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.
In Plato's 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 out:
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 them 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.
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Page Created: April 2, 2008 Last Modified: Feb. 26, 2012