The Palaestra was the name of the wrestling and combat sports arena in
ancient Greece, a familiar institution to not only classical-era Greece
but also to the Hellenistic peoples under Alexander and the Ptolemies, and
the Roman and Byzantine empires.
Some of the most famous palaestras were in Delphi and
Olympia (the site of the ancient Olympic Games) in Greece, where
competition in the pankration (much like the MMA, mixed martial
arts of today) and boxing was held. There is speculation that the
resemblance of pankration to MMA may be more than mere coincidence, as
pankration was probably known to Central and South Asians in the time of
Alexander the Great (4th Century BC), from which it may have influenced
the East Asian martial arts, from which MMA is derived in part.
Symposium, Charmides and many other ancient works, we see
that the palaestra was not just a gymnasium in the original sense; the name
gymnasium referring to the custom of working out naked, first oiled
up with olive oil then covered with a layer of sand for a better grip, as
contrasted with, say, the Kirkpinar wrestling in Western Turkey today
where no sand is used and the gripping is harder. The Palaestra was
also a social area, where one would hang out with one's friends and yes,
also dates (eromenoi) and listen to learned discourses between
matches. Both physical and mental fitness were highly valued: mens
sana in corpore sano (a "healthy mind in a healthy body").
The Symposium contains an interesting account of how men might get to
know each other at the palaestra; for
that is where the famous general Alcibiades took Socrates when asking him
I challenged him to the palaestra; and he wrestled and closed with me
several times when there was no one present; I fancied that I might
succeed in this manner. Not a bit; I made no way with him. Lastly, as I
had failed hitherto, I thought that I must take stronger measures and
attack him boldly, and, as I had begun, not give him up, but see how
matters stood between him and me. So I invited him to sup with me...
It should be noted that these were both very much grown men, middle-age
veterans in fact. Neither athletics nor eros were limited to the young
(and despite the stereotype, Plato and the law condemned relations with
underage persons). While in modern times, athletics is often seen as
something limited to a special class of persons, namely youth and
"professional athletes", and often not continued into adulthood
(particularly seen with many wrestlers, unfortunately), the palaestra was
also a means for maintaining physical fitness for life, and there was
nothing unusual about grown men expressing their admiration for another
grown man by challenging each other to a a match.
Plato approaches eros in a practical manner, at least in his early
dialogues (while the later dialogues veer towards the totalitarian). He
considered physical attraction important to start the process going, but
it was a means to an end; the idea was to form lifelong friendships, to
avoid selfishness and flakiness and to aspire to all that was beautiful
and good. The Sacred Band of Thebes was another manifestation of this
ideal, an army of lovers would not fail, as they would fight most
valiantly, right up to their final battle in Chaeroneia.
Since becoming involved in the wrestling community in the 1990's, I've
not only had plenty of memorable matches but met plenty of amazing people
who have become good friends. I hope you will also enjoy your experience
on this site. Suggestions are welcome. You might notice that I don't
have a lot of legalese and rules posted here. This is a site intended for
adults, which also means it goes without saying that we act in a mature
manner. People with common sense and courtesy don't need, and indeed
resent, sites with excessively intrusive or nanny-like rules. I intend to
keep it that way. As free adults, we should be able to say whatever we
like to other free adults; at the same time, if any illegal actions such
as harassment or spamming come to my attention, I reserve the right to
take all appropriate action including temporary or permanent removal of
the offender from the site.
Keep it safe, sane and consensual. Trust your better instincts.
Here's to a sound mind in a sound body!
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