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Reviewed by:
  • Sport and Culture in Early Modern Europe / Le Sport dans la Civilisation de l’Europe Pré-Moderne
  • Allen Guttmann
Mcclelland, John and Brian Merrilees, eds. Sport and Culture in Early Modern Europe / Le Sport dans la Civilisation de l’Europe Pré-Moderne. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, Victoria University in the University of Toronto, 2010. Pp. 436. Notes, bibliographies, illustrations, author backgrounds, and index nominum personarum. $37 pb.

For anyone who attempts, foolishly, to harvest the annual crop of new books on sports history, published collections of conference papers customarily present one of two problems. If the collection includes every paper given at a large conference, profoundly insightful papers rub shoulders (or margins) with examples of embarrassing ineptitude. If, on the other hand, the conference is a small one to which a select group of recognized authorities is invited by an accomplished scholar to speak on a carefully delimited topic, it often happens that the invited speakers simply repeat or summarize their previously published work.

The latter problem bedevils Sport and Culture in Early Modern Europe, a book more accurately described by the French version of its title. Many, if not most, of the contributions rehearse the contents of the very books and articles that motivated McClelland and Merrilees to invite their authors to the University of Toronto for the June 2004 conference on “Athletes and Athletics in the Early Modern Period.” A good thing, perhaps, for those of us who have not read and do not plan to read the contributors’ previously published books and articles, but an annoyance for anyone who has read them and is now expected to sift through familiar material in search of new facts or revised interpretations. Rather than attempting to summarize and evaluate all twenty-one contributions to the collection, I shall comment on those from which I, personally, gleaned the most in the way of new information and insight.

Alessandra Rizzi’s “Regulated Play at the End of the Middle Ages” surveys what “mendicant preachers in communal Italy” had to say about the role of physical exercise in Christian lives. She describes the emergence of “a more or less explicit, conscious and substantial approval for [military] training exercises and games, always with observance for the spiritual and physical well-being of the Christian” (p. 61). The noncompetitive “regulated play” sanctioned by the medieval clergy was not by strict definition sport, but I am willing to be latitudinarian about these matters.

Uriel Simri’s short article, “The Contribution of the Responsum of Rabbi Moses Provençalo to the History of the Game of Tennis,” translates and discusses the Talmudic opinions of a sixteenth-century Mantuan rabbi. Provençalo’s Responsum concludes that Jews may, under certain very limited circumstances, play tennis, but—God forbid!—not during synagogue services. As every sports historian knows, King James had similar views.

The main point of Brenda Dunn-Lardeau’s “Régime d’exercises et sexualité selon Platina pour les citoyens ordinaires (XVe siècle)” seems to be that Bartolomeo Sacchi (1421–1481), in the course of rescuing honesta voluptate from the strictures of Christian asceticism, advocated moderate exercise as an aid to digestion. [End Page 336]

The focus of Marie Madeleine Fontaine’s “L’Athlète et l’homme moyen” is purportedly on the condottiere Pietro Del Monte (1457–1509), who perfected a fitness regime inspired by but not limited to ancient example, but the essay, which I find difficult to follow, expands to comment upon the simultaneous appearance, in texts by Del Monte and his contemporaries, of the Renaissance fascination with geometrically configured movement and the modern obsession with quantified achievement. (More on this in a few moments.)

“The Rules for Playing Pall-Mall,” by Michael Flannery and the collection’s two editors, is a bilingual (French and English) edition of the eighty-three rules of the croquet-like game that were printed, presumably in Paris, c.1655. There is a valuable glossary, but there is no effort to interpret the game within the context of social history, which is a significant flaw (and one that McClelland was superbly qualified to remedy).

Treatises on hunting and falconry from the twelfth through...


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pp. 336-338
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