Hawhee, Debra. Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece. Austin: U of Texas P, 2004. Print.


In this book, Hawhee is exploring the way Ancient Greeks treated the body and the mind, athletics and rhetoric, as always already bound together. She is taking a look at Ancient Greek education and athletic training to argue that athletics and rhetoric were intertwined in two ways: first, training in both areas shapes the whole self; and second, both areas employ similar pedagogical strategies. More specifically, Hawhee links the practice of athletic training with its repetition of movement and its goal of training the body to respond to opponents with rhetoric as performance, which similarly relies on a kind of embodied knowledge. This idea of training mind and body at once, and the idea that both are integral to knowledge, was looked at as shaping the whole person. In the conclusion, Hawhee argues that the contest of rhetoric is not purely intellectual but rather is a whole body performance, which encourages us to think more about the role of the body in contemporary learning environments. This book is framed with discussions of the cultural role of athletics and rhetoric, while the middle chapters explore key sites of overlap between athletics and rhetoric–specifically, metis, kairos, and the space of the gymnasium.

Key Quotes:

“[W]hen viewed in terms of education, rhetoric’s relation to athletics hinges on a kind of knowledge production that occurs on the level of the body, displacing the mind or consciousness as the primary locus of learning. Athletic training most clearly exemplifies the role of repetition and imitation in habit production, and the way in which the body takes over in agonistic situations. This is not to say that ‘mind,’ or thought, is not important, but rather that it is part of a complex–a mind-body complex–that learns and moves in response to a situation rather than through the application of abstract principles.” (9-10)

Chapter Summaries:

  1. “Contesting Virtuosity: Agonism and the Production of Arete“: This chapter contextualizes the overlap between rhetoric and athletics by looking at the cultural importance of agon (contest), which was seen as producing arete, or the virtuous person. According to Hawhee, arete is not innate but performed through displays of courage, strength, and response in the moment. What mattered most in agon was not the victory by the repetition of performance that works to produce arete. Hawhee argues that as these athletic terms get carried into rhetoric, we need to challenge our idea of rhetoric as primarily teleological.
  2. “Sophistic Metis: An Intelligence of the Body”: This chapter is focused on the concept of metis–“the mode of negotiating agonistic forces, the ability to cunningly and effectively maneuver” (47). Hawhee looks at various figures associated with metis to argues that metis is necessarily embodied, and that it is a form of embodied knowledge where knowing how to respond isn’t only in the mind but in the movements and performance of the body.
  3. “Kairotic Bodies”: This chapter is focused on kairos, a central concept for sophists, and a concept Hawhee argues is related to metis. We tend to think of kairos as “right time” or a critical opening, but Hawhee argues that it has an embodied dimension in that seizing a kairotic moment becomes an instinctual bodily movement.
  4. Phusiopoiesis: The Arts of Training”: This chapter focuses on the tenets of the athletic and rhetorical training that led to the development of metis and kairos. In Ancient Greece, training was seen as something that shifted and changed the bodily makeup of a person. Training emphasized a network of practices, readiness, provocation, pain, and erotics, and the coming together of all these emphases simulated agon. Students were trained to deal with competing forces (like eros and pain) in order to shape the shifting forces of the body.
  5. “Gymnasium I: The Space of Training”: This chapter focuses on the space of the gymnasium as a training ground and argues that the design of the space facilitated the movement of rhetorical eduction into these spaces, as well as an eventual overlap in training practices. More specifically, since gymnasiums were public spaces designed for training public citizens, these spaces appealed to sophists who were concerned with public argument.
  6. “Gymnasium II: The Bodily Rhythms of Habit”: Influenced by athletics, rhetoric developed an embodied training method that emphasized imitation. Hawhee says that this training was based on what she calls “the three Rs of sophistic pedagogy–rhythm, repetition, and response” (135).
  7. “The Visible Spoken: Rhetoric, Athletics, and the Circulation of Honor”: This chapter focuses on the festival as another important space where we see athletics and rhetoric coming together. In the space of the festival, Hawhee argues that the emphasis on visual spectacles like athletics pushed rhetoric to focus more on performance.

Additional Comments:

Hawhee’s discussion of metis and bodily cunning connects with (and could be complicated in interesting ways by) Jay Dolmage’s article on metis.