Gymnastics were held in such high repute in ancient Greece that physical training occupied as much time in the education of boys as all their other studies, and was continued through life with modifications to suit the altering requirements of age and occupation. The Greeks fully recognized that mental culture could not reach its highest perfection if the development of the body were neglected. Lucian attributes not only the bodily grace of the Ancient Greeks, but also their mental pre-eminence, to the gymnastic exercises which they practised. They were also an important factor in the excellence of Greek sculpture, and probably the most important part of their medical treatment.
Unfortunately the baths of the Romans and the gymnasia of the Greeks became in time the haunts of the lazy and voluptuous. The gymnastic exercises of the Greeks date from very early times, and at first were of a warlike nature, and not reduced to a system. Each town possessed a gymnasium, and three very important ones were situated at Athens.
Vitruvius describes the general plan of an ancient gymnasium. It comprised a great stadium capable of accommodating a vast concourse of spectators, many porticoes where athletes exercised and philosophers and sages held discussions and lectured, walks and shady groves, and baths and anointing rooms. The buildings, in true Grecian fashion, were made very beautiful, being adorned with statues and works of art, and situated in pleasant surroundings.
Up to the age of 16 boys were instructed in gymnastics, in music and in grammar, and from 16 to 18 in gymnastics alone. The laws of Solon regulated the use of the gymnasia, and for very many years these laws were strictly enforced. It appears that married women did not attend the gymnasia, and unmarried women only in some parts of Greece, such as Sparta, but this custom was relaxed in later years.
The office of Gymnasiarch (Superintendent of Gymnasia) was one of great honour, but involved also a great deal of expense to the holder of the office. He wore a purple cloak and white shoes. Officers were appointed to supervise the morals and conduct of the boys and youths, and the Gymnasiarch had power to expel people whose teaching or example might be injurious to the young.
Galen relates that the chief teachers of the gymnasia were capable of prescribing suitable exercises, and thus had powers of medical supervision.
Before exercises were commenced, the body was anointed, and fine sand or dust applied. Regulation of the diet was considered of very great importance.
The games of the gymnasia were many and various, including games of ball, tug-of-war, top-spinning, and a game in which five stones were placed on the back of the hand, thrown upwards, and caught in the palm. One kind of game or exercise consisted in throwing a rope over a high post, when two boys took the ends of the rope, one boy on each side, the one trying to pull the other up. The most important exercises, however, were running, walking, throwing the discus, jumping, wrestling, boxing, and dancing.
The first public gymnasium in Rome was built by the Emperor Nero. In the time of the Republic Greek exercises were held in contempt by the Romans, and the first gymnasia in Rome were small, and connected only with private houses or villas.
The gymnasia were dedicated to Apollo, the god of healing, and exercises were considered of greater importance for restoring health than medicinal treatment. The directors of the gymnasia were in reality physicians, and acted as such. Plato states that one of these, Iccus by name, was the inventor of medical gymnastics. As in our own day, many creditable gymnasts, originally weak of body, had perfected their strength by systematic exercise and careful dieting.
Hippocrates had occasion to protest against prolonged and laborious exercises, and excessive massage, and recommended his own system, that of moderation. He applied massage to reduce swellings in suitable cases, and also recognized that the same treatment was capable of increasing nutrition, and of producing increased growth and development. Hippocrates described exercises of the kind now known as Swedish, consisting of free movements without resistance.
Galen generally followed the teaching of Hippocrates on gymnastics, and wrote a whole book on the merits of using the strigil. Oribasius, and Antyllus, too, in their writings, recommend special exercises which appealed to their judgment.
The ancient physicians had great faith in the efficacy of exercises in cases of dropsy, and Asclepiades employed this method of treatment very extensively, using also pleasant medicaments, so that Pliny said "this physician made himself the delight of mankind." Patients suffering from consumption were commonly sent to Alexandria to benefit from the climate, but Celsus considered the sea voyage most beneficial because the patient was exercised bodily by the motion of the ship. Germanicus was cured by riding exercise, and Cicero was strengthened by travelling and massage.
From the writings of Greek and Roman physicians there is no other conclusion to be drawn but that exercises and gymnastics were in great vogue for medical purposes, and were of the utmost benefit. It seems likely that the exercises of the Greeks, and the baths of the Romans, both freed from the abuses which took away in time from their merits, could be adopted at the present day and encouraged by physicians with great advantage to their patients. There is a strong tendency at present in that direction.
Belonging to a different class were the contests of the athletes, who, except in very early times in Greece, were people of the baser sort whose bodies were developed to the neglect of their minds. Those who underwent the severest training ate enormous quantities of meat, and tried to cultivate bulk and weight rather than strength. They did not compete, as a rule, after the age of thirty-five years. Euripides considered these athletes an encumbrance on the State. Plato said they were very subject to disease, without grace of manner, violent, and brutal. Aristotle declared that the athletes had not the active vigour that good citizens ought to possess.
The athletes and gladiators of Rome were mostly Greeks. Both Plutarch and Galen deride them. The former condemned the whole business, and Galen wrote six chapters to warn young men against becoming athletes. He said that man is linked to the divine and also to the lower animals, that the link with animals was developed by athletics, and that athletes were immoderate in eating, sleeping, and exertion, and were therefore unhealthy, and more liable than other people to disease and sudden death. Their brutal strength was of use only on rare occasions and unsuited for war, or for useful work.
In the time of St. Paul, the athletes were evidently abstemious, for he wrote "every man who striveth in the games is temperate in all things," but in Rome, at most periods of their history this class of men was notorious for grossness and brutality.
GREEK AND ROMAN
EARLY ROMAN MEDICINE.
EARLY GREEK MEDICINE.
MACHAON (SON OF ASKLEPIOS),
PLATO, ARISTOTLE, THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA AND EMPIRICISM.
THE ALEXANDRIAN SCHOOL.
ROMAN MEDICINE AT THE END OF THE REPUBLIC AND THE BEGINNING OF THE
IN THE REIGN OF THE
PHYSICIANS FROM THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS TO THE DEATH OF NERO.
THE FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
I.--WORKS ON ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY.
II.--WORKS ON DIETETICS AND HYGIENE.
V.--ON PHARMACY, MATERIA MEDICA, AND THERAPEUTICS.
THE LATER ROMAN AND BYZANTINE PERIOD.
INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON ALTRUISM AND THE HEALING ART.
GYMNASIA AND BATHS.
GREEK AND BATHS
DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.
FEES IN ANCIENT TIMES.