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p849 Palaestra

Unsigned article on p849 of

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

PALAESTRA (παλαίστρα) properly means a place for wrestling (παλαίειν, πάλη), and appears to have originally formed a part of the gymnasium. The word was, however, used in different senses at various periods, and its exact meaning, especially in relation to the gymnasium, has occasioned much controversy among modern writers. Its first useº occurs in Herodotus (VI.126128), who says that Cleisthenes of Sicyon built a dromos and a palaestra, both of which he calls by the general name of palaestra. At Athens, however, there was a considerable number of palaestrae, quite distinct from the gymnasium, which were called by the names either of their founders, or of the teachers who gave instruction there; thus, for example, we read of the palaestra of Taureas (Plut. Charmid. init.). Krause (Gymnastik und Agonistik der Hellenen, p117, &c.) contends that the palaestrae at Athens were appropriated to the gymnastic exercises of boys and youths (παίδες and μειράκια), and the gymnasia to those of men; but Becker (Charikles, vol. I pp311, 335, &c.) has shown that this cannot be the true distinction, although it appears that certain places were, for obvious reasons, appropriated to the exclusive use of boys (Aesch. c. Timarch. p35, Reiske). But that the boys exercised in the gymnasia as well, is plain from many passages (Antiph. de Caed. invol. p661, Reiske; παῖς ὡραῖος ἀπὸ γυμνασίου, Aristoph. Av. 138, 140); while, on the other hand, we read of men visiting the palaestrae (Lucian, Navig. 4, vol. III p251, Reitz).

It appears most probable that the Palaestrae were, during the flourishing times of the Greek republics, chiefly appropriated to the exercises of wrestling and of the pancratium, and were principally intended for the athletae, who, it must be recollected, were persons that contended in the public games, and therefore needed special training. This is expressly stated by Plutarch (Symp. II.4), who says, "that the place in which all the athletae exercise is called a palaestra;" and we also learn from Pausanias (V.15 § 5, VI.21 § 2), that there were at Olympia palaestrae especially devoted to the athletes. In Athenaeus (X. p417F) we read of the great athletes Damippus coming out of the palaestra; and Galen (περὶ τοῦ διὰ μικρᾶς σφαίρας γυμνασίου, c5) places the athletae in the palaestra (Krause, Ibid. p115).

The Romans had originally no places corresponding to the Greek gymnasia and palaestrae; and when towards the close of the republic, wealthy Romans, in imitation of the Greeks, began to build places for exercise in their villas, they called them indifferently gymnasia and palaestrae (Cic. ad Att. I.4, 8, 9, 10, ad Qu. Fr. III.1 § 2, Verr. V.72). The words were thus used by the Romans as synonymous; and accordingly we find that Vitruvius (V.11) gives a description of a Greek gymnasium under the name of palaestra.

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Page updated: 26 Dec 06