Generally when something comes in on the newswire and I’m blogging things, I like to wait to get more than one version of the story. Similarly, when I think I’ve ‘got it’, I tend to wait a bit to give any ideas I may have some time to percolate and, if need be, grow cold in the pot. As readers know, yesterday there was all sorts of interest in a LiveScience story in which it was claimed that a long-known statue of a nude female was actually an example of a female gladiator or a gladiatrix. The story is continuing to make the rounds of various newspapers, blogs, and is still percolating through various blogs and social media, generally with enthusiastic acceptance. Just to remind you what the image in question looks like:
As readers know (hopefully), I expressed skepticism at the claims and was all prepared to do a followup post in which I was actually going to suggest it might be an image of summer and be carrying a scythe (this was the result of a brief discussion on facebook last night with Dan Diffendale and Amy Vail). But instead of that, I was very pleased this a.m. to read that amicus noster Nigel Kennell had commented on one of our ‘Blogosphere’ mentions of the subject, and since it may have been lost in the shuffle, I reproduce it here:
The ‘gladiatrix’ is a obviously a female athlete. The idea that female athletes wore a tunic exposing only one breast comes from Pausanias’ description of the Heraia held at Olympia (5.16.2-7). There’s no reason to think that this particular dress was widespread. On the other hand, Atalanta is depicted topless but wearing trunks as she wrestles Peleus on Athenian vases (see Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics, p. 152). Also, a series of sixth-century bronze mirror handles that imitate Laconian work are in the form of topless young girls with trunks on as well. This ‘female gladiator’ story is manufactured from nothing: of course, it’s a strigil!
Nigel M. Kennell
I’ll pat myself on the back for also suggesting Atalanta in our initial coverage of the subject, but the wrestling example is even better. Here’s one example from a vase as Dr Kennell mentions:
The pale one on the right is Atalanta; it seems appropriate that someone would have a strigil session after wrestling … that’s enough comparanda for me; the ‘gladiatrix’ ain’t.