Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Sean Corner




The aim of this thesis has been to explore agonism, and the relationship of individual and collective in Classical Greece, through the lens of athletic competition at the panhellenic sanctuaries. This study moves beyond the presumed dichotomy of agon and homonoia upon which the standard view of agonism in modern scholarship has been predicated to explore the ways in which agonism functions precisely within and is structured by polis society, even as the polis must negotiate constantly between the interests of collective and individual.

The evidence of both athlete and polis commemorations of athletic victory suggests a dynamic tension between promoting the self and remaining, and identifying oneself as, a member of a community. When appropriately channeled into civic benefaction and mutual advantage, agonism enables the self-interest ofthe individual to function within and remain structured by the polis; when it is not channeled in this way, it creates conflict and stasis. Just as in the relationship of athlete and polis, so too the interaction of poleis with each other in the panhellenic sanctuary reveals a tension between the desires for self-promotion and membership in the collective. This creates for poleis an ambivalent dynamic of at once mutual striving and competitive distinction within a common landscape that brings local values, mythologies and heroes to the attention of a panheUenic audience.

Rather than equating agonism strictly with conflict or commonality then, this study appreciates agonism as a fundamental aspect of Greek life that was both a product of and productive of rivalry and emulation at the level of athlete and polis, and polis and panhellenic community. The evidence of both athlete and polis monuments suggest that the realization of competition as peer rivalry and emulation allowed room for distinction as predicated on commonality and civic benefit, rather than individualism and egoism.

McMaster University Library

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Classics Commons