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p584 Gymnopaedia

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p584 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

GYMNOPAE′DIA (γυμνοπαιδία), the festival of "naked youths," was celebrated at Sparta every year in honour of Apollo Pythaeus, Artemis and Leto. The statues of these deities stood in a part of the Agora called χορός, and it was around these statues that, at the gymnopaedia, Spartan youths performed their choruses and dances in honour of Apollo (Paus. III.11 § 7). The festival lasted for several, perhaps for ten, days, and on the last day men also performed choruses and dances in the theatre; and during these gymnastic exhibitions they sang the songs of Thaletas and Alcman, and the paeans of Dionysodotus. The leader of the chorus (προστάτης or χοροποιός) wore a kind of chaplet, called στέφανοι θυρεατικοί, in commemoration of the victory of the Spartans at Thyrea. This event seems to have been closely connected with the gymnopaedia, for those Spartans who had fallen on that occasion were always praised in song at this festival (Athen. XV p678; Plut. Agesil. 29; Xen. Hellen. VI.4 § 16; Hesych. Suid. Etym. Mag. and Timaeus, Glossary. s.v. Γυμνοπαιδία). The boys in their dances performed such rhythmical movements as resembled the exercises of the palaestra and the pancration, and also imitated the wild gestures of the worship of Dionysus (Athen. XIV p631). Müller (Hist. of Gr. Lit. vol. I p161) supposes, with great probability, that the dances of the gymnopaedia partly consisted of mimic representations, as the establishment of the dances and musical entertainments at this festival was ascribed to the musicians, at the head of whom was Thaletas (Plut. de Mus. c9). The whole season of the gymnopaedia, during which Sparta was visited by great numbers of strangers, was one of great merriment and rejoicings (Xen. Memor. I.2 § 61; Plut. Agesil. 29; Pollux, IV.14.104), and old bachelors alone seem to have been excluded from the festivities (Osann, de Coelibum apud Veteres Populos Conditione Commentat. p7, &c.). The introduction of the gymnopaedia, which subsequently became of such importance as an institution for gymnastic and orchestic performances, and for the cultivation of the poetic and musical arts at Sparta, is generally assigned to the year 665 B.C. (compare Meursius, Orchestra, p12, &c.; Creuzer, Commentat. Herod. I p230; Müller, Dor. vol. II p350, &c.).


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Page updated: 30 Jun 13