With Tokyo 2020 finally in full swing it’s a great time explore the ancient Greek history that inspired our modern Olympic games. Sporting festivals were very popular events in ancient Greece and although the Olympic Games are the most famous, they were not the only event that celebrated the achievements of the greatest Greek athletes. There were many other competitions where men would compete for glory and prizes, however, in Christina Balit’s brand new book The Corinthian Girl: Champion Athlete of Ancient Olympia we discover that there was one festival, the Heraean Games, where all the athletes were women.
Taking inspiration from a legend about the winner of the very first Heraean Games, Balit has created a fictional tale full of historical facts that sheds light on the place of girls and of those who were enslaved in ancient Greece and does so within an exciting sporting context.
The Corinthian Girl of the title is a child who has grown up without a name. Ten days after her birth she is abandoned by her father in a marketplace in Corinth because he has no use for a daughter. The baby is discovered and raised as a slave in the household of an athlete who notices that she is fast and agile, so he sends her to train for the Heraean Games. It is here that she finally earns a name, something that she had not been significant enough to warrant when she was a girl who was enslaved within his home.
Although the Heraean Games are not as famous as the Olympics we do know enough about them for Balit to cleverly build a story that teaches us about the games and the lives of some of the women who may have competed in them. The value of a female life in a male-dominated society is central to this story and is it fantastic to see such a different approach to communicating ancient Greek history.
Balit’s prose packs a powerful punch. She communicates a lot within the text but also manages to convey things that are upsetting and horrifying without ever being sentimental. Her illustrations are equally glorious and marry beautifully with the text. The images burst with historical details, vivid colours and are full of movement. The montage spread in which the Corinthian Girl trains for the Games is a perfect study in capturing the physicality of an athlete and she glides across the page so perfectly that you can imagine the speed at which she runs, where she will land and how far her discus will fly.
It’s a wonderful book for discussing ancient Greek society and the way in which people, particularly women and those who were enslaved, were treated and valued. It would be a brilliant addition to any classroom that is studying the period because it brings a very unusual female perspective to the subject in a way that is vibrant and engaging for all readers.
For more information about Christin Balit you can visit her website at christinabalit.com
Thank you to Otter Barry Books for sending a review copy.
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