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William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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The Afternoon at the Gymnasia

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Page 16

Wrestling

 

    The real crowds, however, are around the wrestlers and the racers. Wrestling in its less brutal form is in great favor. It brings into play all the muscles of a man; it tests his resources both of mind and body finely. It is excellent for a youth and it fights away old age. The Greek language is full of words and allusions taken from the wrestler's art. The palæstras for the boys are called "the wrestling school" par excellence. It is no wonder that now the ring on the sands is a dense one and constantly growing. Two skilful amateurs will wrestle. One—a speedy rumor tells us—is, earlier and later in the day, a rising comic poet; the other is not infrequently heard on the Bema. Just at present, however, they have forgotten anapests and oratory. A crowd of cheering, jesting friends thrusts them on. Forth they stand, two handsome, powerful men, well oiled for suppleness, but also sprinkled with fine sand to make it possible to get a fair grip in the contest.

    For a moment they wag their sharp black beards at each other defiantly, and poise and edge around. Then the poet, more daring, rushes in, and instantly the two have grappled—each clutching the other's left wrist in his right hand. The struggle that follows is hot and even, until a lucky thrust from the orator's foot lands the poet in a sprawling heap; whence he rises with a ferocious grin and renews the contest. The second time they both fall together. "A tie!" calls the long-gowned friend who acts as umpire, with an officious flourish of his cane.

    The third time the poet catches the orator trickily under the thigh, and fairly tears him to the ground; but at the fourth meeting the orator slips his arm in decisive grip about his opponent's wrist and with a might wrench upsets him.

"Two casts out of three, and victory!"

    Everybody laughs good-naturedly. The poet and the orator go away arm in arm to the bathing house, there to have another good oiling and rubbing down by their slaves, after removing the heavily caked sand from their skin with the stirgils. Of course, had it been a real contest in the "greater games," the outcome might have been more serious for the rules allow one to twist a wrist, to thrust an arm or foot into the foeman's belly, or (when things are desperate) to dash your forehead—bull fashion—against your opponent's brow, in the hope that his skull will prove weaker than yours.

 

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