Pursuit Of Excellence By Ancient Greek Athletes In The Soul Of An Olympian By Heather L. Reid
The author, Heather L. Reid looks at Olympism and what it meant in ancient Greece, outlining what great philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates thought of Olympics. The author starts her article by looking at an ancient Olympic stadium in Nemea. The athletes started their journey in the apodyterion, where they took off their clothes, literally and metaphorically. Socrates called the undressing a spiritual activity since the participants shed their attachment to the mundane world and prepared themselves to celebrate the higher dimension of their humanity.
They then walked to a tunnel, where they were all alone and naked. They reveled themselves to their families and friends and submitted their souls to be inspected by the gods. It is weird that these people submitted themselves to this kind of experience, considering that we live in a society where shame and failure are looked down upon. To the athletes, it’s more than recreation or professional obligation or even a social custom. The acquisition and celebration of human excellence are the true purposes of the popular conception of sport.
The author looks at arête and its relation to the Olympics. She outlines the general connection between philosophy and sport and connects the five virtues associated with arête with the structure of the sport. He intends to show that the philosophical pursuit of arête is possible and fundamental within the practice of sport.
Olympism and Arête
According to the author, the first Olympians were not athletes; they were gods. Olympics were intended to show the perfection Greek Gods had that human beings could never achieve. Philosophically, arête was seen as a godlike perfection of the body, will and mind, which could only be achieved through sport. The first fundamental principle of the Olympics shows the connection between arête and Olympics. It reads ‘Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles (Reid & Michael 3)’. The principle shows there is a connection between beauty and goodness, respect, self-discipline, justice, wisdom and courage. All these are the virtues that arête seeks to instil in people.
Ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle pursued excellence through pursuit of wisdom and excellence in sport. Plato, who was a professional wrestler believed that the pursuit of wisdom should be accompanied by physical excellence. The argued that arête could not be separated from wisdom. According to the philosophers, arête is the heath of the body and soul. Academics help the mind, while physical movement helps the soul. In the Republic, Plato argues that pursuant to Olympics is meant to develop his soul. He also argues that real Olympians do not compete for the love of victory but the pursuit of personal excellence.
Metaphysics of sport
The author argues that using sport just to beat the next guy is an abuse. Sports are not meant to declare one competitor superior to the other. The basic structures of the sport have not changed since the beginning of time, and their fundamental goal even during that time was to cultivate and celebrate human excellence.
The author justifies this argument by looking at the sports practiced during Homer’s time, which included a chariot race, wrestling, boxing, footrace and weight throw. These sports have one thing in common; they have no practical purpose to them. For instance, the runners did not bring anything to the next point after running so fast. These sports serve a higher purpose that is celebrating human excellence. The athletes push themselves to test their arête and achieve higher forms of excellence. The prizes given serve to motivate the players to push themselves even further. Sport and the parts of arête
Kicking a ball into a net does not serve any greater purpose literary, though it is so valued in soccer and the other games that involve putting balls into nets. This activity increase happiness and the power of the soul in human beings. Sports display great virtues, though the participants may fail to lead virtuous lives outside the stadium. Ancient stadia were religious sanctuaries since the games were associated with gods. Sports show that human beings are trying to find something about themselves, their ideas and capacities of humanity. They use sport to exercise the virtue of reverence.
Modern sport has different meanings when compared to the ancient sport because many coaches do not guide their trainees to pursue the sport for human excellence but as means of getting famous and earning money. The training programs provide a little opportunity to a balanced and happy life. Coaches and players should recognize the wisdom-seeking nature of sport and encourage their players to lead a happy life.
I agree with most of what the author says about sports. Initially, I did not know that sport and philosophy are related, this article has shown the deeper meaning to sport alone. I am a major fan of powerlifting and football, though now I understand more about sports and the search for wisdom and the growth of excellence and virtue within oneself. I see now that coaches don’t just have a role in coaching you to win but to also of ensuring that sport is not played for money and fame, but the pursuant of excellence and a higher meaning. They should transfer values and virtues through sport instead of aiming for wealth and the glory alone.
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