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at their being so much practised in the best governed states.
Hercules, Thesius, Castor and Pollux, and the greatest heroes of antiquity, were not only the insti. tutors or restorers of them, but thought it glorious to share in the exercise of them, and meritorious to succeed therein. The subduers of monsters, and of the common enemies of mankind, thought it no disgrace to them, to aspire at the victories in these combats ; nor that the new wreaths, with which their brows were encircled in the solemnization of these games, took any lustre from those they had before acquired. Hence the most famous poets made these combats the subject of their verses; the beauty of whose poetry, whilst it immortalized themselves, seemed to promise an eternity of fame to those whose victories it so divinely celebrated. Hence arose that uncommon ardour, which animated all Greece to imitate the ancient heroes, and, like them, to signalize themselves in the public combats.
A reason more solid, which results from the nature of these combats, and of the people who used them, may be given for their prevalence. The Greeks, by nature warlike, and equally intent upon forming the bodies and minds of their youth, introduced these exercises, and annexed honours to them, in order to prepare the younger sort for the profession of arms, to confirm their health, to render them stronger and more robust, to inure them to fatigues, and to make them intrepid in close fight, in which (the use of fire arms being then unknown) the strength of body generally decided the victory. These athletic exercises supplied the place of those in use amongst our nobility, as dancing, fencing, riding the great horse, &c. but they did not confine themselves to a graceful mein, nor to the beauties of a shape and face; they were for joining strength to the charms of person.
It is true, these exercises, so illustrious by their founders, and so useful in the ends at first proposed from them, introduced public masters, who taught them to young persons, and practising them with success, made public show and ostentation of their skill. This sort of men applied themselves solely to the practice of this art, and carrying it to an excess, they formed it into a kind of science, by the addition of rules and refinements; often challenging each other out of a vain emulation, till at length they degenerated into a profession of people, who, without any other employment or merit, exhibited themselves as a sight for the diversion of the public. Our dancing masters are not unlike them in this respect, whose natural and original designation was to teach youth a graceful manner of walking, and a good address; but now we see them mount the stage, and perform ballads in the garb of comedians, capering, jumping, skipping, and making variety of strange unnatural motions. We shall
see, in the sequel, what opinion the ancients had of their professed combatants and wrestling masters.
There were four kinds of games solemnized in Greece. The Olympic, so called from Olympia, otherwise Pisa, a town of Elis in Peloponnesus; near which they were celebrated after the expiration of every four years, in honour of Jupiter Olympicus.
The Pythic, sacred to Apollo Pythius,' so called front the serpent Python killed by him; they were also celebrated every four years. The Nemean, which took their name from Nemea, a city and forest of Peloponnesus, and were either instituted or restored by Hercules, after he had slain the lion of the Nemean forest; they were solemnized every two years. And lastly, the Isthmian; celebrated upon the Isthmus of Corinth, from four years to four years, in honour of Neptune. “Theseus was the restorer of them, and they continued even after the ruin of Corinth. That persons might be present at these public sports with greater quiet and security, there was a general suspension of arms and cessation of hostilities throughout all Greece, during the time of their celebration.
In these games, which were solemnized with incred. ible magnificence, and drew together a prodigious concourse of spectators from all parts, a simple wreath was all the reward of the victors. In the Olympic games it was composed of wild olive; in the Pythic, of laurel; in the Nemean, of green parsley;" and in the Isthmian, of the same herb. The institutors of these games implied from thence, that honour only, and not mean and sordid interest, ought to be the motive of great actions. Of what were men not capable, accustomed to act solely from so glorious a principle! We have seen in the Persian war, that Tigranes, one of the most considerable captains in the army of Xerxes, having heard the prizes in the Grecian games described, cried out with astonishment,
Several reasons are given for this name. m Paus. 1. ï. p. 88.
Apium. o Herod. I. viú. c. 88.
addressing himself to Mardonius, who commanded in chief, p “ Heavens! against what men are you leading us? Insensible to interest, they combat only for glory !” Which exclamation, though looked upon by Xerxes as an effect of abject fear, abounds with sense and judgment.
? It was from the same principle that the Romans, whilst they bestowed upon other occasions crowns of gold of great value, persisted always in giving only a wreath of oaken leaves to him who saved the life of a citizen. “Oh manners, worthy of eternal remembrance !” cries Pliny, in relating this laudable custom. "O grandeur, truly Roman, that would assign no other reward but honor for the preservation of a citizen! a service, indeed, above all reward; thereby sufficiently arguing it their opinion, that it was criminal to save a man's life from the motive of lucre and interest !” O mores æternos, qui tanta opera honore solo donaverint ; et cum reliquas coronas auro commendarent, salutem civis in pretio esse noluerint, clara professione servari quidem hominem nefas esse lucri causa!
Amongst all the Grecian games, the Olympic held undeniably the first rank, and that for three reasons. They were sacred to Jupiter, the greatest of the gods ; instituted by Hercules, the first of the heroes; and celebrated with more pomp and magnificence, amidst a greater concourse of spectators from all parts, than any of the rest.
Ρ Παπαι, Μαρδονι4 κοινους επ ανδρας η Γαβες μαχήσομενες, ημας, οι και πες: χρημάτων τον αγώνα αοιενται, αλλα σιρι αρτας.
9 Plin. l. xyi. c. 4.
r If Pausanias may be believed, women were prohibited to be present at them upon pain of death; and during their continuance, it was ordained, that no woman should approach the place where the games were celebrated, or pass on that side of the river Alpheus. One only was so bold as to violate this law, and slipped in disguise amongst the combatants. She was tried for the offence, and would have suffered for it, according to the law, if the judges, in regard to her father, her brother, and her son, who had all been victors in the Olympic games, had not pardoned her offence, and saved her life.
This law was very conformable with the Grecian manners, amongst whom the ladies were very reserved, seldom appeared in public, had separate apartments, called Gynecea, and never ate at table with the men when strangers were present. It was certainly inconsistent with decency to admit them at some of the games, as those of wrestling, and the pancratium, in which the combatants fought naked.
* The same Pausanias tells us in another place, that the priestess of Ceres had an honorable seat in these games, and that virgins were not denied the liberty of being present at them. For my part I cannot conceive the reason of such inconsistency, which indeed seems incredible.
The Greeks thought nothing comparable to the victory in these games. They looked upon it as the perfection of glory, and did not believe it permitted to mortals to desire any thing beyond it. *Cicero assures
Pausan. I. v. p. 297. Pausan. I. vi. p. 382. Olympiorum victoria, Græcis consulatus ille antiquus videbatur Tuscul. Quest. lib. i. n. 41,