The Gymnasium

"Education among the Greeks was peculiarly calculated for the development of the mind and the body in common. It is from this point of view that we wish to show the nature and preeminence of gymnastics in their times as compared with our own."

We read that the late contest for the "American belt," though short, was unusually fierce, and afforded intense delight to the spectators,--in proportion, probably, to its ferocity. By all means let the “profession" take the cestus from the hands of the highwayman and adopt it themselves. It would be one step nearer the glorious days of the gladiators, and would render their combats more bloody and more exciting. Or, better still,-let us revive the ancient mode of sparring called the klimax, where both parties "faced the music" without warding blows at all. We scarcely think the ancients were up to "countering," as it is understood now; but they fully appreciated the facetious practice of falling backwards to avoid a blow, and letting the adversary waste his strength on the air. The deceased Mr. Sullivan would hardly recognize his favorite dodge under its classic name of hyptiasmos, or be aware that it was in use by his very respectable predecessor, Sostratus of Sicyon, who was noted for such tricks.

The pankration, again, was a mode of battle which the modern prize-ring is yet too magnanimous to adopt, and which excelled in brutality the so-called "getting one's nob in chancery,"--the most stirring episode of our pugilistic encounters. The Greek custom alluded to was so named because it called all the powers of the fighter into action. It was a union of boxing and wrestling. It began by trying to get one's antagonist into the unfavorable position of facing the sun. Then the sport commenced with either wrestling or sparring. As soon as one party was thrown or knocked down, the other kept him so until he had pommelled him-into submission; and when he arose, at last, to receive the plaudits of the assembly, it was often from the corpse of his adversary.

Beginning as the most promising pupils of the gymnasium, and becoming victors in the public games, certain gymnasts gradually grew into a distinct class of prize-runners, wrestlers, and lighters, called Athletes. They then devoted their lives to attaining excellence in these exercises, and withdrew to the palaestra, or training-school. Those who quitted the profession became instructors in the public gymnasium. To attain great bodily strength, they submitted to many rigid rules. By frequent anointing, rubbing, and bathing, they rendered their bodies very supple. The trainer, or teacher in the palaestra, was termed xystarch. He was himself the Nestor of the "ring." The food of the athlete was mainly beef and pork. The latter, we believe, is excluded from the diet-list of the modern prize-fighter. Of their particular rules of living and "getting into condition" we know but little. Before being allowed to contend, they were subjected to a strict examination by the judges. In so high estimation were the victors held, that they were rewarded with a public proclamation of their names, the laudations of the poet, statues, banquets, and other privileges. The immediate material gain was not the winning of the stales, but a simple crown or garland of laurel, olive, pine, or parsley, according to the festival at which they fought. Pindar has embalmed the names of many victors in his Olympic, Pythian, and other odes.

But let us leave the athletes for something more inviting. The lampadephoria, or torch-race, must have been a singular spectacle. There were live celebrations of this game at Athens, of which the most noted was at the Panathenaea, where horsemen often contended. The text describing it has been a puzzle to commentators;--the most rational and accepted interpretation seems to be, that it was a contest between opposite parties, and not between individuals. Lighted lamps, protected by a shield, were passed from runner to runner along the lines of players, to a certain goal. They who succeeded in carrying their lights from boundary to boundary unextinguished were declared the victors. This game will at once recall the moccoletti, which close the carnival at Rome.

Dancing to the sound of the cithara, flute, and pipe, was a favorite amusement with all classes. The grizzly veterans and the younger soldiers all joined in martial dances. The dance and the game of ball were often connected. The Romaic dance, peculiar to the modern Greeks, is an inheritance from their ancestors. Dancing by youths and maidens formed part of the entertainment of guests. Tumblers threw somersets and leaped amid sharp knives, somewhat after the manner of the Chinese jugglers. Music was also usually associated with either poetry or dancing.

Incitements to the various gymnastic exercises which have been mentioned could be found only in public emulation, for which abundant opportunity was offered in the national games or festivals, These were a part of the religious customs of the Greeks, and were originally established in honor of the gods. It was their effect to bring into nearer contact people from the several parts of Greece, and to stimulate and publicly reward talent, as well as bodily vigor. They afforded orators, poets, and historians the best opportunities of rehearsing their productions. Herodotus is said to have read his History, and Isocrates to have recited his Panegyric at the Olympic games. The four sacred games were the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean; and to these should be added the Panathenaea, or festival of Minerva. The five exercises before mentioned, together with music, in its classic sense, formed the programme. In the lesser Panathanaea occurred, first, the torch-race; next, the gymnastic exercises; thirdly, a musical contention, instituted, by Pericles; and lastly, a competition of the poets in four plays. Numerous other observances, of a religious nature, were varied with the different festivals. It may be doubted whether subsequent times have seen any gatherings of equal magnitude for similar objects.

So rigid was the discipline of the ancient gymnasium, and so important was it considered that confidence should be undoubting there, that thefts, exceeding ten drachmae in amount, committed within its precincts, were punished with death.

The Gymnasiarch, or presiding magistrate, clothed in purple cloak, with white shoes, possessed almost unlimited authority. He had the superintendence of the building, and could remove the teachers and under-officers at his pleasure. The exercises practised were ordained by law, subject to regulations and animated by the commendation of the masters. Instructions were given by the gymnastae and the paedotribae, two classes of officers. The former gave practical lessons, and were expected to know the physiological effect of the different exercises, and to adapt them to the constitution and needs of the youth. The latter possessed a knowledge of all the games, and taught them in all their variety. Nor were the morals of the young less cared for by the sophronistae, a set of officials appointed for that purpose.

The plan and scope of Grecian education were more adapted to the common purposes of the community, and less to the individual aim of the pupil. Beside the public teachings of philosophers and sophists, common schools were established at Athens by Solon. Government provided for their management, and strict discipline was enforced. Here the boy was instructed in music and grammar. Until the age of sixteen, he pursued these two branches in connection with gymnastics. Some authorities assert that, even at this period of his life, as much time was devoted to the latter as to the other two together. At sixteen, he left the school, and, until he was eighteen years of age, frequented the gymnasium alone; probably devoting most of his time to physical training, though enjoying opportunities of listening to the masters in philosophy. The period of adolescence past, and, his growing frame expanded and well knit by exercise, he either continued to follow athletic sports, or began a military or other career. If a young man of leisure, he probably needed all the virtue imparted by his moral teachers to restrain him from dice, quail-fights, and fine horses, and all his physical vigor to resist the dissipations of Athens or Corinth, and the potations of the symposia.

So far the male rising generation was well cared for. What became of the girls?

In accordance with the freer manners, but not less virtuous habits of' Lacedemon, maidens were there admitted as spectators and sharers of the gymnastic sports. Though clad only in the Spartan chiton, they took vigorous part in dancing and probably wrestling. The Athenian maid could not air even her modest garments in public with the consent of popular opinion. The girls were educated and the women stayed at home. The gynaekeion, or female apartment, was nearly as secluded as the seraglio. The females were under direct, though not slavish submission to the men. Modesty forbade their appearance in the gymnasium. Domestic occupations, the rearing of children, spinning, light work, and household cares filled up their time. We are told that an Athenian mother once ventured in male attire to mingle among the spectators of the Olympic games. Her cry of joy at the triumph of her son betrayed her. Because she was the mother of many victors, she was spared from infamy; and her services to the state, in rearing men, alone saved her from the consequences of an act which maternal solicitude could not have excused.

Too much license in the intermingling of the sexes formed part of the arguments of many distinguished Romans against the gymnasium. Habits of idle lounging and waste of time, together with even graver vices, were imputed to its influence. Some said it favored polysarkia, or obesity, and unfitted for military or other active life. The Romans were too utilitarian to see its higher aims. Though there was some justice, it must be confessed, in these accusations, yet they applied with more force to the palcestra than to the gymnasium,--to the trained fighters, who devoted their lives to exercise, than to the mass of the Greeks, who cultivated it for nobler purposes.

The ancients valued gymnastics highly as curative agents in disease. Some of the gymnasia were dedicated to Apollo, god of physicians. The officers of these establishments passed for doctors, and were so called, on account of the skill which long experience had given them. The directors regulated the diet of the youth, the gymnastae prescribed for their diseases, and the inferiors dressed wounds and fractures. Not only was the general idea entertained that bodily exercise is good for the health, but different kinds of exertion were selected as adapted to particular maladies. Upright wrestling was thought most beneficial to the upper portion of the body, and the cure of dropsy was believed to be peculiarly promoted by gymnastic sports. Hippocrates had some faith in the "motor cure." In some cases he advises common wrestling; in others, wrestling with the hands only. The practice with the corcycus, or hanging-bag of sand, and a regular motion of the upper limbs, resembling the manual exercise of the soldier, were also esteemed by him. Galen inveighs against the more violent exercises, but recommends moderate ones as part of the physician's art. Asclepiades, in the time of Pompey the Great, called exercises the common aids of physic, and got great glory--and money, it is to be hoped--by various mechanical contrivances for the sick.

The ancients probably esteemed gymnastics too much, as the moderns do too little, for medical or sanative purposes. The Greeks, with a very limited knowledge of physiology and pathology, would be more apt to treat symptoms than to trace the causes of disease; and no doubt they sometime prescribed exercises which were injudicious or positively injurious. We still trust too much perhaps, to medication, and do not keep in view the great helps which Nature spreads around us. Truth lies between the two extremes; and we are beginning to recognize the fact, which experience daily teaches us, that light, air, and motion are more potent than drugs, and that iron will not redden the cheeks, nor bark restring the nerves, so safely and so surely as moderate daily exercise out of doors.

In the flourishing days of Attica, the gymnasium was in its perfection. It degenerated with the license of later  HYPERLINK times. It was absorbed and sunk in the fashions and vices of imperial Rome. Though Nero built a public gymnasium, and Roman gentlemen attached private ones to their country-seats, it gradually fell into disuse, or existed only for ignoble purposes. The gladiator succeeded naturally to the athlete, the circus to the stadium, and the sanguinary scenes of the amphitheatre brutalized the pure tastes of earlier years. Then came the barbarians, and the rough, graceless strength of Goths and Vandals supplanted the supple vigor of the gymnast. The rude, migratory life of the Dark Ages needed not the gymnasium as a means of physical culture, and was too changeable and evanescent to establish permanent institutions. Chivalry afforded some exception. The profession of knighthood and the calling of the men-at-arms gave ample scope to warlike exercises, reduced to something like a science in armor, horses, and modes of combat. The tournament recalled somewhat the generous emulation of the gymnasium; but bodily exercise for physiological ends was lost sight of in the midst of advancing civilization, until its culture was resumed in Sweden, in the latter half of the last century.

The reviver of gymnastics was PETER HENRY L1NG. Born of humble parentage, and contending in his. earlier years with the extremes poverty, he completed a theological education, became a tutor, volunteered in the Danish, navy, travelled in France and England, and began his career of gymnast as a fencing-master in Stockholm. He died a professor, a knight, and a member of the Swedish Academy, and was posthumously honored as a benefactor of his country.

While fencing, he was struck with the wholesome effects which may be produced on the body by a rational system of movements, and this suggested the idea which he developed by practice and precept through his entire life. It was, that "an harmonious organic development of the body and of its powers and capabilities by exercise ought to constitute an essential part in the general education of a people." Ling thought not of merely imitating the gymnastics of the ancients, but he aimed at their reformation and improvement. Wishing to put gymnastics in harmony with Nature, he studied anatomy, physiology, and the natural sciences. Of their value in directing rational exercise he says; "Anatomy, that sacred genesis, which shows us the masterpiece of the Creator, and which teaches us how little and how great man is, ought to form the constant study of the gymnast. But we ought not to consider the organs of the body as the lifeless forms of a mechanical mass, but as the living, active instruments of the soul." And even this is not sufficient; "for the gymnast, the ultimate aim of whose art is the beau ideal of humanity, must know what effects applied movements produce upon the corporeal and psychical condition of man; a knowledge which can be obtained only from the most careful and untiring examination."

It has been asserted, that, in pursuance of this plan, Ling invented a separate movement or exercise for every muscle in the body. This is not strictly true, for it is practically impossible. Few muscles act alone, and such as do are developed symmetrically, and are antagonized by those of the opposite side. Most movements are performed by groups of muscles. The cripple, swinging on his crutches, develops the broad sheet of muscular fibres which enfolds the back, and loin, and approaches in form the simian tribe, the business of whose life is climbing. The sledge-hammer brings out the biceps of the blacksmith, and striking out from the shoulder the triceps of the pugilist. The calves of the ballet-dancer are noted for the abrupt line which marks the transition from muscle to tendon; and other instances might be cited. As a general rule, however, numerous muscles act in concert. Trades stamp their impress on special groups; and the power of coordination, which is supposed to derive its impulse from the cerebellum, varies in different persons, and marks them as clumsy or dexterous, sure-footed or the reverse. Ling aimed only at the regulation of associated, or the equal development of antagonistic groups. For, as the Supreme Medical Board of Russia say in their report on his system, made to the Emperor in 1850, "empirical gymnastics develop the muscular strength sometimes to a wonderful degree, and teach the execution of movements combined with an extraordinary effort of the muscles; by these means, instead of fortifying the whole body equally and generally, they often contribute to the development of the most dangerous diseases, since they do not teach the evil which the injudicious use of movements may produce." It was the harmonious and equable increase of all the voluntary and some of the involuntary muscles which the Swedish system sought to attain.

The authority just quoted, in continuation, says:--"Notwithstanding bodily exercises under the name of Turnen were generally known and practised in Germany at the beginning of the present century, and many of its enlightened professional writers tried to give to them a proper direction by combining them, with anatomy and physiology, Ling must be considered as the founder of the rational system of movements." We have all seen deformed gymnasts, with square shoulders and lank loins, or with some particular group of muscles projecting in ugly prominences from the violated outlines of nature. All this the followers of Ling claim that he avoided or overcame. His gymnastics were introduced years ago, not only into all the military academies of Sweden, but into all town-schools, colleges, and universities, and even orphanages and country-schools. Three objects are asserted to be obtained by his disciples: development of muscular fibre, increased arterialization, and improved innervation. Increase of function promotes the growth and capability of organic structures, and causes an augmented afflux of arterial blood and nervous influence to the part.

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