In creative works resulting from study, research,
insight, and explanation, one might point out two
particular types: the creative work of origination
and the creative work of synthesis. The originator
creates a work that is seen as being one of the prime,
essential works of theory and exposition around a
particular subject. Such a study is widely admired
and often quoted, sometimes favorably, sometimes in
argument against its ideas...or even jealousy of its
The creative work of synthesis is built around a
person's enthusiasm for a subject, their fervent
desire to know it to its core. They study it, live
it, breathe it. They want to explain it to others.
So they begin to research, or they have collected
research and quotes and source citations over time.
Then they decide to commit their own understanding
and insight about the subject using all of the
materials and sources and ideas which they have
shaped into a presentation of enlightenment. This
is the person's bold presentation of his synthesized
vision and creative interpretaion of the ideas and
justifications gathered from sources.
In this excellent work by David Sansone, we have
a very satisfying blend of research, source citation
(footnotes), personal insights, and a very obvious
outpouring of love of the subject and a desire to
understand it to its very depths and in multiple
Sansone is a Professor of Classics at the University
of Illinois, Urbana (back cover). In his "Prelude"
to this work, Sansone says that he inherited a course
to teach which had been originated (ahh..) by William
Abbott Oldfather, "the American classical scholar."
The course was on the sports of ancient Greece and
Rome, and its purpose had been to "stem the tide of
moral and physical degeneration and to inculcate the
healthful lessons offered by the model of Greek
athletics." Sansone says that when he inherited the
course he hit the books to supplement his lack of
knowledge in some aspects of the subject. But he
believed a more sophisticated and rigorous approach
than Oldfather's was needed, for Oldfather had basically
seen sport as a practice for war carried out by "blond,
tall, muscular Nordics" who found war to be not only
a necessity but an amusement, a form of entertainment.
This approach did not satisfy Sansone, since he was
not Nordic by heritage.
Sansone says that when he started teaching the course
he had no idea of what sport was or why it was so avidly
pursued by so many. Over time, he says, he began to
notice "the intimate connection between Greek athletics
and sacrificial ritual" and it occurred to him "to
wonder whether the athlete was not in some sense
regarded [in ancient times] as a [type of] sacrificial
Sansone cites many sources in his footnotes, but
they are not overwhelming. The ideas and quotes he
uses are clear and compelling. What is of excellent
benefit is his clear, linear presentation of the
accumulated treasure of his own findings of the
evolution of sport from primitive times to the time
of the Greeks.
But Sansone does not merely stop there. He also
includes relevant comments and tie-ins with modern sport
and events. He has one very interesting section on
the practice of a particular ball sport among the
Cherokee Indians and uses that as a basis for relating
it to aspects of Greek sport. His source is "Cherokee
Ball-Play" (1890) by James Mooney, included in S. Culin's
_Games of the North American Indians_ (1907).
Sansone's other favorite source is a work by Karl
Meuli, "the great Swiss scholar," whose title is
Sansone's work is divided into two parts. Part One is
titled "The Genesis of Sport," and Part Two is titled
"The Nature of Greek Athletics."
In the first part, Sansone goes into the characteristics
of "ritual" and shows how those aspects relate to sport.
Then he does the same with the characteristics associated
with "sacrifice," and also relates them. There is a very
good "Selected Bibliography" which cites sources such
as W. Burkert, _Structure and History in Greek Mythology
and Ritual_; E.N. Gardiner, _Athletics of the Ancient
World_; J-P Guepin, _The Tragic Pardox: Myth and Ritual
in Greek Tragedy_; and H.A. Harris, Greek Athletes and
Athletics_. Perhaps the most provocative source is
W.E. Sweet, "Protection of the Genitals in Greek
Athletics," published in _Ancient World_ (1985).
This is a highly interesting, informative, and
enlightening work of synthesis. And is much more
valuable and useful than the "crock of self-evident
nonsense" or the "eccentric curiosity that happened
to contain a meticulous examination of the work of
others" that he feared it might be labeled as being.
Heck, I would have paid part of the price just for
the cover photo of my favorite piece of sculpture,
formerly known as "The Wrestlers," now titled as
"Pankratiasts in action" (Florence, Galleria degli
Uffizi) [back cover information].
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