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Xenophanes – Strength versus expertise

March 7, 2015

If a man were to win a victory by speed of foot
      or by performing the pentathlon, there where Zeus’s precinct is
beside Pisa’s stream at Olympia, or by wrestling
      or by sustaining boxing’s painful bouts
or that terrible contest that they call the pankration,
      he would, in that case, be more glorious for his townsmen to gaze upon,
and he would win the right to sit in the front row in full view at assemblies,
      and he would be given meals at public expense
by the city, and a gift that would be for him as an heirloom –
      even if he won in the chariot race, all these things would fall to his lot,
though he would not be my equal in worth; for superior to the strength
      of men and of horses is the expertise that I lay claim to.
But thought on this point is very haphazard, and it is not right
      to give preference to strength over serviceable expertise.
For neither if the people should have a good boxer among them,
      nor a man good at the pentathlon or at wrestling,
nor yet again in speed of foot, which is most honored
      of all the deeds of strength which men perform in contests,
not for that reason would the city be any better governed.
      Small is the joy that a city would get from such a man
if he should be victorious in the games beside the banks of Pisa,
      for not in this way are the city’s storehouses fattened.

(Fragment 2 [c. 540 BCE], translated by Andrew M. Miller, in Greek Lyric: Anthology in Translation)


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