Amy DeBaillie
Jill Gunkel
Sreeju Kartha

Classical Mythology--Prof. Sienkewicz
March 4, 1999

Chapter 5: Gifts and Glories
by Donald G. Kyle

One of the most distinctive features of Greek Athletics was prize giving. The prizes that the Greeks gave included wreaths, money, women and oil. For the ancient Greeks athletics and prize giving went hand and hand. In fact, the word athletics is derived from athla (prizes) and athlothetai (prize-givers).

Prizes were not just for anyone; they were won by struggle through "proofs of prowess, symbols of superiority and tokens of triumph." Donald Kyle defines an athletic prize as "as an object (or creature) of material and/or symbolic worth put up at the site of a contest (agon or athlos) and awarded to a victor for outstanding physical performance."

In ancient Greece prize giving was important because prizes and rewards were given as gifts instead of wages. Prize giving was not only public and honorific, but also communicative and competitive. Return giving was expected because prizes implied status and obligation. Emphasis was placed on winners, as well as, donors (of prizes). "Donors voluntarily gave gifts to the community and in return gained recognition of their status in the social hierarchy."

Various athletic events, such as the Panhellenic (Greek) and Panathenaic (Athenian) games, offered a variety of prizes to the winners. These included artistically significant local prizes like Panathenaic amphoras filled with olive oil and the most renowned of Greek prizes, wreathes. Other prizes included: tripods, horses, cauldrons, mules and "the powerful heads of cattle and fair-girdled women and grey iron." Prizes of particular importance were self-declaratory prizes, which are adapted or designed objects that clarify their nature and origin via images and inscriptions. These prizes are of particular importance to Panathenaic games.

The Great Panathenaia was formed in 556 in Athens. The earliest known Panathenaic prize, the Burgon amphora of ca. 560, bears one of the most popular images of the time, Athena. On the front panel, the Goddess is presented between Doric columns supporting cocks, and the reverse shows some athletic activity. "The vase compounds several aspects of Athena: the sacred oil recalls her contest against Poseidon; the vase recalls Athena as a goddess of crafts (Ergane); her warlike appearance shows her as a protectress (Pallas or Promachos); the columns may refer to some temple; the cocks may suggest Athena as a bird goddess; the inscription suggests Athena Polias; and the athletic scenes recall Athena as Nike or Hippia. Indeed could there be a more effective combination of images to glorify the goddess of the polis and its games?" Athena is also important in prize giving, because the prize olive oil was seen as the gift of Athena. On some vases references are made to the cult of Athena as a martial goddess. The multiple depictions of Athena on Greek prizes demonstrate the significance of her stature in their culture, particularly in athletics.

As can be seen the history of athletics, sports with prizes, tends to leave behind evidence of ancient societies’ involvement in competitions, and Athena’s importance in prize giving. In the case of athletics, women in general were important only because they were potential prizes. However, Athena elevates the image of the woman in Greek mythology, particularly with regard to gifts and glory in athletics.