What can the ancient Greek philosophers teach us about sports today? "Quite a lot actually", says Dan Dombrowski, professor of philosophy. His latest book, Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals (University of Chicago), brings centuries-old philosophical concepts to bear on our understanding of today’s sports culture.
The way Dombrowski sees it, athletics is not given the same attention as philosophies of religion, politics, aesthetics and science—and understandably, he says. Yet, athletics “is much more complex than most citizens (even fans), indeed most philosophers, have been willing to admit,” he says. “I argue that to say that athletics is nonserious is to speak a half-truth.”
Dombrowksi’s new book reaches back to early Greek thinkers to shed light on the sports culture of today making for nearly three decades. “I first started working on the intellectual part of this project in 1979 with an article on Plato and athletics,” he says.The biggest surprise in writing the book, he says, “was learning that Plato’s Academy (the first institution of higher learning in world history) was connected to an exercise field (a ‘gymnasion’—from which we get our word ‘gymnasium’) and a wrestling area (a ‘palaistra’). That is, the Academy resembled a modern American university more than I would have expected.”
Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals is Dombrowski’s 16th book. As with his other publications, he says this one involved “‘askesis’ (hard work or discipline) plus a great deal of intrinsic value and joy.”
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