One of our early evening seminars in the village of Ancient Korinth, at Café Marinos, overlooking the Korinthian Gulf, while discussing Aeschylus' plays.
Although clothed and with shoes, we recreate a footrace at the original stadium at Nemea. Professor Taber did retain from ancient times, however, the threat that cheaters would be beaten. Click here to see photos from previous tours.
Theme--Athletes, Actors, and Sages: Competition in Ancient Greece
Take any play. Take any short story. Take any thick novel. They are peopled with protagonists and antagonists, as is, one might say, life itself. Protagonists and antagonists are both agonists, and really fat dictionaries will confirm this for you. But what is an agonist?
The classical word agōn (in Greek, αγών) means “contest, struggle.” This is a powerful concept, for it has been noted that three of the major contributions of classical Greece—athletics, drama, speech-making in the law courts and political assemblies—are all examples of agōnoi. It is what ties together Clytemnestra, Pericles, Antigone, Socrates, and all the foot-racers and discus-throwers. Even more interesting, the agōn is nothing on which the Greeks had a monopoly; it famously has its counterparts elsewhere in the world, as in German (der Kampf) and in Arabic (jihad).
For this word, and the process named by it, to be so long-lived and so widespread, struggle must be multi-dimensional. In our readings and our travels, we will encounter a range of human struggle. We will read of struggles within families (the Oresteia), between warring states (Thucydides), between political dictates and religious principles (Antigone), between legal dictates and a moral mission (Socrates), between cultural realities and a religious mission (Paul), and between an individual’s life and aspirations (Marcus Aurelius). We will visit sites of struggle: a number of theaters and odeons, all four of the panhellenic athletic sites, and the site of Athens’ budding democratic debates and trials.
The meaningfulness of agōn lies not, or at least not exclusively, in winning. The theme of this course, therefore, will not be “Look at all the ways to be a winner and be a loser!” Matters are more complex. Rather, the agōn challenges us to muster determination, to endure, and sometimes even to compromise. The range of these challenges will be the focus of this memorably situated course.