Peter J. Miller/The Conversation
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.” This quote from Muhammad Ali summarizes his legendary wit. But it also indicates the self-confidence and attitude that characterizes so many athletes.
Since the beginning of sport media coverage on radio and television, and now with social media providing intimate access to athletes, it has been clear that boasts, attitudes and confidence are part of the athlete persona. These attitudes, however, are nothing new.
Sport as it is practiced around the globe has its origins in a partially real and partially imaginary ancient Greece. Similarly, the literary and documentary records from antiquity show that the attitudes of athletes are not a new phenomenon.
Ancient Greek athletes, however, faced a challenge unlike modern athletes. Without the internet, television, radio or any widespread means of communication, athletes had to struggle to make their success known and easily communicated to a broad public.
Songs of victory
Unlike today’s elite athletes, athletes in antiquity were far less interested in highlighting sporting prowess. Athletic boasts rarely focused on how quickly someone ran, how easily they defeated an opponent in wrestling or how far they threw the discus.
Fragments of a marble statue of the Diadoumenos (a youth tying a fillet around his head after victory in an athletic contest). (The…