[FOUNTAIN]Sports, festivals and combatLooking back on last month, I realized the persuasiveness of the concept of “Homo ludens,” which means “playing human beings.” That is also the title of a popular book written in 1938 by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. What he emphasized in this book is the human trait of playing and cheering.
Huizinga focused on the human trait of suspending our daily lives and indulging in pleasure as among the characteristics of a festival. In other words, festivals motivate humans to concentrate fervently on a certain thing.
The beginning of the festival was religious. As a ritual ceremony, it includes the concept of praying to a deity to remove misfortune and bring about fortune; this religious meaning is a universal cultural theme of human festivals. The symbolic processes, consisting of a god’s appearance to human beings, accepting the god, contacting the god and seeing off the god, have been developing in the form of ritualized dances and songs. Hence, Huizinga said, the festival was the beginning of culture, art and civilization, and the original form of art.
Sports are also a very important festival. In the 8th century B.C., Achilles, Homer’s hero of the Iliad, held a sports festival to mark a friend’s funeral. The ancient Greeks enjoyed the Olympic games as a ritual ceremony for their god Zeus. The origin of the word “sports” was a Latin word “deportare” meaning to get rid of sorrow. Ancient sports were fervent and pleasant festivals to forget sadness.
Romans converted festivals into political propaganda and called them circuses. Roman emperors provided distractions for the masses who, if not pacified, could erupt in rebellion against their rulers. The word “Circus” was the name of the stadium where performances and sports events were held. Decimus Junius Juvenalis, the famous Roman satirical poet, laughed at the emperors’ attempt to pacify the mobs as “bread and Circus.” The performances in the stadiums were horse-drawn chariot races as seen in the film “Ben Hur,” lions hunting Christians during the religious persecutions in the film “Quo Vadis” or gladiators, the professional or slave warriors, warring in “Gladiator.” The first Roman emperor, Augustus, staged such performances 44 times during his 44-year reign.
Tuesday night, our month-long civil festival ended in a ceremony at Gwanghwamun. The festival provided us with the pleasure of forgetting the pains of our daily lives. However, we have to remember that festival’s conclusive purpose is to regenerate our minds and bodies for our daily lives.
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Byung-sang