Thursday, February 11, 2016

From Olympia to Atlanta: A Cultural-Historical Perspective on Diet and Athletic Training

Galen, the prominent Greek physician, was the doctor to gladiators, and he practiced medicine at Pergamum, in the geographical region now in western Turkey. His principle contributions to athletics are through two essays that consider exercise in general and how to train gladiators. He presents the advantages of exercise using a small ball, as the following selection reveals: The best philosophers and the best doctors among the ancients have frequently stated how beneficial exercise is toward health, and that it must precede eating. ... I say that the best athletics ... are those which not only exercise the body but are able to please the spirit. ... Play with a small ball is so much a people's activity that even the poorest man is able to have the equipment. ... [Such exercise] needs neither nets nor weapons nor horses nor hunting dogs, but only a ball, and a small one at that. ... This kind of exercise is the only one which moves all parts of the body so very equally. ... Many [other] exercises achieve an opposite effect: they make people lazy and drowsy and dull witted. ... [Many] who work out at the palestra [tend] toward being muscular rather than toward the pursuit of excellence. Many have become so weighed down that they have difficulty breathing. ... Perhaps you will suppose that I recommend running and other exercises that slim down the body. ... That is not the case. ... I assert that every [exercise] should be practiced in moderation. ... Accordingly, I do not approve of ... running [with] which people slim their bodies and in which they gain no practice or manly spirit. Victory does not go to those who flee quickly but to those able to persevere in confrontation. ... If you should ask how healthy running is, the answer is that in the same measure that it unequally exercises the parts of the body, it is unhealthy. For by definition [running] has to overwork some parts and leave others utterly idle. Neither of these is good, [and] both nourish the seeds of diseases and render one's forces feeble. Accordingly, I approve of exercise which produces a healthy body and a balance between the various parts of the body, and along with that a fine spirit.
Louis E. Grivetti and Elizabeth A. Applegate

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