Book Review

Ancient Greek athletics / Stephen G. Miller.

Miller, Stephen G.

The history of athletic competition goes back to antiquity, with no better example than its place in the Greek civilization, the subject of this well-written book. Drawing from a growing body of archeological discoveries and research, University of California at Berkeley professor Stephen Miller masterfully explores this integral part of the life of the Greeks.

Filled with interesting historical details and peppered with illustrations, this volume starts with a brief and useful historical framework spanning two millennia and a review of the archeological evidence underpinning current scholarship on Greek athletics. An interesting fact is that nudity, the most obvious difference between Greek and modern athletics, was implied in the original word for gymnasium, literally a place for nudity.

Several chapters explore organized athletic competitions in detail. Through descriptions of age divisions, equipment, events, sites, prizes, heroes etc., Miller examines the various athletic traditions in Greece, including the Olympic games. This is supplemented by interesting chapters on women athletes and general recreation.

As he winds down, Miller moves from a review of athletic training in ancient Greece and the facilities where it took place to the spread of Greek athleticism through the Hellenistic and Roman conquests to historical arguments in favor of professional and amateur athletics.

Ending with a discussion of the influence of athletics in society and human experience, Miller describes how Greek athletics intersected with history, art, literature, law and government, and how the core principle of seeking excellence, arete, is the most valuable legacy of Greek athletics.

I recommend this book. An easy read, it is full of interesting details that can help one understand not only ancient athletics but its place in Greek society, and by extension the place of athletics in ours.

By Brian White
Submitted: November 28, 2012