Skip to content
Programs : Brochure
This page is the brochure for your selected program. You can view the provided information for this program on this page and click on the available buttons for additional options.
JAN 179: Ancient Athletics: A Gael Odyssey
Athens, Greece; Delphi, Greece; Nafplio, Greece; Naples, Italy; Olympia, Greece; Rome, Italy (Outgoing Program)
Program Terms: Jan Term
This program is currently not accepting applications.
Homepage: Click to visit
Restrictions: SMC-CA applicants only
Dates / Deadlines:
Dates / Deadlines:
There are currently no active application cycles for this program.
Program Description:
Course Title:
Ancient Athletics: A Gael Odyssey

Course Description:
Sport occupies an undeniably serious place in the modern world. Consider the importance of football to Brazilians, ice hockey to Canadians, and rugby to New Zealanders. These contemporary sporting phenomena clearly transcend mere physical contests for those involved. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz labels this human activity “deep play” and asserts that it reveals a great deal about the sport’s host culture. In the United States, the World Series and Super Bowl are among the most “American” of occasions and are deeply meaningful for their participants and communicate much about national beliefs and values. The mass appeal of sport is widespread and obvious. The Tour de France and Wimbledon are essentially English and French affairs but annually attract hundreds of millions of television viewers even though most who watch have never seriously competed in either sport or visited either country. A select few sporting events have assumed the mantle of global festival. The summer Olympics seem especially important: every four years thousands of elite athletes who have devoted their lives to a sport gather for a short, intense period of competition that commands the rapt attention of billions of people from Australia to Zambia.

Investigating why sport has and still does resonate so deeply with so many people and exploring what it reveals about its host cultures will be at the core of this January Term travel course. Our attempt to fully understand this compelling and complex phenomenon requires us to trace it back to its beginnings as a highly organized social institution in western civilization. Thus, our focus will be on the sportive activity imbedded in the two great ancient cultures of Greece and Rome. We will journey to the Mediterranean Basin to examine in situ the heroic athletics of the Hellenes and the bloody spectacles that were Rome's ludi. We seek more than the results of competitions concluded over two millennia ago: our aim is to know why the Greeks and Romans were so passionate about their sport and expended so much time, physical and emotional energy and money on it.

Our odyssey begins in Athens with the sites of the ancient city's famous and lucrative athletic contests and a search for the finishing line of the mythic Marathon run. We sprint on the track used for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and experience the stadium utilized when Athens was host city again in 2004. After Athens, we set off to explore the archaeological sites of the four ancient Panhellenic athletic festivals: Isthmia, Nemea, Olympia, and mountainous Delphi. These were among the most important sportive and religious centers in all of ancient Greece. Athletes strived for victory at these specially designated places and massive crowds assembled to watch them struggle and sometimes die. We will walk and run where the great athletes of antiquity did the same and uncover answers to why they competed and watched so enthusiastically and why Pindar recorded their arete. We will leave knowing whether these athletes performed for individual or polis honor, earned money for victories, why they were nude, if sport was an expression of a Greek democratic ideal, what role females played in Greek agon and if winning was believed to please their gods.

Just when we think we understand the place of sport in antiquity and can use that knowledge to explain our modern fascination with the same phenomenon, we encounter Rome’s ludi: sport of a scale so immense and of a type so spectacular that we will be forced to reexamine everything we think we know. Standing on the site of the Circus Maximus we will wonder what drew a quarter of a million partisan fans to watch chariots fly around the course: was it the pure excitement of speed and expert horsemanship or something else that attracted the fanatical throngs? In Pompeii, we'll explore the infamous gladiator training school that provided combatants for its provincial arena and Rome's magnificent Colosseum. In Rome’s iconic amphitheater we venture underground to feel what it was like for those who fought for the grisly pleasure of emperors and plebeians alike.

By the time we leave for home, we will have closely studied the athletic “texts” the Greeks and Romans left us -- their art, stadia, amphitheaters, statues, sport equipment, writings, temples, baths, and gymnasia -- and come to appreciate the place of physical competition and sportive entertainment in these two most important ancient cultures. Sport was at the very core of Greek and Roman society and by the time we leave for home we will understand why it touched these ancients so deeply and if this powerful human experience has persisted with the same zeal into our twenty-first century.

During this travel course we seek to bring to life events that occurred as many as 3000 years ago and at the end of our journey we should have a response to Homer’s question: “What greater glory attends a man, while he’s alive, than what he wins with his racing feet and striving hands?” (Odyssey, Book VIII, line 170) and know why we modern humans are so drawn to our own sport spectacles.

Upper Division

a) Attendance at a pre-registration meeting in September (+two post-registration fall semester meetings)
b) Permission of instructor
c) Completed Seminar 1 and 2 (by end of Fall 2017) or Seminar 102 (by end of Fall 2017)
d) Proof (by date of last fall meeting) of a current (through August 2018) passport

Reading List:
Donald G. Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007)
a Course Reader (provided by the instructor on the first day of class) to include inter alia excerpts from:
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
Pindar’s odes
Stephen G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics
Stephen G. Miller, Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources
Luciana Jacobelli's Gladiators at Pompeii
David J. Lunt, "The Heroic Athlete in Ancient Greece" Journal of Sport History 36(3), 2009
John Mouratidis, "The Origin of Nudity in Greek Athletics" Journal of Sport History, 12(3), 1985
Betty Spears, "A Perspective of the History of Women's Sport in Ancient Greece" Journal of Sport History, 11(2), 1984
"The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas" from Herbert Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford University Press, 1972).  

Basis for Final Grade:
Exam: 100 pts. (25%)
Quizzes (20 x 5 pts. each): 100 pts. (25%)
Preparation & Participation: 50 pts. (12.5%)
Presentation: 75 pts. (18.75%)
Travel log: 75 pts. (18.75%).


This program is currently not accepting applications.