Nature and Characteristics of Greek Sports As Seen in Homer’s The Iliad
Greek battles, whether true or fictional, are considered one of the most noble and standard. Aside from land or properties, Greek battles occur for honor. Greek warriors fight to defend and exert their reputation and pride. A Greek warrior could not simply accept defeat. To die for honor is what most of them believe. In line with this, one-on-one fights are often noticeable in Greek battles. In The Iliad (Book 22, Lines 111-122) for example, a one-on-one fight existed between Achilles and Hektor (Fagles 1999 p.
544). Instead of fighting each other, both armies opted to wait for the result of the battle between their leaders. This nature of Greek battles can be associated with the nature of Greek sports.
Ancient Greek sports and games are part of the Greek culture. In fact, Homer, through his poems, described athletic games as an important Greek activity even during the time of Troy.
(Frankl 2004). Athletic feasts are often conducted to honor a god or a fallen warrior (Mechikoff and Estes 1998). In The Iliad, this is evident during the funeral of Patroclus. Moreover, the presence of one-on-one fights among warrior leaders during battles could be referred as an influence of Greek sports. Sports as boxing, discus throw, chariot race, and wrestling were already present the time of Trojan War (Mechikoff and Estes 1998).
With this, Homeric audience would be engaged into the story. First, the battles in The Iliad are considered duels of physical strength and endurance. With Greek warriors having early participation in athletic sports and games, it would be exciting for Homeric audience to witness how the battle between Achilles and Hektor will end. Both fighters are considered as the finest one in both camps. While Achilles possess a god-like strength and agility, Hektor on one hand possesses strength of character being the future king of the Trojans. This clash between Achilles and Hektor draws Homeric audience to follow and read further the story. It is as if they are watching a duel in boxing or wrestling. A one-on-one fight serves as the driving force for them to engage in The Iliad.
Aside from that, Homeric audience would be engaged in the story to witness how their sports, wrestling for example, would be used as a language in battle. With the result of the battle between Achilles and Hektor, the latter’s defeat served as a communication tool for both camps. It marked the fall of Troy and the start of the Achaeans’ victory.
Greek sports and athletic games, on the other hand, are not only tests of physical strength. Furthermore, they serve as activities for Greeks to gain victory in a gentleman manner. Through athletic competitions, Greeks get a chance to struggle for victory (Frankl 2004). With this purpose, the goal of the Greeks while participating in an athletic game is not just to prove their physical strength and defeat their competitor. They are more committed to gain victory and show the strength of their character. Achilles and Hektor, for example, did not fight just for the sake of knowing who is stronger between them. Both of them had their own goals. Aside from defending their kingdoms, Achilles and Hektor both had their personal reasons in fighting each other. Achilles was there to revenge the death of Patroclus. Hektor, on the other hand, accepted Achilles’ challenge to gain his owner as a prince and warrior of Troy. Both characters showed strength of character not by fearing their each other, but by not fearing death itself.
The nature and characteristics of Greek sports and athletic games were clearly seen in the battle in The Iliad. One-on-one fights , just like in Greek sports, are present among Greek battles. In a way, Greek sports and battles are somehow parallel with each other. Both of them are means of gaining power, respect, and honor. Moreover, both activities give room for Greeks to improve and excel both in the physical and moral aspects.
Frankl, Daniel. “Historical Analysis of Physical Activity”. 5 January 2005. Retrieved on
15 September 2008.
Homer. The Iliad Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 1999
Mechikoff, R. A. & Estes, S. G. A history and philosophy of sport and physical education:
From ancient civilizations to the modern world (2nd Edition). Boston, MA:
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