Customs explored in this discussion represent civilization remote from modern “civilized” society. Many children wonder what it might have been like to grow up in a different era in a distant part of the world. Mythology in ancient pottery reveals athletic scenes within a Classical context.
Thus, female sport in Greek antiquity drew a fine line between exploitation and agency. Function and context of female sport was ceremonial. As for politics, democracy and oligarchy walked side by side in Archaic Greece. Politics influenced acceptable ideas of proper gender behavior through civic activity.
Sport expressed cultural ideology; education, socialization, and ceremonial rituals determine this study's themes. Let's focus on settings pivotal to the Heraia, Arktoi, and agoge. Other premises pertain to acceptable norms in female sport.
One premise contends the biological womanhood was central to female education. Yet, the extent to which Spartan attitudes influenced society is vague. Still, if Spartan education was a rigorous military regime to tame female unruliness, then running tested female maturity before marriage and pregnancy. Sport's function was to release negative energy which derived from pain. As marital status influenced female rites, marriage, not contest, was proper in context of hierarchical ties to the male.
For example, athletics in oral legend provides insight about personal fulfillment in life. We will study myth's clues about ideal bonds and its iconography of running to affirm gender hierarchy. A controversial issue that sparks disagreement about Sparta's agoge is nudity. As premarital nudity for Athenian girls was taboo, it is no wonder Spartan nudity sparked moral conflict. We will show that racing exploited maidens for an express purpose of marriage.
Scanlon, 1 Miller, 2 and Golden 3 affirm scarcity of texts deters a cohesive view about gendered sport; only Plato, admirer of Spartans, had a neutral view about female racing. Scanlon draws a valid inference about athletic as opposed to the binary view of Spartan females as coercive. 4
Last, female attendance at the Olympics remains an issue. If Plutarch can verify female presence at the Olympics, it affirms a custom that qualified teen daughters were a necessary part of the marital contract. 5 But as primary sources do not address this critical issue, I will turn to an extra source. Let's begin with the origin and distinction between Athenian and Spartan female learning.
Plutarch [Lycourgos] claims King Lycurgus founded the agoge in eighth century to retaliate against Aristotle's conventional views. So female sport linked to philosophy, wealth, socialization, strength, and most important, a bearing of healthy sons.
For instance, Athenaeus and Golden claim feminine beauty and strength equal to males, not arête or physical prowess were goals. Its link to worship was consistent, although its original relevance was likely symbolical and remote. Thus, running occurred in a sacred context.
To support this observation, a Parthenon sculpture illustrates women engaged in religious tasks at a Heraia festival that honored Hera and Zeus every four years. Sixteen Women regulated events from the male competitions. 6 Females marched from Elis, wove a peplos for Hera, poured libations, received portions of the sacrificial oxen, and wore an olive kotinos. 7 Other than Priestess Demeter, these were the only females present at an Olympian festival.
Thus, running must have occurred as part of a biological, yet sacred ritual. Furthermore, Heraia events marked an initiation or passage rite that emphasized two traits: a biological restriction to maidens 8 through age, and a religious worship of Hippodameia. 9 Festival goddesses support the notion that ritual pertained to varied stages of womanhood. Hera embodied marriage, for instance; Hippodameia signified childhood, humanity, mortality, divinity. Puberty denoted an onset of “physical maturity.” 10
Olympian contest signified an entry beyond a private oikos into a public, yet exclusive domain of Zeus. Participation reflected civic duty; aspects of décor functioned to foster anticipated roles of wife and mother. Long hair, coloured chiton, and bare breast asserted maidenhood status.
On space, a stadion parthenoi was shorter by one-sixth than the male stadium track. 11 It may have pertained to social status. Equal access is unclear; its participants were noble. A stade began with the youngest and ended with the eldest.
Mythical scenes hint at the sociological status of key participants. The Leucippides myth indicated Spartan maidens held titles parallel to the heroine Hippodameia. Pausanias said, [Description of Greece 3. 16.1]: they “wove a tunic for Apollo Amyde every year.” 12 Art shows a religious context. The Tindaridai -- mortal Spartan heroes -- Pollux and Castor -- were priests, married to Leucippides. "Parthenon Frieze," 13 a low-relief marble sculpture, 445 BCE, shows a procession in "Peplos Scene". 14
Moreover, a nine-day Carneia stadion began on the seventh day of Carneios, in January before marriage to honor Apollo. 15 The event embraced the same biological function that Olympia denoted: passage ritual. Thus, Spartan and Athenian sports had similar programs. The events fostered gender shared athletics, and their function was military and religious. Personal décor accorded with a warrior image to stress mythological kinship and heritage.
Where physical beauty was a valued tribal quality, military prowess was focal to Spartans. In Brauron Arktoi rituals, cult dance was key to Spartan spectacle. Like an Athenian stadion, it denoted a transition from childhood to adulthood. 16 Cymbals were a musical accessory to dance and a maiden's dedication to Artemis Limnates at Sparta. 17 The festivals celebrated civic duty as well as beauty and skill.
National patriotism, athletic context was religious, dramatic, and commemorated the heroic dead. Carneia and Dionysiades held prenuptial footraces for maidens; staphylodromai were "Grape Cluster Runners." 18
The Carneia costume included a ceremonial shield, helmet with crest, and double-axe. Such dress validated a military agenda. Indeed, the agoge curriculum included martial arts, dance, and gymnastics. Corybantiana was a military spectacle that worshipped dead heroes.
Social equality and military success highlighted Spartan culture. A common goal between Athenian and Spartan females was healthy birth of sons. The educational advantages of a female Spartiate outweighed those of an Athenian.
Oligarchy was the political system, but Spartan females enjoyed curricula of music, grammar, and fitness. Conversely, the Arktoi event contrasted with the Athenian learning approach.
In sacred Brauron, east Attica, healthy motherhood was a central focus. Artemis integrated two distinct identities. She was a huntress protective of wilderness, analogous with an amoral, athletic Atalanta. Artemis' social hierarchy also stressed conflict.
For example, her duality coincided with conflict in Classical myth or medieval fable. Artemis emphasized passivity and aggression, wilderness and civilization, childhood and motherhood. Brauron’s private space at the Arktoi ritual accentuated these themes via landscape.
For example, Bronze Age Crete represented a world tied to Ancestral legend. Rocky and cave-like, its landscape provided privacy critical to ritual. Such sacred space denoted, for instance, the votive cult of Altis. The ambiguous yet religious nature and function of the Arktoi went back to oral legend. Despite Golden’s uncertainty about a mixed audience at the Olympics, the Arktoi was analogous with the hunt. 19
Where a chaotic hunt theme was evident in context of wilderness, Heraia represented perfect order. The Arktoi's function was analogous with that of the male's agon: to evaluate female maturity. This supernatural tug between chaos and emotion guided purpose in Brauron rituals. In contrast with sacral love, pain gave the female inner strength.
In context of marriage, wrath was a key human emotion. Conflict reflected metamorphosis from child to woman; such theory lacks documentation. But ancient worship in drama validated the transition as tragic. Cult symbolized an attempt to ease pain.
For example, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon [Agamemnon, chorus, l. 239], and Aristophanes' fifth century Lysistrata, [Lysistrata, l. 641-647] reveal a female disrobed before transformation. Furthermore, pain was linked to childbirth.
To support this view, Mikalson connects saffron with a shedding of yellow robes worn by cult initiates. 20 Brauron worship, then, eased pangs related to marriage and motherhood. Thus, the application of saffron in childbearing ritual is significant. Saffron, crocus, or loom thread, is symbolic of textile, which was an important political symbol evident in votive offerings. Saffron implied domesticity and inner healing.
Saffron was a costly commodity used as dye, spice, scent, or medicine. The use of aphrodisiacs implied superstition in a context of love -- eros -- and pain. Saffron also had a divine usage and warded off Artemis' wrath and common health risks. It was handy, as birth posed extra risks to mother and baby.
But due to high mortality, its association with pain relief was only a small comfort with regard to labor. Myrtis, an archeological forensic experiment, proves child mortality was typical. Myrtis died in fifth century AD Athens at eleven; typhoid was fatal. 21
Thus, varied uses of saffron confirm the complexity of ancient Greek female roles. So far, athletic rites did tame females in a test that preceded marriage and childbirth. At Brauron, saffron, like worship, drove away negative energy deriving from such pain. So far, running at Brauron yielded neither a comprehensive religious function nor a sound athletic agenda. Yet, healing did pertain to females in a prenuptial, instructional context. Scanlon's findings support a theory that running denoted pre-marital rituals.
For instance, nubile mirror handles and nude bronzes found in Laconia and the Peloponnese appeared from sixth to early fifth BCE. 22 Scanlon cannot prove if the figurines represent female Spartan athletes. They do attest that Spartan female athletes practiced cultic nudity. 23 Scanlon also notes a sacred, local significant lotus in the athlete’s hand. The Atalanta tale influence a linked culture between chaste virginity and married love. Sinicropi remarks on a conflicted theme in Boccaccio’s tale of Natasgio degli Onesti, Decameron.
Again, racing is a test of chastity and love. 24 Yet, the theme derives from Somadeva's old folk tales in, "Indian Red Lotus of Chastity." Thus, the lotus on Scanlon's bronze figure signified spiritual purity. Atalanta is relevant to our study of the ancient Greek female. Miller’s analysis provides an basis for ancient gender proper sport. 25
In connection with state, the images reveal married status as significant. Despite Archaic Greece's internal peace, there was a split between oligarchy and democracy. Racing intimated ethnic rivalry.
Given transition from childhood to marriage was difficult, conflict was central to culture. The myth relayed message via familiar iconography; a running female was a mythological motif. Miller spotlights a social flaw; the male triumph contrasts with her consequential defeat. Scanlon’s zoomorphic Brauronian handles linked females to nature. Atalanta’s unruliness in Miller’s scenes show three valid clues about acceptable context in female sport. 26
First, society discouraged females from engaging in athletics of an inter-hierarchic context. Golden affirms this included biological, gendered, and political distinctions. 27 Also, athletic defeat was a reminder of traditional place in the poleis as wife and mother. Such image expressed female stereotype analogous with domesticity.
For example, Hestia illustrated a fundamental basis of Athenian female ideology. She represented the core family unit. 28 Last, contest against the opposite gender was inappropriate. The idea pertained to risks to healthy childbirth. Other mythical images reveal female runners associated with marriage, as chariot with horses.
In this example, a gamos re-enactment was part of middle class wedding culture. Scenes depict nymphs as heroines bound to dominant, violent males. The mythical "Abduction of Helen of Troy," on a vase, exemplifies a gamos. 29 Theseus seizes Helen by her wrist; gamos subjugated female agency. Female agency in the gamos also exploited a bride from her own oikos to her husband’s. This Greek tradition depicted the wedding as an appropriate context for a gamos.
As for social status, an Athenian demos system permitted education for aristocratic males. In Archaic Athens, females had no access to education. Spartan females, rather, had access to education. Captive females snatched during chaos and torn between cities signified political subjectivity.
For example, a mythical scene, "Rape of the Leukippides" illustrates such political subjectivity. 30 Peithos, a Dioskouroi twin, clutches a Messinian princess as she attempts to flee. The scene narrates political friction in context of Dorian invasion. It appealed to the female's plight and exploited her as a political metaphor. So, festival, spectacle, and contest were the proper contexts of female athletics. So, Spartan aggression also may have been violent.
Violence was common for the Classical Greek female. A male's abstinence from sport, rather, drew disapproval, was cowardice. Historians also disapproved of Spartan female nudity and Olympic attendance. 32
Recorded errors blurred context. We do not know if jealousy created binary argument, or scanty clothing relayed unethical behavior. The latter handles such marginal attitudes toward Spartan females. Spartans took pride in nudity and valued the attributes of beauty and health.
Legal and social independence made females most vulnerable to ethnic resentment. Female assertiveness created a cultural dissent between Sparta and Athens. A Spartan female had little concept of self; her goal was civic obligation. Scanlon asserts both a nude and clothed presence at Brauron. 33 Thus, female nudity bore parallels to male nudity in ancient Olympics.
But strength distinguished the Spartan warrior as triumphant. Nudity indicated ultimate love and fidelity to gods. Spartan beauty expressed deific love and conflicted with Athenian female roles.
Rather, Athenian female worship reflected introversion and emotional family attachments. Spartan spirituality veered toward power, like physical pursuits in Olympic contest. Scanlon defines ancient aims of female sport expressed religious purity nudity represented . 34 Worship stressed mortality. Athletic triumph reaffirmed divine immortality and energy as champion attributes.
Furthermore, Scanlon's analogy of female warrior with lotus affirms virginity was divine love. Nude poses revealed access to political agency, or triumph. Nudity in sport, then, was not a coercive tactic. Rather, deific love affirmed political order, status, and wealth. Moreover, history reveals successful trade as consistent with Spartan sport and intellectual superiority. Yet, this speculation negates any realistic historical issues with nudity. 35
For example, physical stance and décor in Scanlon’s nude bronze figures [12.1-12.2] accord with victory. A gender-shared trait was hunting. 36 Simon claims Artemis affirmed ritual nudity to atone Artemis' anger against plague. 37
The Arktoi ritual consisted of girls playing “bear,” bringing gifts to Artemis. 38 Lundgreen notes this celebrated passage into puberty, taught girls to “serve as mothers later in life.” 39 Water had much to do with rituals of purity.
For example, adjacent springs near Brauron facilitated bathing. As Cole notes, water was a central element of Artemis sanctuaries. 40 A fifth century Dorian stoa with peristyle, square room denoted bathing rituals. Marble statues denoted votive shrines.
A sixth century BCE bronze nude caryatid maiden stands on a lion with a griffin perched on each shoulder. The maiden supports the mirror base and holds it high over her head to assert triumph. A torque affirms religious, economic, and legal status.
This maiden's decorous accessories confirm tidings linked to sport, harvest, fertility, and pre-nuptials: scythe, fruit, strigil, aryballos, and griffon. 41 Thus, spectacle, not sport, asserted female identity in a male gendered sphere.
Nudity at Brauron occurred every four years, after puberty, before marriage, to teach gender proper emotion. Thus, if a bride's pathos validated arête, athletic nudity denoted agency. Virginal love was integral to each culture. Last, in view of such paradox, primary texts obscure reality:
"it had nothing to do with the women—the father could promise her in
marriage without consulting her -- yet, a wealth of gift-giving scenes may
be associated with courtship. The evidence of vases suggests, rather, that a
bridegroom does not simply come and announce a father’s decision: he
woos the bride with gifts, and there is implicit in the act the possibility that
power can shift the woman’s way and she may refuse.” 42
This passage marks potential agency in context of a father’s ultimate decision. Kyle notes female attendance as “incongruous” with a male context. 43 The ban of female participation was for religious reasons, as Zeus Temple was an all-male cult. Nudity of Athenian male athletes also expressed love and devotion to Zeus.
This exposition ultimately concludes that despite distinctions of proper context in ancient female sport, Spartan and Athenian cultures treasured healthy labor as central to her role, whether a matriarchal or patriarchal culture. Proper context and aim was spiritual and signified biological passage rites rather than military prowess.
The political priorities of each culture remained distinct. As health risks posed major sources of anxiety in childbirth, ritual prepared all women for complexity; Spartan culture fostered a free status for the female. Thus, myth and rite linked running with biological and psychological aims; the female's paradoxical status was conflicted between exploitation and agency, love as a basis for roles. Love was therefore the essential motivation in female sport and bore parallels to male athletics, such as heroic culture. Ritual as the expression of divine love provided continuity of past with present, male with female, and ultimately, home with state.
We conclude that despite many contexts for female sport, Spartans and Athenians all treasured healthy childbirth. Proper context and aim was more spiritual and biological than military. The political priorities of each culture were distinct.
Heroic culture drew parallels in athletics . Ritual expressed divine love. Ritual provided a continuity of past with present, male with female, and home with state. Love was thus the essential aim of female sport.
Childbirth risks were major sources of anxiety. Ritual prepared women for complexity. Spartan culture fostered free status for females. Myth and ritual denoted the biological and psychological aims of racing. exploitation and agency conflicted the female.
E N D N O T E S
1. Scanlon, T. F. "Virgineum Gymnasium Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics," Wendy J. Raschke, ed., The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 189
2. Stephen G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 2-3
3. Mark Golden, Sport and Society in Ancient Greece, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 48
4. Stephen G. Miller, Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 106
5. Scanlon, T. F. "Virgineum Gymnasium: Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics," Wendy J. Raschke, ed., The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 185
6. Ibid, 188
7. Stephen G. Miller, Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 109
8. Mark Golden, Sport and Society in Ancient Greece, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 127
9. T. F. Scanlon, "Virgineum Gymnasium: Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics," Wendy J. Raschke, ed., in The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 186
10. Stephen G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 153
11. T. F. Scanlon, "Virgineum Gymnasium: Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics," Wendy J. Raschke, ed., in The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 185-6; 200
12. Stephen G. Miller, Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 13
13. “Parthenon Frieze,” http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenon_Frieze
14. “The peplos scene, East V, 31–35, London,” www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peplos_scene_BM_EastV_cropped.JPG
15. “Carnea Festival,” www.encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Carnea
16. T. F. Scanlon, "Virgineum Gymnasium: Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics," Wendy J. Raschke, ed., in The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 194
17. Ibid 134
18. “Maenad,“ http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacchantes “The Carnea was both a vintage festival and a military one, Apollo being expected to help his people both by promoting the harvest and by supporting them in battle. Young men called staphylodromoi, or "grape-cluster-runners," chased after a man wearing garlands. It was considered a good omen for the city if they caught him and a bad one if they didn't.”
19. Mark Golden, Sport and Society in Ancient Greece, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
20. Jon D. Mikalson, “Ancient Greek Religion,” in Ancient Greek Religion, Second Edition, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005), 138
21. “Myrtis,” http://www.en.wikipedia.org http://en.wikipedia.org:wiki:Myrtis
22. T. F. Scanlon, "Virgineum Gymnasium: Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics," Wendy J. Raschke, ed., in The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 191
23. Ibid 191; 213
24. Giovanni Sinicropi, “Chastity and Love in the Decameron,” 104-120, in The Olde Daunce: Love, Friendship, Sex, and Marriage in the Medieval World, Robert R. Edwards and Steven Spector, eds. Albany: State University of New York, 1991
26. Stephen G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 151-153
27. Ibid, 87
28. Mark Golden, Sport and Society in Ancient Greece, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 140
29. “The Abduction of Helen by Theseus and Youth,” http://www.wikipedia.org/Theseuspursuit Louvre G423.jpg
30. The Rape of the Leukippides,” http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/O6.3.html http://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/ApotheothenaLeukippides.html
31. Stephen G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 157
32. T. F. Scanlon, "Virgineum Gymnasium: Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics," Wendy J. Raschke, ed., in The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 186
33. Ibid 186
34. Ibid 194
35. Ibid 195--200
37. Simon Price, Religions of the Ancient Greeks, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) 90
38. Birte Lundgreen, “Boys at Brauron, “The Significance of a Votive Offering,” 120-152, Tobias Fischer-Hansen, Birte Poulsen, eds., in From Artemis to Diana: The Goddess of Man and Beast, (Copenhagen: Collegeum Hyperboreum and Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009), 120
40. Susan Guettel Cole, Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience, (London: University of California Press, 2004) 19
41. Scanlon, " Virgineum Gymnasium: Spartan Females and Early Greek Athletics, " Wendy J. Raschke, ed., in The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 191-197
42. A. C. Smith, “The politics of weddings at Athens: an iconographic assessment,” Leeds International Classical Studies, 1-39, 4. 1. (2005) 3 http:// lics.leeds.ac.uk/2005/200501.pdf
43. Donald G. Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2007), 217
B I B L I O G R A P H Y
Cole, Guettel Susan. Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience. London: University of California Press, 2004
Edwards, Robert R., and Spector, Steven, eds. The Olde Daunce: Love, Friendship, Sex, and Marriage in the Medieval World. Albany: State University of New York, 1991
Golden, Mark. Sport and Society in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998
Kyle, Donald G. Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2007
Mikalson, Jon D. “Ancient Greek Religion,” in Ancient Greek Religion, Second Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005
Miller, Stephen G. Ancient Greek Athletics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004
Miller, Stephen G. Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004
Price, Simon. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
Raschke, Wendy J. ed. The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988
Smith, A. C. “The politics of weddings at Athens: an iconographic assessment,” Leeds International Classical Studies, 1-39, 4. 1. (2005)
Tobias Fischer-Hansen, Birte Poulsen, eds. From Artemis to Diana: The Goddess of Man and Beast. Copenhagen: Collegeum Hyperboreum and Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009