Summary and Info
Donald Kyle concludes this fine book by stating that “it should now be clearthat the interrelationship between the histories of Athens and its athletics issignificant and continuous . . . Athletics were a public, integral, and poten-tially unifying or disruptive element in the civic experience of the Athenians”(p. 177). Among the many strong points of this study is its steady focus on thehistorical and cultural significance of athletics: this book is no mere exercise inantiquarianism, but a carefully documented analysis of the prosopography andpolitics of athletics in Athens.At the core of the book is a catalogue of known and possible Athenianathletes. Each athlete receives a separate biographical entry in Appendix II withthe relevant ancient testimonia and bibliographical notes: classicists and ancienthistorians wiIl find this sober and detailed catalogue a valuable research tool.The background of Lysis, known to us from Plato’s dialogue, is nicely illumi-nated, as is that of the charismatic Autolykos, whom Xenophon, among others,described. Taking to heart the importance of the work of H. W. Pleket andDavid C. Young, Kyle uses his catalogue to address in chapter 4 the question ofthe athletes’ socio-economic background: who are the participants? Does thepersonnel change over the centuries of Athenian history? Kyle correctly dis-tinguishes between “elitism of birth” and the “elitism of wealth” to which itincreasingly yielded in the fifth century BC. What is problematic is thedifficulty in determining whether the socio-economic status of a given athletewas the result of athletic achievement or the prerequisite for it, and there are fewcases where the hereditary nobility of the athletes, or its absence can be proven.It is daunting to consider how few of Athens’ archons, strategoi, choregoi andother notables are known to us at all, to say nothing of their interests (or lackthereof) in athletics. Kyle is careful to warn the reader repeatedly that the trendshe points out are based on very fragmentary evidence, and he wisely refrainsfrom computing percentages or otherwise giving a misleading positivism; thetrends he does point out are sensible and sound deductions from the evidencethat has come down to us.