Yesteryear Athletes

the meaning of the word athlete

One of the greatest memories that I have of my father is our long conversations about ancient Greek history, mythology and philosophy. I hardly ever fully agreed with him which did not always make him happy at the time but I now know that was probably the part he enjoyed the most.

Going through his thousands of books, I found a short booklet whose pages the years have adorned with a beautiful yellowish tint. It had a title that intrigued me, The Prehistory and History of Ancient Athleticism, written in the 1960’s.

Given that it was so brief, short of 40 pages and that I still love reading in Greek, especially in the older form of the language, I opened it up right then and there.

I was not surprised to find that my father had underlined key sentences and had marked certain paragraphs with his usual blue pen. He did not just read. He became part of the book.

the meaning of the word athlete

One of the paragraphs he found of high importance was analyzing the origin of the word athlete. It turns out that athlete, still used in the modern Greek language (spelled αθλητής) had a whole different meaning in the prehistoric times, before Ancient Athens, Ancient Sparta and the official Olympic Games.

It used to mean the one who fights, who labors, who exerts themselves. And it was used in the context of the day to day activities of looking for food, for shelter and for safety.

An athlete was anyone able to fulfill the above tasks necessary for the well-being of their community.

It was not until way later, during the classical times of Ancient Greece that the word athlete lost its essence and became associated with glorified competitions, high prizes, and most importantly elite status.

I guess one of my most favorite expressions, “train as if your life depended on it”, reflects prehistoric wisdom after all.

The way we workout has to support and enhance our lifestyle.

Next time you consider skipping your workout, it may be because you are not training like a true athlete.

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