As conscious beings, rarely are we conscious of the world around us. We take for granted the reality in which we find ourselves, forgetting to be curious about nature, neglecting the most beautiful of objects, whether they be in nature or even at home. Everything has a beauty to it—the trees, the endless blue sky, even your bed! When we were young, we were fascinated by the simplest of things, but now in our complex lives, which are full of distractions and technology, we fail to see the sublimity of the life around us. Similarly, were we to find out we had a day to live, we would experience everything as best as we could, to say our goodbyes to the world and to our loved ones. Therefore, every morning, when you wake up, go outside and pretend as though you were seeing everything for either the first or last time. Wonder makes life worth living.
Ancient Greece is remembered for many things, among them philosophy, science, architecture, and drama. Rich in culture and diversity, the Greek city-states were the perfect place for new innovations and achievements. In addition to the intellectual climate, the Greeks were famous for their athletics as well. In Ancient Greece, the athlete received just as much honor as the intellectual, and thus the mental and the physical flourished together. Of the athletic achievements in Greece, the most notable are the Olympics. The Games saw the coming together of the city-states in a collective embrace of the athlete and his feats. And outside of the Olympics, the Greeks continued their love for sport.
The first Olympics, it is said, were held in 776 BCE, its purpose not athletic but religious. When the Olympics were first conceived, the Greeks intended for it to be a religious ceremony, a way for them to honor Zeus. Introducing athletics into the Olympics was a way of pleasing the Gods, as the performance, they hoped, would entertain the gods. However, the ceremony was not wholly religious in that the Greeks did it also to celebrate their humanism, specifically that of which the body was capable. Athletic achievement was one of the highest honors; it showed to what discipline and dedication could lead, and it inspired others by example. Originally, the competitions extended only to foot races and wrestling. Only later were horse and chariot racing, boxing, and javelin added. The popularity of the Games grew thereafter, and in 582 BCE Delphi initiated the Pythian Games; a year later, Corinth hosted the Isthmian Games; and in 573 BCE, Nemea had their own Olympic Games. Popular legend says the marathon is derived from the historical battle of the same name. The historian Herodotus recorded that the Greeks “sent off to Sparta a herald, one Pheidippides, who was by birth an Athenian, and by profession and practice a trained runner…. The Athenians… established in his honour yearly sacrifices and a torch-race.” Pheidippides gave word to Sparta that Athens had defeated a massive Persian army, running 26 miles, it is said, in a day, which led to the creation of the modern-day marathon. In 394, the Olympic Games were outlawed by Theodosius.
The standard performance was the Pentathlon, a five-event competition consisting of the broad jump, discus, javelin, wrestling, and 200-yard dash. Jumpers would begin at a stand still, dumbbells in hand, and leap; discus throwers used 12lb-weights; wrestlers were graded by referees based on takedowns and form; and the dash was called the stadion (σταδιον), since it was the length of a stadium. Running in Ancient Greece was comparably tantamount to today, with up to three events: the diaulos (διαυλος), a single lap around a stadium; the dolichos (δολιχος), 12 laps around a stadium; and the armor race, which was adapted from military training, and was a race in which the competitors sprinted with a full suit of armor on. Evidence of marble sprinting blocks can be found in stadiums, dilapidated, worn-down, from repeated usage. Boxing was a popular sport, more so than today, and attracted large audiences. Hide gloves that extended to the elbows were worn by boxers, and hits were restricted to the head alone. There were no rounds; the winner was determined by whoever surrendered first. Unlike modern boxing, the Greeks did not compete based on weight classes, so the competition devolved from a sport of skill to a sport of pure brawn and muscle. A hippodrome, built specifically for horse-racing, was constructed for the Olympics, the arena wide enough for 10 four-horse chariots to race at once, everyone scrambling around the 23 turns that awaited them at every corner. To the enjoyment of the crowd, this affair would usually end with one racer making it to the finish line successfully—the others, due both to the lack of space and tight corners, all wiping out. Like today, this event caught the attention of rich bidders, who would bet on horses; if their bet paid off, they—not the racer—got the horse. More popular than all the other events combined was the pankration (παγκρατιον), which translates to “all-strength.” This event was a mix of boxing and wrestling. The only rules were no stomping and no finger-breaking. Gory tales of famous pankratiasts survive, some accounts telling of one who killed his opponent by ripping out his innards. Women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games, so they got their own version: the Heraea, which had but one event, which was running.
Today, athletes have four years to train for the Olympics, whereas the Greeks had 10-months of training. Athletes trained in gymnasiums (γυμνασιον) or xystos (ξυστος), a type of colonnade. Wrestlers had their own training grounds called palæstra (παλαιστρα). Runners, on the other hand, trained outside. “They [athletes] also set the example of contending naked, publicly stripping and anointing themselves with oil in their gymnastic exercises. Formerly, even in the Olympic contests, the athletes who contended wore belts across their middles,” wrote Thucydides . A shocking fact to some, the Greeks competed naked, covering themselves in olive oil to prevent themselves from getting dirtied from the mud, as well as to make themselves more mobile and slippery. Married women were not allowed to spectate during the games, but girls were allowed to because then they could find future husbands. Every city-state came to a truce during the Games, even if they were in the middle of the war, because everyone looked forward to the games, which occurred every four years, like today. The city-states even had separate games for younger athletes, those who were not yet matured. Olympia and Pythia had a boys division, and Nemea and Isthmia had an intermediate (ageneioi, αγενειοι) competition. So competitive were the Greeks that they had only first place prizes; there was no second or third, nor was there a team prize; the individual athlete had his time to shine in the Olympics—it was, after all, a celebration of the body and human excellence. The Greek roots athlon-, meaning prize, and agon-, meaning game, from which comes agony and antagonist, all embodied suffering. The agonistic games were not meant for fun for the athletes; rather, they were vigorous, challenging tests that put them to their limits, forcing them to endure more. Each Game, it is estimated 40-50,000 spectators came from around Greece, and each athlete was announced by their name, followed by their home city.
Upon winning an event, the victor would be crowned. The Olympia gave out olive wreaths, Pythia laurel, and Isthmia and Nemea parsley. Those who won were awarded lavishly. Plutarch said Solon had a handsome reward for those who got first: “[T]he victor in the Isthmian games was to have for reward an hundred drachmas; the conqueror in the Olympian, five hundred.” During the winner’s celebration they were showered in leaves (phyllobolia, φυλλοβολια), given free food for a lifetime by their home polis (sitesis, συτησις), awarded with all kinds of gifts, promised free seats at future Games (prohedria, προεδρια), praised by poets, made into sculptures, and bestowed the honor of having their name engraved into the corridors which led to the arena. The Persians, when they witnessed the Olympic Games, purportedly remarked that the Greeks were “men who contend with one another, not for money, but for honour!” It was strange to them, that these people would commit themselves to such arduous training, to fight their brethren for their namesake, and not out of anticipation of compensation. But according to Homer, “there is no greater glory that can befall a man than what he achieves by speed of his feet or strength of his hands.” Those who lost at the Olympics, understandably, fell victim to depression and carried with them tremendous shame, a stigma which stuck with them through life.
During childhood, children would play in ball rooms (sphairisteria, σφαιριστερια), where they would play, you might guess, ball. It is thought that they played a version of wall ball, in which they would bounce a ball, either on the wall or on the ground, catch it, then throw it back. Evidence also shows that they might have had their own version of lacrosse. With sticks with nets at the end, they would play on two teams, each trying to get the ball past the other. Youths had trainers of their own, paidotribai (παιδοτριβαι) and gymnastai (γυμνασται), who respectively were the equivalent of wrestling coaches and physical educators. Some other games they played were khytrinda, a variation of monkey-in-the-middle and tag; posinda, a guessing game; and drapinda, which was like duck-duck-goose, where the objective was to catch the other children, who pretended to be “runaway slaves.”
Amidst the philosophical contemplation, political strife, and cultural growth, the Ancient Greeks found the time to enjoy their four-yearly Olympic Games that united all the city-states, reminding them of the common joy they shared for athletic competitiveness and glory. Victory odes from poets are plenteous and tell of the greatest athletes, all of whom trained hard, fought hard, and won hard. Sometimes we forget how similar we are to the Ancients, who once you think about them, are not so far of from us as we think: We share the same love of athletics and the same appreciation for the wonders the body can do when put to the test.
 Herodotus, The Histories, VI.105
 Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, I.6
 Plutarch, Twelve Lives, p. 99
 Herodotus, op. cit., VIII.26
 Homer, The Odyssey, VIII.145
For further reading: Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History 2nd ed. by Sarah B. Pomeroy (2008)
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower (1998)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 2: The Life of Greece by Will Durant (1966)
Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture Vol. 1 by Werner Jaeger (1945)
The Story of Man: Greece and Rome by Paul MacKendrick (1977)
The Western Experience 6th ed. by Mortimer Chambers (1995)
The Founders of the Western World by Michael Grant (1991)
The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (1990)
The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox (2006)
The Histories by Herodotus (1990)
Twelve Lives by Plutarch (1950)
The Odyssey by Homer (1990)
The Illiad by Homer (1990)
Pierre Hadot was born in Reims, France on February 21, 1922, to a Catholic family. Raised in a Catholic household, Hadot would be influenced in his views later in life by such beliefs, although he soon renounced his religious beliefs, finding them incompatible with his life. His experience with Catholicism, however, would not be completely over, as it would play a bigger role when he began studying mysticism. When studying at college, Hadot befriended the eminent Aquinas scholar Jacques Maritain, who was prolific in his works. Thomism is a combination of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism, and through working with Maritain, Hadot developed a fascination with ancient and medieval philosophy and mysticism. It was around this time in Hadot’s life that he began questioning his faith. He got started in Biblical criticism, asking himself whether Catholicism was viable as a way of life and whether ancient manuscripts could still be understood in the modern age.
From 1942-6, Hadot claimed he went through a “metaphysical phase,” in which he turned his attention to religious mysticism, specifically the Gnosticism of Plotinus, a post-Platonic philosopher who had a considerable influence on Christianity. Hadot went to the Sorbonne for two years, from 1946-7, where he found Existentialism, Marxism, and Bergsonism, each of which would have a profound effect on his thinking. Some important lessons Hadot learned from his times there were praxis, perception, and experience, respectively. It was important to Hadot that philosophy be centered around action, and that we pay attention to how we perceive the world, how we experience it individually. In the same year, Hadot collaborated with Paul Henry on a translation and commentary of a work by the Neoplatonist Marius Victorinus, a thitherto untranslated author, earning him acclaim in the intellectual world. Hadot had the honor of writing the commentary by himself, which sparked his love for philology—the study of ancient texts—and the works of ancient philosophers. Just as with the Bible, Hadot wondered whether old texts could be used in daily life.
Hadot’s early writings took place between the period of 1957-68. He read Heidegger and Wittgenstein in the late 1950’s, and the latter again in 1960; he was particularly
influenced by Wittgenstein’sTractatus, a favorite quote of his being, “There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.” Hadot was the first author to introduce Wittgenstein to French audiences. It was in 1957 that Hadot got into Plotinian philosophy, and his first book came out six years later, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision, at the urging of his colleagues. From there, he continued writing commentaries on Plato and Plotinus before switching to Hellenistic philosophy. He moved away from Plato, focusing instead on Stoicism and Epicureanism—two schools that offered a practical way of life, he felt. Hadot received his diploma from the École Pratique de Hautes Études (The Practical School of Higher Studies) in 1961. The same year, he was elected to the Fifth Section: Religious Sciences; three years later, he became the director thereof. Then, in 1982, Hadot was awarded the prestigious position of chair of History of Hellenistic and Roman Thought at the Collège de France; he got this position without going to the École Normale Supérieure, to which most professors are expected to go before getting such a title.
Hadot did not like the way philosophy was taught in school. Too much time and effort was wasted on the theoretical and the abstract, rather than the practical and the concrete. Dialectic and discussion were valued more than practice. The scholarly environment of schools, he thought, created a cloud of obscurity over the name of philosophy. Hadot believed in living in harmony with the world and with others, a view he adopted from his extensive studies of Stoicism. When asked about how to use spiritual exercises in our daily life, Hadot replied, “We must … use striking formulations of ideas in order to exhort ourselves. We must create habits, and fortify ourselves by preparing ourselves against hardships in advance.” This quote also expresses Hadot’s opinions on reason. According to Hadot, man should use his reason to perfect himself, to “exercise” himself, so to say. Spiritual exercises, for Hadot, were about perfecting the character and living life to its fullest.
At the age of 88, Pierre Hadot died on April 24, 2010, with 15 books to his name. His most famous works are Philosophy as a Way of Life, What is Ancient Philosophy?, The Inner Citadel, and, of course, his first book, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision. Thanks to Hadot, philosophy has been studied in a new direction, a direction of which he would be proud, which sees philosophy not as abstract reasoning, but as a manière de vivre, a way of life. Through his brilliant interpretation of ancient manuscripts, insightful commentaries on obscure authors, and fresh style of writing, Hadot reinvented the study of philosophy, making it accessible to all readers. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, was, in Hadot’s eyes, an endless quest for the truth, for the best way of living, from Socrates to Foucault. Overall, looking at Hadot’s life, it is evident philosophy was, for him, a way of life.
 Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 284
For further reading: Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot (1995)