- Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece
In Bodily Arts, Debra Hawhee constructs an often compelling, always interesting case for the conceptual and material linkages between the ancient arts of rhetoric and athletics. In so doing, Hawhee also highlights the integral role of the musical arts to rhetorical and athletic training. Throughout the book, Hawhee weaves together close readings of multiple texts (poetry, oratory, sculpture, painting, architecture) in order to illuminate the intricate “network of overlapping practices” that connect the bodies of rhetoric, athletes, and musicians in Ancient Greece. To this reader, the central strengths of the study are methodological as well as conceptual. In terms of method, Hawhee carefully and with studied finesse integrates close readings of visual, spatial, and verbal texts and practices. In the wrong hands, this type of endeavor can easily appear as the worst kind of pastiche. Not so in this case where Hawhee manages the textual interpretation with deft expertise. Conceptually, the central premise that rhetoric was a practice that was fully embodied and, most importantly, that embodiment was not in a hierarchical relation to reason, rationality, and the mind is provocative. Hawhee argues that the relations of mind-body in Ancient Greek culture were understood as a complex interlocking system that, when trained through physical practices emphasizing rhythm, repetition, and response (to/with an encounter), resulted in the possible transformation of the very nature of the self. [End Page 197]
In the process of constructing the argument for the connections between rhetorical and athletic training and performance, Bodily Arts moves through three phases. The Introduction and first three chapters lay the theoretical groundwork for the second phase: the introduction of the concept of phusiopoieses in Chapter 4. Chapters 5–7 then discuss the actual rhetorical and athletic spaces, practices, and bodies of and in phusiopoiesis.
The introduction opens with description of a first-century BC bronze statue of an “Antikythera Youth” (3). Hawhee uses the mystery surrounding the identity of the figure (deciphered largely through interpretations of the actions implied by the stature of the statue) to articulate the connections between the body of the rhetor and the body of the athlete as well as to introduce the importance of the body to Greek values of hexis (comportment) and aretē (virtuosity). The Introduction also presents three critical relations that serve both as conceptual departure points as well as hail the multiple audiences of the book: relations of body and mind, learning and performing, and classical studies and rhetorical studies. Hawhee’s perspective is quite straightforwardly that rhetoric is an art that required physical training and physical performance.
Chapter 1, “Contesting Virtuosity: Agonism and the Production of Aretē ,” connects the values of agon and aretē and argues that the “very logic for linking rhetoric and athletics” lies at the heart of this relation (22). Hawhee argues that agon and aretē are less about ends (victory and virtue) and more centrally concerned with embodied processes. Agon , through Hawhee’s reading of Hesiod’s Work and Days , is articulated as a mode of encounter that produces a particular, and possibly transformative, response. Aretē is the bodily performance of virtuosity. Central to this performance, according to Hawhee’s interpretation of the Olympic ethos through Pindar’s poetry, is the activity of questing. Aretē is demonstrated rather than simply won or attained. Following these definitions of agon and aretē , the chapter moves to illustrating the shared language of rhetoric and athletics in terms of these values. Hawhee argues that this shared vocabulary confirms that sophistic rhetoric was understood and practiced as an embodied and agonistic art “fused and infused” with athletics (43).
In Chapter 2, “Sophistic Mētis : An Intelligence of the Body,” Hawhee describes mētis as cunning and somatic becoming that “infuses the arts of rhetoric and athletics with a kind of bodily intelligence . . . not an explicit set of precepts but rather a tacit style of movement running through most kinds of actions, including thought” (47). Moreover, the movement of mētis [End Page 198] is corporeal. It...