Imagine a roundtable showcasing modern-day savants Yogi Berra and Charles Barkley along with ancient Greek poet Bacchylides. You'll find them cheek by jowl in the Summer 2010 Lapham's Quarterly magazine, an issue devoted to sports and games. The presence of the trio within three pages provides an idea of editor Lewis H. Lapham's audacious conceit: Intellectually stimulating, visually enriching yet often whimsical, this is sport presented as high art.
What could have been dry is instead effervescent. The issue is festooned with maps ("Playing Grounds" worldwide, from earliest times to ours), charts ("Athletic Rulers," from jouster Henry VIII to hunter Sarah Palin), quotes and classic artwork (including The Football Players by Henri Rousseau, below) and photos. These elements are interspersed among meaty and wide-ranging essays and excerpts by such writers as Damon Runyon, George Plimpton, Vladimir Nabokov, Leo Tolstoy, Edward Gibbon and Chuck Palahniuk. (SI Group Editor Terry McDonell writes on Alex Rodriguez's public bumbling after this magazine revealed A-Rod's steroid use.) Many topics are timeless. Peruse Virgil's account (c. 1174 B.C.) in the Aeneid of a boxing match between brash champion Dares and the aging Entellus; tweak a few of the details and you might be reading about the 1974 Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle.
The issue could be the basis for a fun college course. But jocks, beware! As Greek orator Dion Chrysostom (c. 95 A.D.) is quoted, "I really believe that athletes have less intelligence than swine."