Warfare. Homer’s heroes rode to battle on chariots, dismounted to throw spears, and, when things went against them, ran for their lives. The most famous competed in the funeral games for their fallen fellow Patroclus (the programme included chariots, a fight in armour, a spear throw, a footrace); the best among them, swiftfooted achilles, stayed out of the contests as he had once retired from battle, a mark of his pre-eminence as much as of his special tie to Patroclus. Later Greek sport continued to echo warfare – images of Ares and ago¯n stood side by side on the table for winners’ wreaths at Olympia – but with a more distorted and indistinct voice. Cavalry officers rode their mounts at the panathenaea and theseia, joined by war chariots which had long since disappeared from the battlefield. As for athletes, the gymnasium arose at the same time as the circuit (periodos) of panhellenic games in the early sixth century, and served as a site for the training of young men (ephebes) (as well as for cavalry manoeuvres) for several centuries. (It was such young men who took part in most ancient Greek team sports.) Its impetus, however, is uncertain. Some regard the gymnasium as the invention of the heavy infantrymen (hoplite¯s) who replaced aristocratic champions as the ideal type of the warrior in the archaic period; these needed to be fit enough to march in heavy armour under the hot
summer sun before charging an enemy and fighting hand to hand. Others, as the response of the elite, who sought a new sphere to demonstrate their courage (the heavy events might involve injury, even death) and merit. The late introduction of the race in armour (hoplite¯s) into the festivals of the periodos, and the absence of pyrrhic dancing, tell for this alternative. In any case, though Greek armies often exercised and competed on campaign – and spartan law required it – it did not escape critics that some athletic skills, such as throwing the discus, were of limited use in a hoplite battle line. Plato therefore preferred the soldiers of his model Cretan city to conduct mock battles, and such successful commanders as Epaminondas and philopoemen – himself a wrestler – discouraged or forbade their men to train as athletes. Modern soldiers have reached similar conclusions. ‘‘A boxer, eh, a fighter? Good show, good man. Though I never saw how having a good left hook helped you dig a recoil pit’’ (Lenny, in Graham Swift, Last Orders (1996) 44).