Original Research

Poets and athletes: Olympic winners and losers in early Greek lyric

William J. Henderson
Literator | Vol 34, No 1 | a386 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v34i1.386 | © 2013 William J. Henderson | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 September 2012 | Published: 14 November 2013

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William J. Henderson, Department of Greek and Latin Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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Ancient Greek society was extremely competitive; amongst the nobility especially there was the constant need for an ideal of achievement on the battlefield or athletics track and to integrate this into the family history. In the absence of the role the present-day media plays in our society, three poets in particular recorded, propagated and praised the achievements of athletes at the Olympic and other games: Simonides, Pindar and Bacchylides. For a winner they composed a special victory hymn, the epinikion, an elevated ode sung by a chorus with musical accompaniment. In this article extracts of such poems are analysed in order to illustrate the poets’ views regarding winners and losers.


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