Naked Virtue: Ancient Athletic Nudity and the Olympic Ethos of Aretē’

Georgios Mouratidis, Heather Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observed from a historical perspective that includes the ancient Games, doping is a relatively recent phenomenon that became increasingly widespread in sport after the 19thcentury and the beginning of modern Olympic Games. The “spirit of sport” that WADA was formed to preserve, however, can be identified in ancient Olympic ethos of aretē. In this paper, we explore the enduring relevance of WADA’s mission by interrogating the close connection between victory and virtue in the ancient Olympic Games, as symbolized by the phenomenon of athletic nudity. Harnessing evidence from history, epigraphy, literature, and art, we show that the whole concept of athletic victory was founded upon an ethos characterized by respect for ideals, public demonstration, individual effort, and civic responsibility. Ancient athletes who sought external assistance or tried to buy victory were punished and derided—even when their victories were legitimate. It was virtue (aretē) that rendered victory valuable, not just to the athlete, but more importantly to the community. The athlete’s nudity symbolized his agency—the idea that he was the primary cause of his performance and therefore worthy of the glory accorded to victors. The conceptual connection between victory and virtue is fundamental to the spirit of Olympic Sport and demands protection from organizations like WADA
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-55
Number of pages24
JournalOlympika. The International Journal of Olympic Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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