Ages of Athletes: Generational Decline in Philostratus’ Gymnasticus and Archaic Greek Poetry
The immediate impression one receives from this introductory historical sketch is one of progressive decline, from mythic heroes such as Herakles to the present era, where the athletes themselves have become a metaphorical burden. Of course, one can easily understand the rhetorical function of this pessimistic historical perspective. The ill condition of present day athletes provides the very raison d’être for the Gymnasticus. And yet, the Gymnasticus is not a training manual per se, and Philostratus makes no claims that he himself can improve the condition of athletes. Instead, he refers his readers to other training manuals, hupomnêmata, for such information.  In addition, another strange feature of this history is that it is not an indictment of athletes, but of actual athletic training that has produced these athletes. As the text states, old athletic training “produced,” epoiei, athletes of the past, and it is athletic training of the present, which “has harmed,” metabeblêken, athletes.  In other words, this is not just a history of physical decline, but a history of the decline of athletic training itself.