Texas Tech University

Ancient Greece and the Cult of the Body in Western Civilization

Dr. Charles Stocking

Professor of Classics, University of Western Ontario

As Pierre de Coubertin, popular "founder" of the Olympic Games, state, "The primary, fundamental characteristic of ancient Olympism, and of modern olympism as well, is that it is a religion. By chiseling his body through exercise as a sculptor does a statue, the ancient athlete 'honored the gods.' In doing likewise, the modern athlete honors his country, his race, and his flag" (Coubertin, Olympism p. 580)

Coubertin and the modern Olympics were not the cause of the modern cult of the body so much as a tipping point in a much longer historical discourse, which sought to connect religion, athletics and the body to the ancient Greek tradition. It can be shown that this seemingly modern nostalgia for the ancient athletic body was present even in our earliest ancient Greek sources, which also called for the embodiment of a still prior time. That same nostalgia can be also found after antiquity, from the Medieval and Renaissance periods to the Industrial and Post-Industrial eras.

This lecture covered the broad sketch of the History of the Greek athletic body as a source of religious and political nostalgia from antiquity to the present.

Dr. Stocking's lecture was held in the Escondido Theater located in the Student Union Building at Texas Tech University in Lubbock TX on April 7, 2016.

The Institute for the Study of Western Civilization