Play/Games

As for the training of the body– we spoke of it as the dancing of creatures at play–when the process culminates in goodness of body, let us call scientific bodily discipline with that purpose gymnastics.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 2, 673a


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It is an admitted principle that gymnastic exercises should be employed in education, and that for children they should be of a lighter kind, avoiding severe diet or painful toil, lest the growth of the body be impaired. The evil of excessive training in early years is strikingly proved by the example of the Olympic victors; for not more than two or three of them have gained a prize both as boys and as men; their early training and severe gymnastic exercises exhausted their constitutions. When boyhood is over, three years should be spent in other studies; the period of life which follows may then be devoted to exercise and strict diet. Men ought not to labor at the same time with their minds and with their bodies; for the two kinds of labor are opposed to one another; the labor of the body impedes the mind, and the labor of the mind the body.
— Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 8, 1338b–1339a


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So this, it seems, would not be the whirling of a shell in the children's game, but a conversion and turning about of the soul from a day whose light is darkness to the veritable day– the ascension to reality of our parable which we will affirm to be true philosophy.
— Plato, Republic, Bk. 7, 521c


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The move-ment of animals may be compared with those of automatic puppets, which are set going on the occasion of a tiny movement (the strings are released, and the pegs strike against one another); or with the toy wagon (for the child mounts on it and moves it straight forward, and yet it is moved in a circle owing to its wheels being of unequal diameter—the smaller acts like a center on the same principles as the cylinders).
— Aristotle, Movement of Animals, 701b


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Well, the point would be more readily understood by my own countrymen, thanks to the undue devotion of some of them to sport. Among us, in fact, children, and some who are no longer children, too, are in the habit of rearing young birds for the purpose of cockfighting. Now they are very far from thinking that the performances in which they train these animals by pitting them against one another adequate discipline for such creatures. Over and above all this, everyone keeps birds somewhere on his person–the smaller ones in the hand, the bigger within his cloak, under the elbow–and takes walks of many furlongs, with an eye not to his own physique but to that of his beasties–a practice which at least indicates to the intelligent observer that all bodies are beneficially braced by every sort of shaking and stirring, whether due to their own movements, to the oscillations of a conveyance or a boat, the trot of a horse, or however the motion of the body may be caused.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 7, 789b–789d


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Then, as we were saying in the beginning, our youth must join in the more law-abiding play, since, if play grows lawless and the children likewise, it is impossible that they should grow up to be men of serious temper and lawful spirit.

Of course, he said.

And so we may reason that when children in their earliest play are imbued with the spirit of law and order through their music, the opposite of the former supposition happens–this spirit waits upon them in all things and fosters their growth, and restores and sets up again whatever was overthrown in the other type of state.
— Plato, Republic, Bk. 4, 424e–425a


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Do not, then, my friend, keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play. That will also better enable you to discern the natural capacities of each.
— Plato, Republic, Bk. 7, 536e–537a


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And now we have to determine the question which has been already raised, whether children should be themselves taught to sing and play or not. Clearly there is a considerable difference made in the character by the actual practice of the art. It is difficult, if not impossible, for those who do not perform to be good judges of the performance of others. Besides, children should have something to do, and the rattle of Archytas, which people give to their children in order to amuse them and prevent them from breaking anything in the house, was a capital invention, for a young thing cannot be quiet. The rattle is a toy suited to the infant mind, and education is a rattle or toy for children of a larger growth. We conclude then that they should be taught music in such a way as to become not only critics but performers.
— Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 8, 1340b

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Well, I proceed at once to say that he who is good at anything as a man must practice that thing from early childhood, in play as well as earnest, with all the attendant circumstances of the action. Thus, if a boy is to be a good farmer, or again, a good builder, he should play, in the one case at building toy houses, in the other at farming, and both should be provided by their tutors with miniature tools on the pattern of real ones. In particular, all necessary preliminary instruction should be acquired in this way. Thus, the carpenter should be taught by his play to use the rule and the plumb line, and the soldier to sit a horse, and the like. We should seek to use games as a means of directing children's tastes and inclinations toward the station they are themselves to fill when adult. So we may say, in fact, the sum and substance of education is the right training which effectually leads the soul of the child at play on to the love of the calling in which he will have to be perfect, after its kind, when he is a man. But, as I said, you must consider whether what has been said has your approval so far.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 1, 643b–643d


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Why, as to this matter of children's games, I maintain that our communities are sunk in a universal ignorance; it is not seen that they have a decisive influence on the permanence or impermanence of a legislation once enacted. Where there is prescription on this point, where it is ensured that the same children shall always play the same games in one and the same way, and get their pleasure from the same playthings, the regulations in more serious matters too are free to remain undisturbed, but where there is change and innovation in the former, incessant variation of all sorts and perpetual fluctuation in the children's tastes: where they have no fixed and settled standard of what is pretty or the reverse in their own bearing and movements, or in the pattern of their toys where the inventor and introducer of an innovation in pattern, color or the like is always held in particular esteem–how truly may we say society can suffer from no worse pest. Such a man is constantly changing the young folks' character behind your back; he teaches them to despise the old-fashioned and worship novelty. Once more I say, there can be no graver danger to society than such language and such notions. Pray let me explain how serious this evil is.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 7, 797a–797c


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They all suppose, as we were saying, that innovation in children's play is itself a piece of play and nothing more, not, as it is in fact, a source of most serious and grievous harm; hence they make no attempt to avert such changes, but compliantly fall in with them. They never reflect that these boys who introduce innovations into their games must inevitably grow to be men of a different stamp from the boys of an earlier time, that the change in themselves leads to the quest for a different manner of life, and this to a craving for different institutions and laws, and thus none of them is apprehensive of the imminent consequence, of which we just spoke as the worst misfortune for a community. A change in other respects, in mere external forms, would, of course, do less mischief, but frequent modifications of moral approbation and disapprobation are of all changes the gravest and need to be anxiously guarded against.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 7, 798b–798d

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And so our young folk are eager to dance and sing themselves, while, as for us elders, we think it the becoming thing to pass the time by looking on at them and enjoying their play and merriment. We miss the agility which is beginning to fail us at our years, and so we are glad to arrange competitions for performers who can reawaken the youthfulness in us by reminiscence.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 2, 657d


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And the tolerance of democracy, its superiority to all our meticulous requirements, its disdain for our solemn pronouncements made when we were founding our city, that except in the case of transcendent natural gifts no one could ever become a good man unless from childhood his play and all of his pursuits were concerned with things fair and good.
— Plato, Republic, Bk. 8, 558a–558c


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Oceanos: Yes, I see,
Prometheus, and I want, indeed I do,
to advise you for the best, for all your cleverness.
Know yourself and reform your ways to new ways,
for new is he that rules among the Gods.
But if you throw about such angry words,
words that are whetted swords, soon Zeus will hear you,
even though his seat in glory is far removed,
and then your present multitude of pains
will seem like child’s play.
— Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, 310–320

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Boy: There’s something, Father, for which I pine:
Would you grant a request of mine?
Chorus: Certainly, child, tell me what’s the pretty ting
That you’d like for me to bring.
Knucklebones is it, eh my laddie?
Boy: No knucklebones; figs, please, Daddy.
Chorus: No figs; be hanged, say I.
From my paltry pay I have to try
Flour, wood, and groceries to buy.
Figs indeed—up in the sky!
— Aristophanes, Wasps, p. 152

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The children, placing purple reins upon you, goat
And a noseband about your shaggy mouth,
Train you in horse racing around the god's temple
To make you carry them gently for your pleasure.
— Hellenistic epigram by Anyte


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Why, when he was still a tyke this high, he could make clay houses at home, and carve boats, and fashion figwood carts, and he'd make frogs out of pomegranates as pretty as you please.
— Aristophanes, Clouds, 878–881


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