How did people train in ancient times
Athletes have been praised for their self-control and discipline. To make it to the top, they had to work hard and forego many amenities. In the gymnasium, where young men were trained in age groups, there were even competitions in good and disciplined behavior (“eutaxia”) and in the desire to work (“philoponia”).
Dio Chrysostomus (literally: "Goldmund"), a speaker of the late 1st century AD, glorified the self-control and perseverance of the late boxer Melankomas:
No matter how much beauty there was in him, he was even more self-controlled. Though he disliked beauty, he retained it in spite of his rough occupation. Despite being a boxer, his face was as unharmed as a runner's. He trained so hard and worked so hard that he could hold his arms up for two days straight and no one could catch him dropping them or taking a break, as athletes usually do. He forced his opponents to surrender, not just before he was hit, but even before he hit his opponents.
He came from a famous family and was not only beautiful, but also courage, strength and self-control - these are the best of the good qualities. And what is most admirable about a person: he not only remained unbeaten by his opponents, but also by effort, heat, hunger and drive. Because if you don't want to be hit by your opponents, you have to avoid getting hit by these things first.
The mythical role model of the athletes for self-control was the hero Heracles. This illustrates the story of Heracles at the crossroads: one day the hero came to a place where the path parted. He didn't know which way to go. “Arete”, the personification of virtue, showed him an arduous path full of privation that led to fame. “Eudaimonia”, the “joy”, which was also called “Kakia”, “Goddess of Evil”, showed him that he could reach his goal much more easily by taking the other path. Heracles chose the uncomfortable path of discipline and self-control.
An important aspect of the self-control of the Greek athletes was their sexual abstinence. Just like today, the Greeks were wondering whether sex before a competition was a good idea. The answer was no: semen was seen as the source of masculinity and strength, two qualities that were better enjoyed while playing games. The famous fighter Kleitomachos even refused to participate in conversations on erotic topics and allegedly looked away when dogs mated. To avoid erections in high school, one athlete even tied his foreskin together.
In late antiquity, Christians adopted the athletic ideal of self-control and discipline. Many typically Christian expressions such as “asceticism” originally come from the vocabulary of athletics (ancient Greek “askesis”: training).
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