[45] This step is to be interpreted as a deliberate choice: victors like Korbeidas and Timokles were the kind of guys the Thebans wanted to remember when they rebuilt their city. Korbeidas, who had been a victorious pankratiast in the age-category of boys, may even have been chosen to become a role model for young athletes to come.[46]

Summary

5§1 To put it in a nutshell, Theban victor epigrams highlight the numerous successes of the city in ‘youth sports’. They convey a picture of a strong, vital and successful community. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that physical strength, determination, and youthful vitality are key words of the poems. The picture that emerges is supported by the agonistic profile of the city: victories in youth sports were frequent and the heavy events, especially the pankration, became a Theban specialty. Discourse and practice of Theban agonistics tied in with each other and may reflect a coordinated effort executed by the polis. The goal was clear: agonistic success of the young as an answer to (the external criticism of) political decline of the city.

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* Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at the Universities of Mannheim and McGill. I would like to thank the participants of the CHS 2016 Fall Research Symposium as well as Hans Beck, Christian Mann, and Albert Schachter for their most valuable remarks and suggestions.

[1] Gullath 1982:60–69 (with all the references).

[2] Gullath 1982:69–76; add now Hypereides Against Diondas 17 to the references mentioned there.

[3] Diodorus Siculus XIX 54, 1–3, Pausanias IX 7, 1 and IG VII 2419; cf. Gullath 1982:86–107.

[4] Plutarch Sulla 19, 6; this, however, was only the last episode of a series of military defeats and surrenders during the Hellenistic age.

[5] Strabo IX 2, 5; see also Pausanias IX 7, 6, who tells us that the territory of Thebes was restricted to the Kadmeia.

[6] Moretti 1957: no. 584.

[7] Ebert 1972: no.56, 57, 70; Anthologia Graeca IX 588.

[8] This is true, even compared to the number of victor poems from Hellenistic Rhodes (3: Ebert 1972: no. 69, 72, 75), Miletus (3: Ebert 1972: no. 65, 74; Merkelbach – Stauber, SGO 01/19/38) or Thessaly (4: Posidippus Epigrams 71; 83–85). Only the poems on victors from the Ptolemaic family (6: Posidippus Epigrams [74], 78, 79, 82, 87, 88; Callimachus Victoria Berenices) constitute an even bigger cluster, but given the amazing wealth of the dynasty that may not come as a surprise.

[9] Van Bremen 2007:348, quoting Barbantani 2001:78.

[10] The numbers here and in what follows are according to a database of Hellenistic athletes that I have compiled. It is published on MAFAS (http://mafas.geschichte.uni-mannheim.de/athletes/).

[11] According to tradition, the first equestrian event that was ever held at the Olympic Games was won by the Theban aristocrat Pagondas in 680 (Moretti 1957: no. 33; see also no. 136 [520 BC], 206 [480 BC]; note that all three were victories in the four-horse race).

[12] Mann 2016:21.

[13] Fourth century BCE victory: Great Amphiaraia: I.Oropos 520, 23–24; victories of the second and first centuries BCE: Amphiaraia and Rhomaia: I.Oropos 523, 37–38, 43–46, 53–54, I.Oropos 525, 21–22, 25–26, 35–36, 45–46, I.Oropos 528, 59–60, I.Oropos 529, 7–8, 21; Basileia: SEG III 367, 8–9; Eleutheria: IG VII 1666, 2–3; Erotideia: I.Thespiai 186, 15–16, 24–25, IG VII 1765, 6–7; Pamboiotia: IG VII 2871, 22–23; Soteria (explicitly πρῶ[τον] ἀπὸ τοῦ πολέμου): IG VII 2727, 31–32 (there are also three musical victors from Thebes in this list).

[14] Ganter 2013; Beck and Ganter 2015:155; a good example is the publication clause of a treaty of the Boeotian League StV III 463, 3–6.

[15] The chronology of Boeotia in the second and first centuries BCE is now somewhat flowing, since Kalliontzis 2016 proposed a new date for the first celebration of the Amphiaraia and Rhomaia which he dates before the destruction of Corinth in about 148 BCE (in contrast to the old orthodoxy which is 85 BCE). If Kalliontzis is right, this will have a considerable knock-on effect on other victory lists from Boeotia as well. Yet, this does not affect my argument that there is a substantial gap between the fourth and third century victories at the big four and the more local victories in the second and first centuries BCE.

[16] Traces of this tradition can be found in the large amount of Boeotian epigrams in the collection of Hansen (1983–1989). Moreover, there was an epigram collection with the title Epigrammata Thebaika (Schol. Apollonius of Rhodes II 904, Petrovic 2007:93–95) which modern research attributed to a certain Aristodemos of Alexandria (Radtke 1901).

[17] Ebert 1972: no. 56.

[18] Ebert 1972: no. 56, 5–6.

[19] Pindar Isthmian 6, 73–76; 8, 20–21.

[20] Ebert 1972: no. 57, 4: [ἴσθ’ ὅτι Θήβας | ἁλικία] θείων οὐκ ἄμορος στεφ[άνων]. The epigram dates to the fourth/third century BCE.

[21] It is true, the epigram may be in a fragmentary condition, but Ebert’s conjectures (1972: no. 57) seem to me as sound as conjectures can be. The entire text of the epigram reads as follows: [Ἴστα]σο κυδαίνων Λυσίξεν̣[ον, ὃς Νεμεαίωι] | [εἰν ἄλ]σ̣ει νίκαν ὠκέος ἐγ δολί̣[χου] | [ἄρατ’], ἐπεὶ παίδων τέλος ἔδραμ̣[εν· ἴσθ’ ὅτι Θήβας] | [ἁλικία] θείων οὐκ ἄμορος στεφ[άνων]. – “Stand still and praise Lysixenos, who in the holy grove of Nemea won victory in the quick long-run, when the troop of boys raced. Know that the youth of Thebes is not without share in divine crowns.” The complete ‘personal data’ of Lysixenos are probably to be found in an explanatory prose-inscription.

[22] Anthologia Graeca IX 588 (= Ebert 1972: no. 67).

[23] Plutarch moralia. 710e, Aelian On the Nature of Animals VI 1, Aelian Various History III 30; Suda s.v. Κλειτόμαχος.

[24] Pausanias VI 15, 3–5; cf. Moretti 1957: no. 584.

[25] Schachter 1986:14–15 (for the references) and 16n2: “The youthfulness of the Theban Herakles is noticeable on coins of the city, in most of which he is either an infant (strangling the snakes) or a beardless youth.”

[26] Ebert 1972:168: “mythologischer Schmuck”.

[27] A very good example for the adoption of Herakles as a point of reference in a victor epigram is to be found in Anthologia Graeca VI 256, where a boxer from Miletus called the “Milesian giant”, whose outer appearance even Zeus made anxious, is precisely described as a new Herakles (cf. Finley and Pleket 1976:38). It was in the course of Kleitomachus’ career that Olympic double victors in wrestling and pankration even started to adopt the honorary title of “successor of Herakles” and so formally established a connection with the hero (Miller 2004:204–205).

[28] Ebert 1972: no. 56, 5.

[29] Anthologia Graeca IX 588 (= Ebert 1972: no. 67), 7. One could very well argue that even these references are not ‘mythological’ at all. They could simply be understood as topographical allusions, since Thebes just had seven gates and there was a river Dirke.

[30] The evidence which is to be found in the collection of Ebert 1972 is the following: no. 49, 53, 55, 63, 64, 68, 69, 74. There are no pre-Hellenistic examples and, interestingly enough, there is no evidence in Posidippus.

[31] Beck and Ganter 2015:154.

[32] Especially when we remember that the Thebans honored Herakles “more than the other gods (μᾶλλον ἢ τοὺς θεοὺς τοὺς ἄλλους)” (Isocrates Philippos 32 with Schachter 1986:19).

[33] Pindar Isthmian 4, 59.

[34] Schachter 1986:18.

[35] Hence it comes as no surprise that comparatively few Hellenistic coins from Thebes show young Herakles (Schachter 1986:15).

[36] Polybius XX 4–7.

[37] Polybius XX 4, 2–3; this picture is taken more or less at face value by older research such as Feyel 1942.

[38] Of course, as a former hipparchos of the Achaean League, Polybius was not particularly fond of the military opponent of 245 BCE, who had been a former ally. Furthermore, Hennig 1977 and more recently Müller 2013 have convincingly argued that third century life in Boeotia was decisively more vital and abundant than Polybius has described it. Just think of the detailed lists of recruits belonging to the third century BCE, which suggest intensive military training in Boeotia. See for example the singular evidence for tactical training as a group in a Thespian proxeny decree from the middle of the third century BCE (SEG XXXII 496: τάδδεσθη συντάξις τὰς περὶ τὸν πόλεμον, with Kah 2004:77–81). These texts prove the picture of a degenerate society stuffing its bodies at opulent dinners wrong. Yet, this does not affect the main argument of this paper, since it is not so much interested in third entury reality of Hellenistic Boeotia, but in the kind of current criticism the Thebans were faced with.

[39] Arenz 2006:49–83 dates the work between 279 and 267 BCE.

[40] Cf. their characterization as μεγαλόψυχοι in 1, 14 (Arenz).

[41] Herakleides Kritikos 1, 17 (Arenz): αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες αὐτῶν τοῖς μεγέθεσι, πορείαις, ῥυθμοῖς εὐσχημονέσταταί τε καὶ εὐπρεπέσταται τῶν ἐν τῆι Ἑλλάδi γυναικῶν. – “As for their women, they are the most elegant and beautiful of all the women in Greece when it comes to height, bearing and grace.”

[42] Herakleides Kritikos 1, 25 (Arenz) quoting the Athenian 5th century poet Pherekrates: ἤνπερ φρονῇς εὖ, φεῦγε τὴν Βοιωτίαν.

[43] Not such a hubris, but the Polybian reproach of inactivity and inertia can also be traced in the agonistic discourse. For example, the Phoenician victor in the chariot race at Nemea, Diotimus of Sidon, states in his victor epigram dating to the last third of the third century BCE (Ebert 1972: no. 64, 7–8): αὐχεῖ καὶ Θήβης Καδμηΐδος ἱερὸν ἄστυ | δερκόμενον νίκαις εὐκλέα ματρόπολιν. – “Thebes, too, the holy city of Cadmus, cheers at the sight of the mother-city” – not that this is Sidon here! – “in the glory of her victories” which is not a very flattering description, since proud Thebes is being degraded to the cheering background. Sidon, in contrast, appears as dynamic and successful. Thebes is passive and only cashing in its mythical glory (“the holy city of Cadmus”). It is not very probable that many Thebans actually read the inscription in Sidon, but the criticism of Thebes remains.

[44] At the beginning of the third century BCE the idea of a public and even prospective sports sponsorship was born, which did not only include prize-money and privileges, but also covered the expenses for travel and training of the athletes. The best example here is from Ephesus, where a certain Athenodoros, who had succeeded locally and at Nemea and who had received the awards of his hometown for this achievement, had his trainer apply at the polis for coverage for future costs of his training and his travels, as other victories were to be expected from this young athlete . In a second, similar case, the father of the athlete applied for sponsorship. In both cases, the polis agreed to finance the projects (I.Ephesos 1415, 1416, 2005; with Robert 1967 and Brunet 2003).

[45] E.g. Ebert 1972:149–150 and Schachter 2015:118–119n19.

[46] All the more so, since he had been victorious under the presidency of Philipp II in 342 BCE (Schachter 2015:126n39; the same is true for Iolaïdas, who was according to Pausanias X 7, 8 the first winner in the pankration for boys at the Pythian Games in 346). So the re-erection of the statue of Korbeidas could very well have been an adaption to the new political circumstances of the period.

About Sebastian Scharff

Sebastian Scharff (PhD University of Münster) is a post-doctoral researcher, currently working at the University of Mannheim. His research focuses on the impact of Greek religion on international relations and on the cultural history of Greek agonistics. His first monograph is on Greek treaty-oaths (Eid und Außenpolitik. Studien zur religiösen Fundierung der Akzeptanz zwischenstaatlicher Vereinbarungen im vorrömischen Griechenland, Stuttgart 2016), and he has co-edited a volume on sport in the Hellenistic period, which is now in print. While at the CHS, he plans to finish his second book on the representation of Hellenistic athletes.

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