Home » IV. History of Events » b. Philostratus’ Origins of Gymnic Events

b. Philostratus’ Origins of Gymnic Events

(Translation by Charles Stocking, arranged in chronological sequence according to Pausanias)

Stadion [Peri Gymnastikês 5]

The stadion was discovered as follows:

When the Eleans sacrificed, they placed the offerings on the altar, however much they did customarily, but the fire was not at all carried by them. The runners were a stade distance from the altar and a priest stood before it with a torch, acting as judge The one who won, having lit the offerings, went away as victor in the Olympics.

Diaulos, Double Stadion [Peri Gymnastikês 6]

But when the Eleans sacrificed, it was necessary that the spectators (theorous) of all the Greeks perform sacrifices. And in order that their arrival not be in vain, the runners ran from the altar, as though calling the Greeks, and then they ran back to the same place as though making announcement, that Greece has arrived happily. These then are the affaires concerning the diaulos.

Dolichos, Distance Race [Peri Gymnastikês 4]

This was the origin of the long course. Running heralds used to come often from Arcadia to Greece as messengers of matters in war and it was declared that they not use horses  but travel the course self-propelled. Running the number of stadia in the dolichos made them heralds and trained them for war.

Pentathlon [Peri Gymnastikês 3]

In every athletic contest, there are, on the one hand, the light events: the stadion, the distance race, the race in armor, the double stade, the long jump, the javelin throw, and there are the heavier events: the pankration, wrestling and boxing  and discus. The pentathlon participates in both. For wrestling and throwing the discus are heavy, but throwing the javelin, and jumping, and running are light. Before the time of Jason and Peleus, the long jump and the discuss were crowned individually, and the javelin could win a victory in the time when the Argo used to sail.  Telamon was strongest in the discuss, Lugkeus was strongest in the javelin, but those born from Boreas were the best at running and jumping, Peleus was second in these matters, but he was strongest of all in wrestling.  And so when they competed in Lemnos, they say that Jason, pleasing Peleus, put together the five events and Peleus thus collected the victory, being considered the most war like of them in his time on account of his excellence (arête), which he used in battles, and on account of his attention to the five events, being especially war-like, since the javelin is also thrown in athletic contests.

Wrestling and Pankration [Peri Gymnastikês 11]

Wrestling and Pancration were discovered for their usefulness in war. First, the battle fought at Marathon by the Athenians makes this evident, since it appeared closer to wrestling. In addition to this event, second is the battle at Thermopylae, when the Spartans fought much with their bare hands when their swords and spears had been broken.

However many events there are in a contest, the Pankration is valued above all else, although it is a mixture of imperfect wrestling and imperfect boxing. It is valued by others, but the Eleans have considered wrestling stronger and “Painful” as the poets say, not only for the intermixture of wrestling moves, for which one needs a body that is fluid and flexible, but also for the fact that there are three contests in the competition, since it requires so many falls.

Although they consider it miraculous to give a dustless victory in the pankration and boxing, they do not deny the wrestler, since the  custom (nomos) says to grant such a victory only in the crooked and painful wrestling match, and the reason for this is clear to me, for which the law is established thus: That the training is more difficult than the competition in Olympia for one that is skilled.

Concerning the light events, The distance race is trained by 8 or ten stadia and the pentathlon, something like three, and the pentahlete practices the difficult of the light exercises. And the runners perform the double stadion, the stadion or both. But what is difficult from such things? Nothing.

For this is the manner of light training,  whether Eleans train the athletes of if others do. But the athlete for the heavy events is trained by the Eleans in the season of the year when the sun burns the mud most in the Arcadian valley, and he endures dirt hotter than the sand of Ethiopia, and he endures, starting in the afternoon.

Given these hardships, the wrestlers are the most hard-working. For when the time of competition comes, the Boxer will be injured and inflict injury and get kicked in the shins. But when being trained, he will demonstrate the shadow of competition, and the pankratist competes in all manners, however many there are in the pankration. But he is trained at one time in one way and at another time in another. Wrestling, however, is the same in pre-competition and competition.

For it is possible to test each aspect, how much he knows and how much he is capable of and wrestling has rightly been called intricate. For rightly so there is a complexity of wrestling, whence the Eleans crown the most well trained and indeed he may be crowned for training alone.

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