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‘By Zeus’
Of Naked Exercises: 2
© 2022 James LaFond
MAR/3/23
II. CONCERNING GYMNASTICS1
1. As arts and sciences we shall consider on the one hand, for example, the following: philosophy, artistic speech, occupation with poetry, music, geometry, and, by Zeus, astronomy too, if it be not carried to extremes. On the other hand, however, generalship of an army is also a science, and the following besides: the entire art of healing, painting, modeling, the types of sculpture, and engraving on stone or steel. To that which, on the contrary, is called handwork, art may properly belong, of course, in so far as with it a tool or implement is correctly finished; but let science be reserved for those occupations alone which I have named. I except navigation from handwork, since it implies an understanding of constellations, winds, and occult matters. It will be evident why I have stated this.2 As for gymnastics we designate it as a science, equal in rank to any other; and accordingly it is set forth in treatises for those who wish to apply themselves to it.
[This book is so sophistic, so academic, such a marker of masculine degradation and so fitting for a man who was the conversation companion of the wealthiest woman in a rotten empire. This is like reading a history of The London Prize Ring written by Queen Victoria’s librarian.]
The old gymnastics, for instance, produced such men as Milo [Sheep of Kroton, greatest wrestler of antiquity, 520 B.C.], Hipposthenes [Horse-strong of Sparta, second greatest wrestler of antiquity, 570s B.C.], Pulydamas [Many-subduer of Thessaly 400 B.C.], Promachos [frontlinefighter of Pellene, 400 B.C., defeated Polydamas], Glaukos [Gray-fish of Karystos, son of Demylos, and the athletes who lived still earlier than these, namely, Peleus, Theseus, and Herakles himself;
[Two different Herakles were said to have founded and rededicated the Olympic Agon.]
in our fathers’ time, there were still marvelous athletes, worthy to be remembered, though, to be sure, inferior;3 but, as it is now, such a change has been brought about in athletics
[Footnotes concerning translations in German and English redacted. These continue so thickly I will delete every one and stop noting the deletions.]
that the majority even feel an aversion toward lovers of gymnastic exercises.
[Asclepiades of Alexandria, in A.D. 196 and Damastratus, still fighting in 217 were prominent champions in the time of the author.]
2. I propose to show the reasons why this decline has come about, to set forth all I know for those who teach and those who practice gymnastics, and to break a lance on behalf of nature, which is being slandered because athletes of today are so much inferior to those of the past.
[This, in late antiquity, was symptom of professionalism breeding spectatorship over participation, as in our own decadent time. The best modern boxers fought between 1920 and 1950 though most boxing money has been made since then, beginning in earnest in the 1970s, and taking off in the 1980s, even as amateur fights and local training programs dry up for lack of participants and local involvement, polluting the talent well. The cult of celebrity which infected Imperial Rome every bit as much as Post Industrial America destroys the arts even as the top artists are worshipped, by severely limiting the pool of participants]
For still today she produces lions in no wise of lesser sort than formerly, and the appearance of dogs, horses, and bulls is the same; as for her treatment of trees, the vines and the fruit of fig trees are still the same; and, in gold, silver, and precious stones, she has altered nothing, but reproduces everything now the same as before, even as she herself has ordained.
As for athletes, so far as their earlier excellencies are concerned, they have not been left in the lurch by nature—for she still continues to create the courageous, well-formed, and alert, these being natural characteristics—but the lack of judicious training and vigorous exertion has, indeed, robbed nature of her power. How this has come to pass, I intend to show later;4 first, however, we shall give attention to the origin of running, boxing, wrestling, and the like, and when and where each had its beginning. The records of the Eleans will be kept constantly at hand, for of such matters one must speak most exactly.
[Elis was the small town that kept the Olympic sanctuary and officiated over the sacred contests.]
[What follows is an accounting of the legendry of athletic origins that will be placed in its own section. This is appearing overly academic and will no doubt be as far from actual combat practice as modern martial arts writing in our own sissy time is from self defense. Based on the length of the document and the enormous space granted to the history Philostratus’s work smacks of something a sports writer would present on how boxers boxed without having done it himself. I will make only limited comments on the history, of which I provided a much more comprehensive account in The Broken Dance.]
[Of special interest is the fact that Rome had become so decadent that even the Greek-speaking guardians of high culture, had to be given a lesson on the history of their own culture. Also, the impulse to resurrect combat arts speaks to a spread of sloth so deep and broad that even the slothful class dedicated to leisure were concerned over the softening of their class.]
Of Naked Exercises: 1
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