Eris on an Attic plate, ca. 575-525 BC

In class today, I mention that the golden apple thrown among the goddesses at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis was inscribed with a single word:¬†kallistei (????????) or “for the fairest”. Kalos represents a very complex idea in Greek thought, but one that we might render as “sexy nobility”. (or maybe “noble sexiness”… “noblexiness”?) Over lunch I happened to be re-reading what is considered by most to be the greatest piece of short-form sports writing since Pindar, Mark Kram’s account of the third bout between Ali and Joe Frazier, the a.k.a the Thrilla in Manila. In light of today’s class, this paragraph had special force:

“Ali’s version of death began about 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 1 in Manila. Up to then his attitude had been almost frivolous. He would simply not accept Joe Frazier as a man or as a fighter, despite the bitter lesson Frazier had given him in their first savage meeting. Esthetics govern all of Ali’s actions and conclusions; the way a man looks, the way he moves is what interests Ali. By Ali’s standards, Frazier was not pretty as a man and without semblance of style as a fighter. Frazier was an affront to beauty, to Ali’s own beauty as well as to his precious concept of how a good fighter should move. Ali did not hate Frazier, but he viewed him with the contempt of a man who cannot bear anything short of physical and professional perfection.”

Ali, who turns 70 today, understood the kalos.

Muhammad Ali versus Sonny Liston [1965. Photographer: Donald L. Robinson