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p713 Lucta

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp713‑714 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

LUCTA, LUCTA′TIO (πάλη, πάλαισμα, παλαισμοσύνη, or καταβλητική), wrestling. The word πάλη is sometimes used in a wider sense, embracing all gymnastic exercises with the exception of dancing, whence the schools of the athletae were called palaestrae, that is, schools in which the πάλη in its widest sense was taught (Plat. de Leg. VII. p795; Herod. IX.33). [Palaestra.] There are also many passages in ancient writers in which πάλη and παλαίειν are used to designate any particular species of athletic games besides wrestling, or a combination of several games (see Krause, p400 note 2).

The Greeks ascribed the invention of wrestling to mythical personages, such as Palaestra, the daughter of Hermes (Apollod. II.4 §9), Antaeus and Cercyon (Plat. de Leg. VII. p796), Phorbas of Athens, or Theseus (Schol. ad Pind. Nem. V.49). Hermes, the god of all gymnastic exercises, p714also presided over the πάλη. Theseus is said by Pausanias (I.39 §3) to have been the first who reduced the game of wrestling to certain rules, and to have thus raised it to the rank of an art; whereas before his time it was a rude fight, in which bodily size and strength alone decided the victory. The most celebrated wrestler in the heroic age was Heracles. In the Homeric age wrestling was much practised, and a beautiful description of a wrestling match is given in the Iliad (XXIII.710, &c.; compare Od. VIII.103, 126, 246; Hesiod, Scut. Herc. 302, where μάχειν ἑλκηδὸν signifies the πάλη). During this period wrestlers contended naked, with the exception of the loins, which were covered with the περίζωμα (Il. XXIII.700), and this custom remained throughout Greece until Ol. 15, from which time the perizoma was no longer used, and wrestlers fought entirely naked (Thucyd. I.6, with the Schol.; Paus. I.44 §1; Dionys. VII.72). In the Homeric age the custom of anointing the body for the purpose of wrestling does not appear to have been known, but in the time of Solon it was quite general, and was said to have been adopted by the Cretans and Lacedaemonians at a very early period (Thucyd. l.c.; Plat. de Re Publ. V. p452). After the body was anointed, it was strewed over with sand or dust, in order to enable the wrestlers to take a firm hold of each other. At the festival of the Sthenia in Argos the πάλη was accompanied by flute-music. [Sthenia.]

When two athletae began their contest, each might use a variety of means to seize his antagonist in the most advantageous manner, and to throw him down without exposing himself (Ovid. Met. IX.33, &c.; Stat. Theb. VI.831, &c.; Heliodor. Aethiop. X. p235); but one of the great objects was to make every attack with elegance and beauty, and the fight was for this as well as for other purposes regulated by certain laws (Plat. de Leg. VIII. p834; Cic. Orat. 68; Lucian, Anach. 24; Aelian, V. H. XI.1). Striking, for instance, was not allowed, but pushing an antagonist backwards (ὠθισμός) was frequently resorted to (Plut. Symp. II.5; Lucian, Anach. L. 24). It is probably on account of the laws by which this game was regulated, and the great art which it required in consequence, that Plutarch (SympII.4) calls it the τεχνικώτατον καὶ πανουργότατον τῶν ἀθλημάτων. But notwithstanding these laws, wrestling admitted of greater cunning and more tricks and stratagems than any other game, with the exception of the pancratium (Xen. Cyrop. I.6 §32); and the Greeks had a great many technical terms to express the various stratagems, positions, and attitudes in which wrestlers might be placed. Numerous scenes of wrestlers are represented on ancient works of art (Krause, p412, &c.; see woodcut in Pancratium).

The contest in wrestling was divided by the ancients into two parts, viz. the πάλη ὀρθὴ or ὀρθία (ὀρθοστάδην παλαίειν), that is, the fight of the athletae as long as they stood upright, and the ἁλίνδησις or κύλισις (lucta volutatoria), in which the athletae struggled with each other while lying on the ground. Unless they contrived to rise again, the ἁλίνδησις was the last stage of the contest, which continued until one of them acknowledged himself to be conquered. The πάλη ὀρθὴ appears to have been the only one which was fought in the times of Homer, as well as afterwards in the great national games of the Greeks; and as soon as one athlete fell, the other allowed him to rise and continue the contest if he still felt inclined (Plat. de Legg. VIII p796; Corn. Nep. Epam. 2; Lucian, Lexiph. 5). But if the same athlete fell thrice, the victory was decided, and he was not allowed to go on (Senec. de Benef. V.3; Aeschyl. Agam. 171; Anthol. Gr. vol. I p406, ed. Jacobs). The ἁλίνδησις was only fought in later times, at the smaller games, and especially in the pancratium. The place, where the wrestlers contended, was generally soft ground, and covered with sand (Xen. Anab. IV.8 §26; Lucian, Anach. 2). Effeminate persons sometimes spread large and magnificent carpets on the place where they wrestled (Athen. XII p539). Each of the various tribes of the Greeks seem to have shown its peculiar and national character in the game of wrestling in some particular trick or stratagem, by which it excelled the others.

In a dialectic point of view the ἁλίνδησις was considered beneficial to the interior parts of the body, the loins, and the lower parts in general, but injurious to the head; whereas the πάλη ὀρθὴ was believed to act beneficially upon the upper parts of the body. It was owing to these salutary effects that wrestling was practised in all the gymnasia as well as in the palaestrae, and that in Ol. 37 wrestling for boys was introduced at the Olympic games, and at Athens in the Eleusinia, and Thesea also (Paus. V.8 §3, III.11 §6; Pind. Ol. VIII.68; Gell. XV.20; Plut. Symp. II.5). The most renowned of all the Greek wrestlers in the historical age was Milon of Croton, whose name was known throughout the ancient world (Herod. III.137; Strab. VI. p262, &c.; Diodor. XII.9). Other distinguished wrestlers are enumerated by Krause (p135, &c.), who has also given a very minute account of the game of wrestling and every thing connected with it, in his Gymnastik und Agon. d. Hell. pp400‑439.


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