Inception of the ‘cult’ of ball game ‘stars’ in Hellenistic Athenes

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Absract. Nowadays ball games are the most popular types of sport in the world including Russia. This fact contrasts sharply with the almost total absence of research in the field of ancient Greek ball games in Russian historical science. The aim of this article is to fill that gap at least on a small scale. The history of Greek ball games in the Hellenistic period is especially interesting because of the rise of their significance at that time. Τhe method of historicism and the comparative method are applied in this article. The most important sources for our article are the fragments of Athenaios’ Deipnosophistai (I, 26, 34) related to playing ball in Hellenistic times. We reconsidered the fragment by Damoxenus, the 3rd century BC writer of comedies, quoted by Athenaeus and usually interpreted as devoted to homosexual feelings. In our view it rather reflects a rapture of Athenian fans over a ball-player’s skill. However, the dramatist hyperbolizes this rapture in order to make it more comical. We correlate this fragment of Damoxenus with Athenaeus’ mention of significant honors (including granting of citizenship) given by Athenes to Aristonicus, Alexander the Great’s coach in ball games. Those honors are also reflected in the extant Athenian decree honoring Aristonicus. The talented ball-players became popular in the Hellenistic period possibly because at that time popularity was won by the idea that playing ball is useful for the military training. However conservators, continuing to regard ball games as mere entertainment (as it had been typical in the Classical period) could probably still exist, and Damoxenus’ mockery at the rapture over talent in ball game may reflect their views.

About the authors

Ivan Nikolayevich Korovchinskiy

Moscow Region State University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2179-7330

PhD in History; Associate Professor of the Department of World History, Archaeology and Methodology of Historical Science; Faculty of History, Political Science and Law

24 Very Voloshinoy St, Moscow Region, city of Mytishi, Russia, 141014


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