Latest Issue of the American Journal of Play Explores Play in the Ancient World

The Strong News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 • 585-263-2700 •

August 22, 2017

For Immediate Release

Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Noelle McElrath-Hart, 585-410-6325,

Modern Governments Could Take Lessons
from the Ancients on the Importance of Play

According to Special Themed Issue of the
American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, NY—How did the Ancient Greeks and Romans play? The latest issue of The Strong’s American Journal of Play provides an in-depth look at play in the ancient world and examines play in theater and comic literature, in philosophy and social wit, and the ways in which jokes, sports, games and spectacles, leisure pursuits, and laughter reveal ancient sensibilities. The special themed issue includes two interviews—one with Simon Goldhill, professor in Greek Literature and Culture at King’s College Cambridge and another with Garrett Fagan (1963–2017), former professor of Ancient History at Pennsylvania State University.

Goldhill argues that ancient playfulness can help us to better understand modern playfulness. He notes that the ancients extensively discussed why play and playfulness are “crucial and integral parts of relaxation that make life bearable.” He says that modern governments could learn from their ancient counterparts about the important role of play in society. The ancient Greeks valued play for all ages, and Goldhill says, “Play for adults was crucial: the positive effects included social harmony, relaxation from the pressures of life, pleasure, and social bonding.”

Fagan notes that the Romans played differently—and at times more violently—than people do today. For some, especially the “upper classes,” they found enjoyment in lavish and lewd dinner parties, gladiatorial combat and chariot races, and gambling and games. Despite the differences, he notes some similarities. He writes, “Modern thinkers, child psychologists, and anthropologists among them, consider play in childhood, especially pretending and mimesis, critical to proper development. Through play, children learn the rudiments of cooperation and identification. The Romans knew this. . . It does appear that in some respects the Romans would have endorsed modern views of the benefits of play.” (He does note that the Romans would have been less enamored with the modern push for more nonviolent and less rough play, especially among boys.)

Additional articles in Vol. 9, No. 3 of the American Journal of Play include:


“A Gag at the Bottom of a Bowl? Perceptions of Playfulness in Archaic and Classical Greece,” by Thomas Banchich (guest editor of the issue), professor and chair of the Classics Department at Canisius College in New York. The author examines the inscriptions and images on several ancient Greek vases to consider how social context, the meanings of play-related words, and particular features of the Greek language contributed to the ability to signal and perceive playfulness.

 “Archaeology and Developmental Psychology: A Brief Survey of Ancient Athenian Toys,” by Maria Sommer, doctoral student at the Institute for Archeology and Ancient Culture at Stockholm University in Sweden, and Dion Sommer, professor in the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Aarhus University in Denmark. The authors examine Athenian toys to explore how the people of ancient Athens viewed children, toys, and play. Through archaeological, linguistic, and literary evidence, they find ways to offer an ecology of play that fits both modern and ancient societies.

 “Play in and around the Ancient Novel,” by Stephen E. Kidd, professor in the Classics Department at Brown University. The author explores how the episodic structuring of ancient novels gives rise to the impression that they are not a serious genre, such as tragedy. He argues, however, that the episodic plots of these novels imply a kind of spontaneous playfulness not bound to causality, and by appreciating the aesthetic effect of these episodic structures we learn much about the nature of seriousness and play.

The complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be accessed freely online at Printed editions are also available for subscription and single copy purchase.

About the American Journal of Play
The American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year by The Strong museum in Rochester, New York, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.