Still Working on a Resolution? Some Exercise and Diet Suggestions from Ancient Greece

Philostratus, Gymnasticus 43-44

“Let that be enough said concerning the topic of the mixture of humors in contemporary exercise, since the ancient practice had no concept of the mixture but worked on strength alone. Ancient authors mean any type of exercise at all when they use the term ‘gymnastic’. Some people used to exercise by carrying weights which were not easy to carry; others attempted to match the speed of horses and hares; others still used to straighten and bend thick pieces of worked iron. Others  yoked themselves alongside strong, wagon-pulling oxen and others used to try to strangle bulls or even lions.

These things were the training regimen of the Polymêstors, the Glaukoi, the Alesiai, and Poulydamas of Skotussa. The hands of the boxer Tisander used to obtain their exercise by carrying him as he swam around the head of the island and deep into the sea. Rivers and springs cleansed the men of old and they were in the practice of sleeping on the ground, some making their beds from skins and others fashioning them from the meadows. Their food were barley cakes or bread which was unsifted and unleavened. They ate the meat of cows, bulls, and goats, and they oiled themselves from wild olives.

This is how they avoided sickness and grew old only late in life. Some of them even competed for eight or nine Olympiads and they were also good warriors. They fought defending their city walls and did not fall there, but were considered worthy of recognition and trophies, since they used warfare as training for sports and sports to train for war.

When the state of affairs changed and they become inexperienced of fighting, lazy rather than vigorous, and soft instead of hard, then Sicilian delicacy overpowered their diet. This is when the athletic fields were weakened and, then even more, when flattery was made part of exercise.”

Ταῦτα εἰρήσθω μοι περὶ κράσεως ἐκ τῆς νῦν γυμναστικῆς, ὡς ἡ ἀρχαία γε οὐδὲ ἐγίνωσκε κρᾶσιν, ἀλλὰ μόνην τὴν ἰσχὺν ἐγύμναζεν. γυμναστικὴν δὲ οἱ παλαιοὶ καὶ αὐτὸ τὸ ὁτιοῦν γυμνάζεσθαι· ἐγυμνάζοντο δὲ οἱ μὲν ἄχθη φέροντες οὐκ εὔφορα, οἱ δ’ ὑπὲρ τάχους ἁμιλλώμενοι πρὸς ἵππους καὶ πτῶκας, οἱ δ’ ὀρθοῦντές τε καὶ κάμπτοντες σίδηρον ἐληλαμένον εἰς παχύ, οἱ δὲ βουσὶ συνεζευγμένοι καρτεροῖς τε καὶ ἁμαξεῦουσιν, οἱ δὲ ταύρους ἀπαυχενίζοντες, οἱ δ’ αὐτοὺς λέοντας. ταῦτα δὲ δὴ Πολυμήστορες καὶ Γλαῦκοι καὶ Ἀλησίαι καὶ Πουλυδάμας ὁ Σκοτουσσαῖος. Τίσανδρον δὲ τὸν ἐκ τῆς Νάξου πύκτην περὶ τὰ ἀκρωτήρια τῆς νήσου νέοντα παρέπεμπον αἱ χεῖρες ἐπὶ πολὺ τῆς θαλάσσης [παραπεμπόμεναι] γυμναζόμεναί τε καὶ γυμνάζουσαι. ποταμοί τε αὐτοὺς ἔλουον καὶ πηγαὶ καὶ χαμευνίαν ἐπήσκουν, οἱ μὲν ἐπὶ βυρσῶν ἐκταθέντες, οἱ δ’ εὐνὰς ἀμήσαντες ἐκ λειμώνων.

σιτία δὲ αὐτοῖς αἵ τε μᾶζαι καὶ τῶν ἄρτων οἱ ἄπτιστοι καὶ μὴ ζυμῆται καὶ τῶν κρεῶν τὰ βόειά τε καὶ ταύρεια καὶ τράγεια τούτους ἔβοσκε καὶ δόρκοι κότινου τε <καὶ> φυλίας ἔχριον αὑτοὺς λίπα· ὅθεν ἄνοσοί τε ἤσκουν καὶ ὀψὲ ἐγήρασκον. ἠγωνίζοντό τε οἱ μὲν ὀκτὼ Ὀλυμπιάδας, οἱ δὲ ἐννέα, καὶ ὁπλιτεύειν ἀγαθοὶ ἦσαν, ἐμάχοντό τε ὑπὲρ τειχῶν οὐδὲ ἐκεῖ πίπτοντες, ἀλλὰ ἀριστείων τε ἀξιούμενοι καὶ τροπαίων, καὶ μελέτην ποιούμενοι πολεμικὰ μὲν γυμναστικῶν, γυμναστικὰ δὲ πολεμικῶν ἔργα.

Ἐπεὶ δὲ μετέβαλε ταῦτα καὶ ἀστράτευτοι μὲν ἐκ μαχομένων, ἀργοὶ δὲ ἐξ ἐνεργῶν, ἀνειμένοι δὲ ἐκ κατεσκληκότων ἐγένοντο Σικελική τε ὀψοφαγία ἴσχυσεν, ἐξενευρίσθη τὰ στάδια, καὶ πολλῷ μᾶλλον, ἐπειδὴ κολακευτική γε ἐγκατελέχθη τῇ γυμναστικῇ.

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