Click to Subscribe
‘Of Contests’
Of Naked Exercises: 3
© 2022 James LaFond
3. In the whole range of contests, there are the following light exercises: the stade-race, distance race, the race in armor, double stade-race;1 the heavy, however, are the pancration, wrestling and boxing. The pentathlon was made up of both; for wrestling and throwing the discus are heavy, and throwing the javelin, jumping, and running, light. Before Jason and Peleus, the wreath was given separately for the jump, and also for the discus; and the javelin, likewise, was alone sufficient for a victory at the time when the Argo was afloat.
[The following are definitive statements of historical fact, just as placing the discussion under the purview of Zeus was a statement of the obvious truth that Eternity looked on and judged.]
Telamon was best at throwing the discus; Lynkeus, at hurling the javelin; the sons of Boreas, in running and jumping; Peleus was inferior in these things, but he excelled all in wrestling. So when they held contests at Lemnos, it is said that Jason united the five events to please Peleus; and in this way Peleus gained the victory and won the reputation of being the ablest warrior of his time, because of the bravery he showed in battle, as well as for his practice of the pentathlon, which is closely connected with war, since in the contests one also throws the javelin.
[In the 500s to 100s B.C. Pentathlon victors would distinguish themselves as small unit leaders, duelist and ambassadors.]
4. The origin of the distance race was as follows: couriers were accustomed to go from Arcadia to Hellas as heralds of war, and they were enjoined not to ride, but to complete the course on foot. The fact that in the brief course of a day they always covered as many furlongs as the distance race comprises, made them distance runners and trained them for war.
5. The stade-race came about in this way: when the Eleans made sacrifices, as their law requires, the sacrificial offerings were laid ready on the altar, but the fire was not yet applied. The runners were placed a furlong [stade, root word of stadium, in Greek, being 220 yards, or 8th of a mile] from the altar, before which a priest, as judge, stood with a torch; the winner kindled the offering, and went forth as Olympic victor.
6. After the Eleans had sacrificed, however, the other Greek delegates who came to participate in the celebration must also make sacrifice. In order, however, that their arrival might not take place without ceremonial, the runners ran a furlong away from the altar, as if to invite the Hellenes, and returned again to the same point, as though to announce that Hellas came gladly. So much for the origin of the double stade-race.
7. The race in armor (Greek) is ancient,2 especially the one at Nemea, where they call it the armed race and the horse race; and it is dedicated to Tydeus and his companions, the seven well-known heroes. The armed race at Olympia, however, was established, as the Eleans maintain, for the following reasons: the Eleans began such an implacable war with the Dymanes, that even the Olympian games brought no truce; and when, on the day of the contests, the Eleans were victorious, it is alleged a heavy-armed soldier came running from the battle into the race course, and delivered the happy news of the victory. This is in itself plausible, but I hear the same thing also about the Delphians, when they were waging war against some of the Phocian cities; of the Argives, when they were wearing themselves out in a long-continued war against the Lacedaemonians; and of the Corinthians when they were making war in the Peloponnesus itself, and also beyond the boundaries of the Isthmus.
[Such questions occupied authors from the time of Herodotus, with the authors of antiquity constantly checking and comparing lore for accuracy and probability.]
However, I have a different notion about the armed race: I believe, namely, that its introduction certainly was originally connected with war, but that it was given a place in the contests to signify the resumption of a state of war, the shield indicating that the truce of God is past and one has need of weapons.
[Note the singular use of God, referring to Zeus, who the Olympic games were dedicated to. Regarded as The Almighty, Eternal Time-holder, Zeus had numerous cult titles, one of which was Oath-holder.]
And if one listens attentively to the herald, one perceives that he is announcing to the assembled people that the contest for prizes is at an end; and the trumpet sounds the signal of Enyalios that calls youth to arms. This herald’s cry commands, also, that they take oil and carry it away, not for anointing, but as a token that anointing is at an end.
[Contestants were anointed with oil as a sacrament and as a practical measure.]
8. The armed race of Plataea in Boeotia was esteemed the most notable on account of the length of the course, and the armor which reached to the feet and covered the athlete, just as if he really had to fight; because it was established in consequence of a brilliant feat of arms, the battle with the Medes; because this institution of the Greeks was directed against the barbarians; and especially, too, because of the standing law which Plataea duly promulgated, concerning the announced competitors. That is, with them, one who had once been crowned must give a hostage in case he entered the lists again; for, if he were defeated, he was condemned to death.
[The Mayans had a similar rule in their ball sports. I suspect that the ancient Minoans of Crete, whose boxing rites are related to the Greek tradition, fought to the death for a cyclic term of Kingship.]
9. Boxing is an invention of the Lacedaemonians, and once found acceptance among the barbarian Bebryces. It was best practiced by Polydeuces, on which account the poets sang his praises.3 The ancient Lacedaemonians boxed, however, for the following reason: they had no helmets, and they considered that fighting with such was not according to the customs of the country; but the shield took the place of the helmet if one understood how to carry it. In order, then, to parry blows directed at the face, and when they came to withstand them, they practiced boxing and sought, in this manner, to harden the face.
[It does seem probable, that since boxing was only developed by warrior cultures who used the shield, that boxing was a way to learn how to ward blows of depth without being maimed by a wooden weapon.]
In the course of time, however, they gave up boxing, and likewise the pancration, inasmuch as they considered it disgraceful to participate in such contests, in which there was danger that, if a single one should yield, Sparta would be open to the reproach of cowardice.
10. Formerly, one was equipped for boxing in the following manner: the four fingers were wrapped with a strap and projected so far that by closing them one could double up the fist; but they were held firmly together by a thong which one wore bound round the lower arm as a support. Now, however, it is different: for one tans the hide of very fat cattle and makes sharp, projecting knuckles; the thumb, however, to avoid excessive injuries, does not share with the other fingers in the blow, so the entire hand may not fight. Thus, they ban thongs of pigskin from the stadia, for they consider wounds from it painful and difficult to heal.
11. That wrestling and the pancration were invented for their utility in war, is proved, in the first place, by the feat of arms at Marathon, which was so performed by the Athenians that it seemed like a wrestling match; and, secondly, at Thermopylae, where the Lacedaemonians fought often with their bare hands, when their swords and lances were broken. And of all the contests which are customary, the pancration is pre-eminent, although it is composed of imperfect wrestling and imperfect boxing.
[This is an excellent description of the symphonic compromise of these arts in MMA.]
Pre-eminent it is, however, among all save the Eleans; for they, assuredly, look upon wrestling as the test of strength and, to employ a poetic word, “painful,” not merely because of the intricate holds in wrestling, which require a supple and nimble body, but also on account of the threefold contest, prescribed among them, so many falls being required. And while they accordingly consider it extraordinary to award the crown in the pancration and in boxing, without an actual contest, they do not refuse it to the wrestler;
[In the 170s and again in the 190s, Asclepiades of Alexandria won pankration because no one would fight him. It was not permitted to win wrestling like so.]
for the rules of the games expressly permit such a victory only in the tortuous and “painful” wrestling match. And to me the reason is clear why the rules thus prescribe: for if participation in the contest at Olympia is an arduous performance, the training seems still more difficult. As for the light exercises, the distance runner practices running some eight to ten laps, and the pentathlete, some one of the light exercises; the runners, the three kinds of running, the stade-race, the double stade-race, or both. None of all this is hard; for the nature of the light exercises is the same, whether the Eleans prescribe the training, or others.
The heavy athlete, however, is trained by the Eleans in that season of the year when the sun dries up the mud most in the lowlands of Arcadia, and he must endure a dust hotter than the desert sands of Ethiopia, and keep at it from noon-day on. Now, among these painful exercises, the most arduous is wrestling. For the boxer, when his time comes in the stadium, will receive and give wounds and will kick shins, but in training he will only carry on a mimic contest; and the pancratiast in actual conflict will employ all forms, which are known to the pancration, but, in training, only this one and again that one.
[It is of interest that low kicks seem to be allowed in boxing at this date. Shin stomps are a method used in knife fighting. And, since these boxers were fighting with knuckle dusters, its inclusion makes sense. The fact that wrestlers are better than other types of fighters are at their arts is based on this training intensity made possible by lack of submission holds and strikes. The art was a stand up contest to the best of three throws and had no ground work.]
Wrestling, however, is the same in the trial as in the actual contest; for, at both times, it offers proof of how much one understands and how much one can do, and is rightly called intricate; for intricacies do indeed occur in wrestling. Therefore the Eleans award the wreath to the best training—indeed, for training alone.
12. All these, however, apparently, did not gain admittance to the contests at one time, but one after the other, as it was discovered and developed by gymnastic. For example, formerly, until the 13th Olympiad, the Olympian games consisted simply of the stade-race; and three Eleans, seven Messenians, a Corinthian, a Dymanes, one from Cleonae, were victorious therein, each in another Olympiad, but never the same person in two. In the 14th, the double stade-race began, and Hypenos from Elis won the victory. Afterwards came the contest in long-distance running, and the Spartan Akanthos was victor.
The exercise of the men’s pentathlon and the men’s wrestling match began with the 18th Oympiad, and the victor in wrestling was Eurybatos from Lusoi; and, in the pentathlon, the Laconian Lampis. Many, however, designate Eurybatos also as a Spartan.
The 23rd Olympiad called men to the boxing contest, and the Smyrnian Onomastos conquered as best boxer and thus linked the name of Smyrna with a glorious deed. For at one stroke Smyrna surpassed all cities of Ionia and Lydia, all on the Hellespont and in Phrygia, and all nations which inhabit Asia, and won first the Olympian crown of victory. This athlete wrote rules for boxing, [Onomastos means Rulegiver.] which the Eleans observed on account of the expert knowledge of the boxer; and the Arcadians were not offended that they were bound by contest rules which had their origin in effeminate Ionia.
‘In the 33rd Olympiad the pancration was established—which till then did not exist—and Lygdamis [Twisting-subduer] from Syracuse was victor. This Sicilian, indeed, was such a giant that he had a foot a cubit long. He is said to have measured off the stadium with as many of his own footsteps as a furlong has cubits.
13. It is said that the boys’ pentathlon also was introduced at the 38th Olympiad, and that at that time the Laconian Eutelidas was victor; but never again did a boy enter this sort of contest at Olympia.
The victor in the boys’ stade-race at the 46th Olympiad—for it was then first instituted—was Polymestor, the shepherd boy from Miletus, who by his fleetness of foot was able to catch a hare.
According to one account, the boys’ boxing match is said to have begun in the 41st Olympiad, and Philytas from Sybaris is said to have been victor; according to another, it is said that it began in the 60th Olympiad, and that the victor was Kreon from the island of Chios.
Damaretos, who, as I believe, came from Hera, was the first, it is said, who was winner in the race in armor at the 65th Olympiad. In the 145th Olympiad the boys’ pancration was admitted; this introduction was accomplished with incomprehensible delay, since it was already esteemed elsewhere; for it came late in the series of Olympiads, when Egypt had already been crowned; and also that victory went to Egypt, Naukratis, namely, being proclaimed, since the Egyptian Phaidimos was victor.
‘By Zeus’
‘The Trainers’

  Add a new comment below: