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‘The Trainers’
Of Naked Exercises: 4
© 2022 James LaFond
It seems to me that these exercises could never have been introduced into the contests, thus one after the other, and the Eleans and all the Hellenes could never have become such zealous contestants, if gymnastics had not made progress and trained them; for the victories which have been cited are to be credited to the trainers no less than to the athletes.
[Philostratos was by employment, a system advocate and sycophant, his trade occupying the higher thoughts of the empress.]
14. How then ought we to conceive of gymnastics? How otherwise than as a science, comprising the art of the physician and of the paidotribe [the youth coach and teacher], which, however, is more complete than the latter, and is only a part of the former. To what extent it participates in both, I intend to show.
The paidotribe will show all kinds of wrestling holds that exist, specifying the opportune moment, the degree of effort, and the extent of the movement; further, how one is to defend himself, or how one can overcome the defense of the other; the gymnast [the dedicated trainer of prize-seekers], however, will also be able to give instruction in that which the athlete does not yet know. Moreover, occasionally, it is advantageous in wrestling and the pancration to be aggressive, to yield to the opponent’s advantage, or to parry it, none of which would occur to the gymnast, if he did not understand the art of the paidotribe. So far, therefore, the two arts are alike.
But the purging of humors, removing superfluous matter, rendering the hard flexible, and fattening, modifying, or warming any part of the body whatsoever, belong to the science of the gymnast. The paidotribe will either not understand that at all, or, if he should have some knowledge, he will apply it improperly for boys, and thus merely torment youth of noble blood.
[By late antiquity combat sports were generally limited to classical instruction for the nobility, with two of the pancration standouts of the 200s politicians. Secondarily, the habit of training for and entering slaves into these sacred contents, which began in Egypt in the 260s B.C. and had long been the mechanism for riding race horses, racing chariots and fielding gladiators, had expanded into athletics. To compete at Olympia and some other sacred agons, the slave competing in some event other than driving or riding, must have been freed.]
So much more complete, then, is gymnastic than the forenamed art, but its relation to the art of healing is as follows: illnesses which we call catarrh, dropsy, consumption, and varieties of epilepsy are healed by physicians by injections, healing drafts, [we seem to be following the ancients here] or plasters, but gymnastic combats such by means of diet and massage. If, however, one has suffered from a fracture, a wound, dimness of eyesight, or dislocation of a limb, he must be taken to the physician, since gymnastic has naught to do with such things.
15. By this I believe I have shown how gymnastic is related to both other branches of knowledge, but I think I may also make the following observation concerning it. The entire art of healing cannot be mastered by one alone; but one knows about wounds, another has knowledge of fever, a third handles those with eye trouble, while a fourth treats consumption successfully.
[The existence of tuberculosis is possibly indicated, depending on the quality of the translation.]
And since it means a great deal to practice even just a small part of it [medicine] physicians justifiably maintain that they understand the whole of it. But no one, certainly, would dare designate similarly the entire science of gymnastics as his specialty; for he who knows running exercises will understand nothing of wrestling and the pancration; and he who can train in heavy exercises will prove himself otherwise unskilled in the art.
16. The range of the art is as suggested; but the reason of its origin lies in man’s natural capacity for wrestling, boxing, and running upright; for, indeed, nothing of the sort would have arisen, had there not been a previous natural cause. And just as the raison d’étre of the smithy’s art is in iron and brass, that of agriculture in the earth and her products, and that of navigation in the presence of the sea, so also we will adhere to the view that gymnastic was native in man, and has grown together with him.
And there is a legend that, when Prometheus lived, gymnastic did not yet exist, and that Prometheus first devoted himself to certain physical exercises; that Hermes, however, introduced the training of others in gymnastic and was admired for the discovery; that Hermes’ palaestra was the first; and that those formed by Prometheus were the ones who exercised themselves in the mud and believed that they were formed by Prometheus because gymnastic made their bodies apt and powerful.
[Here, the origin of combat arts being instituted by the Titan who gave science and art to Man, and was thence punished by The Almighty, is conflated through the medium of the pancratiast’s training mud with the clay used by Man’s Creator forming him like a golem, as described in Genesis as man’s second creation and in Gilgamesh as the means by which Enkidu the wild man was created.]
17. In Delphi, on the Isthmus, and wherever else on earth contests exist, the gymnast, wrapped in a cloak, superintends the athletes; and no one can force him against his will to discard the same. In Olympia, however, he performs the inspection naked, because, according to the opinion of some, the Eleans wish to convince themselves that the gymnast knows how to endure the toil and heat of summer; according to the assertion of the Eleans, however, for the following reason. Pherenike of Rhodes was the daughter of the boxer, Diagoras, and in external appearance was so robust, that, at first, she seemed to the Eleans to be a man. Therefore, at Olympia, she was unrecognizable under the cloak, and was able to train her son, Peisidoros. He, too, was one well-skilled in the art of boxing, and in no way inferior to his grandfather. When the deception was discovered, they were afraid to kill Pherenike, out of respect for Diagoras and the sons of Diagoras—for the whole family of Pherenike were all Olympian victors—but the decree was promulgated, that the gymnast must lay aside clothing, that he himself might not be left unexamined.
18. There, also, the gymnast carries a strigil, perhaps for the following reason. Covered with the sand of the palaestra, the Olympian athlete must expose himself to the blazing sun. In order that they may not suffer any injury to health, the strigil reminds the athletes of the oil and signifies that they must apply it so copiously that, after anointing, it can be scraped off. Some relate that a gymnast at Olympia once killed his athlete with the sharp strigil, because he had not striven for victory. And I give credence to the story, for it is better to inspire trust rather than mistrust. So then, may the strigil serve as a sword against bad athletes, and let gymnasts at Olympia take precedence over the judges of the contests.
[This story was not in the classic, older record, and most likely refers to a slave athlete. If the owner had freed an athlete to compete in Olympia, then failure to strive would have been a breach of trust and the trainer probably had standing orders for the execution. Extensive letters concerning Phyrrus, a slave athlete in Egypt in the 200s B.C. are extant.]
19. The Lacedaemonians also demanded that the gymnasts have a knowledge of tactics, because they recognized in the contests a preliminary training for war; and this is not surprising, since the Lacedaemonians constantly associated even the dance, the most carefree amusement of peace times, with war, for they danced in such a manner as if to evade or throw a missile, leap up from the ground, and manipulate the shield cleverly.
20. The instances in which gymnasts have been of use to athletes, through encouragement, rebuke, threat, or strategy are numerous, and their enumeration would be superfluous; the most noteworthy, however, may be related. Glaukos of Karystos, who was giving way before his opponent in boxing, at Olympia, was led to victory by Tisias, the gymnast, when he shouted to him to use the “plough-stroke.” This meant, namely, to strike the opponent with his right; for in that hand Glaukos had so much power that once, in Euboeia, he had straightened a plough-share, which was bent, by striking it with his right hand as if with a hammer.
21. Arrichion, the pancratiast, who had already been victor at two Olympiads, was competing for the wreath in the following third Olympiad, and was on the point of declaring himself vanquished, but was inspired with a desire for death by Eryxias, the gymnast, when he shouted: “What a splendid memorial, not to surrender at Olympia.”
22. As for Promachos of Pellene, his gymnast learned that he was in love, and, when the Olympian games were near, he said: “I believe, Promachos, thou art in love.” And when he saw that he blushed, he continued: “Not in order to plague thee have I asked this, but to be helpful to thee in thy love affair. For, perhaps, I shall even put in a good word for thee with the maiden.” And, without having spoken with her, he came to the athlete and brought him an untrue, but for the love-lorn youth, exceedingly precious answer. He said: “She will not refuse thee her love, if thou conquerest at Olympia.” And Promachos took courage from what he heard, and was not only victorious, but even defeated Pulydamas from Skotussa, even after the adventure with the lions, which Pulydamas had captured at the court of Ochos, the king of Persia.
23. I myself heard Mandrogenes from Magnesia say that he must credit to his gymnast the endurance, which, as a young man, he displayed in the pancration. He related, namely, that his father had died and the house was under the direction of his mother, who was as able as a man. To her the gymnast is said to have written the following letter: “If thou shouldst hear that thy son is dead, believe it; but that he is defeated, believe not!” Out of consideration of this letter, as he said, he summoned up all his courage, so that the gymnast might not be given the lie, nor his mother be deceived.
[Mandrogenes is a pankratiast that had eluded my original survey. Again, this entry suggests pancration as an art practiced by sons of the elite, occupying the top 1% of person, where in ancient Hellas athletes other than jockeys came from the top 10%.]
24. Optatos1 from Egypt was victor in the race at Plataea. Since, however, as stated, they had a law that that one who is defeated after a victory must die at the hands of the state, and may not participate in the exercises until he has given a hostage, and since no one there wanted to assume so dangerous a security, the gymnast resigned himself to the law and strengthened the athlete for the second victory. For to those who are about to begin a great task, trust, as I believe, brings happy confidence.
[This odd law would encourage the best athletes to enter coaching, which is rarely the inclination of the highest quality competitor.]
[We are now halfway through our only extant training manual on ancient athletics and the author has yet to address METHOD of execution in any serious or direct way. One is reminded of the sole English translation of Bernal Dias’s Conquest of New Spain, in which the translator omitted the military preparations as unimportant! Has God damned us to be served in collective memory by the most daft among us, the academic? The poets left us more exact if maddeningly brief records of athletics.]
‘Of Contests’
To Judge Nature

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