What is the Value of SPORTS?
Are they Entertainment? A Metaphor? Or a Big Distraction?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
Llegamos por la carne y el vino... y nos quedemos por la carne y el vino.
We came for the steak and wine... and we stayed for the steak and wine.
I have a canned response to why we moved to Argentina over a decade ago... it’s a ‘joke’, though only not true in that it doesn’t fully encapsulate why we choose the Paris of the South as our home.
The truth is I love my adopted city. I love her broad beautiful boulevards, lined with jacarandas, the stunning neoclassical and art deco architecture, the expansive parks and historical monuments.
But I also love the people. They adore children (you’ll never see someone complaining about a crying kid, but rather an attempt to cheer the child up), they still read books (real books!) in cafes, and attend in huge numbers the ballet, the opera, the theaters (one of the highest theater per capita ratios in the world!)
They also love fútbol.
So when they won the World Cup yesterday, I was thrilled. I donned the blue and white colors and joined the chanting crowd... the literal millions out on the streets celebrating.
Can you spot your editor?
While we went to a more local spot (with kiddos), you can see the downtown spectacle HERE.
It was, after all, a remarkable game... a moment in history... and certainly something to remember!
But truth be told, I’m not normally a sports fan, and following the games of the last month has been a break from my routine... but this act of sport spectating did get me thinking about this ubiquitous, universal physical activity. As long as there have been people interacting, there have been sports...indeed it goes back much farther than the era that these humble pages cover!
We commence as far back as around 15,300 years ago; Cave paintings found in the Lascaux caves in France appear to depict sprinting and wrestling in the Upper Paleolithic. The origins of boxing have also been traced to ancient Sumer and the Epic of Gilgamesh gives one of the first historical records of sport, with Gilgamesh engaging in a form of belt wrestling with Enkidu, events from around 2800 to 2600 BCE. Meanwhile wrestling, weightlifting, long jump, swimming, rowing, archery, fishing and athletics, as well as various kinds of ball games, were well-developed and regulated in ancient Egypt before 2000 BCE.
When we finally get to our time period of focus, we chance upon the Minoans jumping over bulls (1500 BCE) and the funeral games of the Mycenaean period, between 1600 BCE and c. 1100 BCE, depicted in the Iliad. We can recall king Odysseus of Ithaca proving his royal status to king Alkinoös of the Phaeacians by showing his proficiency in throwing the javelin.
And then, of course we arrive at the Olympic Games recorded in 776 BCE in Olympia, where they were celebrated until 393 CE. Other important sporting events in ancient Greece included the Isthmian games, the Nemean Games, and the Pythian Games. Together with the Olympics, these were the most prestigious games, and formed the Panhellenic Games.
It’s clear that the Greeks really loved sport... and the Romans did too.
Of course, the Romans did manage to make it quite bloody, proving once more their thirst for violence.
One only has to imagine the inherent gore involved with gladiators to know what I mean. Chariot racers had notoriously short careers due to notoriously short life spans. Though we should remember that the original boxing and wrestling (not to mention pankration!) weren’t without their perils.
Which brings me to my mailbag question of the week... just because something has been around for a long time, doesn’t make it necessarily good or valuable. Similarly just because something is fun to watch, doesn’t mean we should...
Entertainment can come at a moral cost. After all, is not the spectacle at the expense of the young men’s (or women’s) bodies that are partaking in such a violent endeavor? And even when lives or physiques aren’t directly under threat, the whole notion of sport can also be used as a dangerous form of manipulation.
It’s a tactic used since the ancient times, though the Roman poet, Juvenal, put it best:
They shed their sense of responsibility
Long ago, when they lost their votes, and the bribes; the mob
That used to grant power, high office, the legions, everything,
Curtails its desires, and reveals its anxiety for two things only,
Bread and circuses.
~ Juvenal, Satire X
So while the crowds yesterday were happily jumping in the streets, they conveniently forget that they are also number one in something very insidious: Inflation. No doubt those in charge are content with everyone ignoring that for the last month...
Indeed, we are forced to ask the very premise of the issue, the root of it all:
What is the value of Sports? Are they a metaphor? Are they just for entertainment? Or are they a big distraction?
As always, you can reply to this email or write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, onto today’s responses on fate and the end of the world (with some very interesting observations both with regards to the Greek language and psychology, below)
Founder and Director
P.S. Just a quick reminder that it’s still Saturnalia!!!
If you are looking for the traditional way to celebrate, one of our dear readers, appropriately named Apollonius, has helpfully sent instructions, which you find HERE.
And if you are still looking for the perfect Saturnalia gift for the young ones in your life, make sure to check out our Children’s book: Sappho: the Lost Poetess.
How can we have a free will if there is such a thing as fate?
A way of better understanding this is to look at apoptosis within our own bodies, a death of the cells in a controlled and normal way of life; there is a time it cannot go beyond. We can help the body as much as we would like, but there is a time it will shut down. So do we have free-will? Maybe, until we can have no more, but I lean more towards Schopenhauer, who basically says that whatever we do, Will is what determines it, and that is Will outside the illusion of self. Self is a modern word; I do not think it exists in ancient languages as a noun, but rather as a grammatical reflexive. ( I could be wrong here.) Did we choose our partner or did Will just put us together? So, we could call this fate and if agreed upon it becomes a truth in the language game.
--Herman H, San Francisco
On the End of the World:
I was interested by the proposition of a desire to immanentize the eschaton.
As a therapist I am inclined to link it with the 'denial of death'. This might appear contradictory at first but I will clarify what I mean. The egocentric organism, I choose this term deliberately as it representative of both individuals and collectives, cannot accept/conceive - as you allude in your precis - of existence outwith its own sensed being. Accordingly, its reactive position is predicated on the internalized notion that all existence stops with its own.
So it makes a kind of sense for this kind of organism to envisage its own end as the end of all things and actually to look forward to witnessing the end of all things within its lifetime. To the denying organism the 'end of all things' allows the displacement of its own mortality onto the end of all existence. The reality, of course, is that individuals, nations, political parties, religions all die.
The unhealthy displacement of the organisms’ 'personal' death into the death of existence leads, in my understanding of it, when it is more powerful or extreme to the highly reactive destructiveness that underpins some of the more unpleasant manifestations we see (murder-suicide, attempted wars of mutual annihilation, funerary human sacrifice, reactive collective religious fundamentalism).
The truly self aware and self accepting 'organism' is aware of its individual mortality as inevitable and making peace with that does not seek an orgiastic end of the universe at its own passing. To complete the classical link I think the stoics are pretty explicit on the matter of individual mortality.
I think the idea I'm trying to convey might be condensed to something like:
Conscious or unconscious ego-centrism denies death and when faced with the reality of its mortality requires pathologically that this is the end of all things.
I look forward to reading others observations and insights,
J L Thomas
It is not the end of the world if you live to see it. Only death can bring about el fin del mundo. Therefore, anyone wishing to "Immanentize the Eschaton" seeks death which is non-transcendent. So... Why? Is there more to living than just life?
Darrell P. B.
Some thoughts on the subject of ‘immanence’ and 'the eschaton':
When one makes a philosophic reference to the “The End of the World”, there is a very interesting play on words which comes to mind; one that somehow gets to the point of it - or perhaps even more - gets to the 'alpha & omega' of your question.
As a trope, The ‘END' (of the world) finds meaningful (yet paradoxical) expression through a single Greek term: TELOS.
Meaning ‘End’ (as in 'a purpose'), Telos has a very special place in the history of Greek philosophical and religious thought. As the root of Teleology, its meaning remains pregnant with controversy, even today.
So substitute the notion of TELOS into our equation for 'the End of the World' (or the 'End of Days'), and perhaps you'll get a more ‘fleshed' out answer regarding ‘end’ times and human yearning.
Simply put: It is the idea that 'the beginning' (of any thing) is somehow in 'its end’ (its purpose), so that the end is also in its beginning… That is the nuance of Telos (when speaking of 'the end' of the world) which has become lost in translation: The idea that the beginning of the world, and the end (of the world), are some ‘how’ intimately connected. And in our perennial search for meaning, we humans are literally “dying to know” the answer.
It’s something like an implicit riddle (or mystery) built into the nature of language itself which keeps us “hooked” and glued to our screens - waiting to see what comes next.
I see it as both the etiological core narrative that’s at the center of all logical discourse, and the 'mysterious something' that is at the heart of any story that's ever been worth telling.
That somehow in the end is its beginning… And that in the beginning was the word.
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I’ve never enjoyed watching or playing sports, choosing instead to focus on the arts, including the physical art of dance. But I think the draw of sports is based in what anthropologist Victor Turner called “communitas”, the feeling of going through a strong experience with other people. Different people seek our communitas in different ways. I prefer theatre, others prefer sports, some prefer ritual/religion. The need for common experience is a strong biological and psychological imperative in humans so we seek it out in many ways.
Anya,. I meant to ask about this because to the Greeks athlete super stars lived very well with great respect. Today universities hand out athletic scholarships as well as scholarly ones. Track and field forever.