Athletics have long been a part of Greek culture. Funeral games were an integral part of the process as much as the procession. It is thought that the Panathenaic games developed out of the funeral games of the past (1987: 15). Athletes competed individually, but represented their city-state, which helped to increase identity within the city-states. While Solon was in power in Athens, he instituted monetary prizes for winners at the games in Olympia and Isthmia (1987: 22). The Greater Panathenaic Games were held every four years, on the third year of the Olympiad, and the Lesser Panathenaic Games were held annually. At the Greater Panathenaea, a procession, a sacrifice and nine days of agones, or games, were held (1987: 36). In the early days of the games, a board composed of eight Hieropoioi was in charge of organization. Later, this power switched to the Athlothetai, and the Hieropoioi were left in charge of the annual festivities (1987: 38-39).
In order to be an athlete in Archaic Greece, one had to not only have the time to devote to training before the games, but the money to fund them. This being the case, it is not hard to believe that the majority of athletes competing in the Panathenaic Games were from the wealthier class. These men, as only men competed, had the leisure time to dedicate to training and the family money to fund their trip to the games (1987: 150-151). Victors of the games not only won gifts to bring home with them, but brought pride upon their hometown.
Gifts to the victors of athletic competitions included wreaths, victory statues, victory odes, cash, free meals and panathenaic amphorae. The prizes were commissioned by the Boule and the Treasurer of the Military Fund (1987: 39). Panathenaic amphorae were awarded to victors of the games in Athens, and always contained an athletic scene, a visual of Athena (Fig. 2) and some sort of inscription (1992: 30). These vases were purely black figure, even as red figure painting evolved in Athens (1987: 33). The vases held oil from the sacred olive trees around Attica (1987: 39). The distribution of strictly Athenian prizes at the games helped create a sense of identity and pride in ones origins. The Panathenaic amphorae continued to be a symbol for Athens into Roman times (1992: 51).
At this time, the idea of kalokagathia was circulating in Greece. Kalokagathia is defined as the state of being good and beautiful, and contained the parameters for the characteristics of an ideal man and woman. To fulfill this idealized persona was hardly possible, as one had to be youthful in their beauty, excel in warfare and the arts, as well as possess athletic ability. They were also expected to have sex appeal, nobility, and a perfect physique. In terms of athletic ability and physical beauty, the athletes competing in the games were the pinnacle. Nudity was also a big part of kalokagathia because it allowed for the man to show off his physicality. As athletes competed in the nude, they were naturally depicted as such on the panathenaic amphorae. In “Panathenaic Prize Amphora,” the men are shown in motion, but with their bodies still in a plane in which the viewer can admire their bodies. The black figure painting allows the muscles to be accented, trying to show the strength that the athletes had.
Another aspect of the time was agon, or competition. Healthy competition was seen as a good thing in Greek society, and part of the moral values that a person should possess. The athletes competing in the events had agon, and in this way their physical beauty and kalokagathia was tied to it. The beauty that is obtained goes hand in hand with the morality of competition. In this way, agon is shown through the beautiful bodies shown on the panathenaic amphorae, and therefore we are shown a connection between physical beauty and morality.
1. Attic Panathenaic Amphora. 375/370 BC. The Detroit Institue of Arts, Detroit. CAMIO. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http://camio.oclc.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?FS=1&CISOROOT=/EYT&CISOPTR=1615&CISOBOX=1&REC=2>.
2. Kyle, Donald G. Athletics in Ancient Athens. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987. Print.
3. Neils, Jenifer. Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens : [exhibition]. Hanover, NH: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 1992. Print.
4. Panathenaic prize amphora. 530/520 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. CAMIO. Web. 26 Nov. 2012. <http://camio.oclc.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?FS=1&CISOROOT=/MZA&CISOPTR=912&CISOBOX=1&REC=1>.