“Body Culture”: A Spiritual Echo of Olympia and the Fragmented Nature of Physical Education in the Modern-Day School in Greece

“Body Culture”: A Spiritual Echo of Olympia and the Fragmented Nature of Physical Education in the Modern-Day School in Greece

Konstantina Gongaki
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5387-8.ch008
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“Body culture,” a modern term in Western Europe, owes its philosophical content to ancient Greece and especially to Olympia. Altis turned out to be a creative place for presence and mixture of cultural elements of a set of people that through this exchange of ideas gradually conquered its first characteristics as a nation. Philosophically, the ideology that was cultivated formed the reflection of the deepest background position which the classical culture identified with coexistence of the opposites. The physical perfection of the Olympic model was reflected in art as the symmetry of Kouros, with a transcendent and spiritual dimension, idealizing the human body. The Olympic athlete reflects harmony and symmetry, the most complete form of the perfect citizen, the concept of moral beauty, as it is defined by Plato and Aristotle. But sport that is provided by the school in Greece today, instead of being an integral part of mainstream education, as it was in antiquity, represents a compressed and therefore inadequate education tool. Sport in Greek schools operates within an oppressive organization framework that is basically imposed because of competition. As a result, the final aim of sports “education” is to teach discipline and physical efficiency with the view to ultimately promoting an organized performance industry. But this obsession, about wanting to be first, in addition to being a source of personal stress, only achieves is to develop the student's personality with competition as the prevailing principle. Moreover, this pursuit of personal affirmation through sports ranking depreciates personal value and the individual as a whole, whilst breeding insecurity and the need for personal recognition through unsafe means. What's more important, instead of being the best tool for bearing social life and reducing egocentric subjectivity, it inflates egocentrism and creates human beings susceptible to individualism. In this way, a type of “one-dimensional man” is cultivated, which Marcuse describes as the most dangerous of all because it destroys society's cohesion by deconstructing man's perception of coexistence.
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“Body Culture” As A Spiritual Echo Of Olympia

“Body culture”, is a term of art in modern Western Europe. It owes its philosophical content, however, to ancient Greece and especially to Olympia. To appreciate its significance, one must appreciate the multidimensional role of the Olympic Games during the period of the establishment of the Games of Olympia as a social institution. Its development is strengthened mainly by two factors: the first factor is of an urban and political character as it coincides with the process of creation of the city-state; the second is of a religious and social character as it coincides with the completion of the Olympic pantheon (Finley & Pleket, 1976).

Olympia, an important Doric center of worship of the time, turned out to be a place for creative cooperation and synthesis, with its mixture of cultural elements and peoples that developed its first characteristics as a nation. In fact, ancient Olympia sent forth, on the occasion of the Olympic Games, the whole spiritual atmosphere that prevailed in Greece in antiquity, which was not a single state as it is to day but was comprised of several city-states. It was an atmosphere of energy and cultural fermentation. Philosophically, the ideology that was cultivated reflected the underlying concept with which the classical culture identified: coexistence and, indeed, the balanced coexistence of opposites.

The spiritual atmosphere of Olympia was in some respects contrary to modern day sports spectacles. It was imbued with works of art, poems, speeches, dramatic contests1, and visual creations which during the period of competition were protected by the political institution of “ekecheiria”, the sacred truce, conceived of as a “flower” that stemmed from the hardships of war (Finley & Pleket, 1976). The human being, the athlete, was at the centre of the piece; he competed in the nude as a proof of his purity and beauty and through his victory reached the sphere of the divine. The wreath of the Olympic victory was not a personal matter but rather a genealogical and urban achievement, Pindar claims, which brought honor to his race and hometown respectively. The athlete himself was happy because due to his inherent virtue and physical constitution, he was favored by the gods (Bowra, 1971; Goggaki, 2004).

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