Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/166

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houses called zour-kaneh, where bodily exercises are practised. They may be compared with the gymnasiums of the ancients. The zour-kaneh consists of a room, the door of which is sunk two feet below the level of the soil. They have no air or light, but what is admitted at small apertures in the dome; and hence, it is unwholesome to remain long in them. A broad smooth terrace is the arena where the exercises are performed, while the spectators and musicians are stationed in a kind of boxes or rather niches.

Niebuhr, who visited these gymnasiums, gives a faithful description of their different kinds of exercises, all of which are designed to develope the physical powers and natural dexterity. The champions enter the arena stark naked, with the exception of a pair of light drawers. They begin with a short prayer and prostration, for the Musulman never engages in any thing, not even amusement, without praying. Having performed this duty, some extend themselves at full length, but without allowing the belly to touch the ground, and in this posture describe a circle with the head, yet without stirring either hands or feet, by which they are supported. Others take thick wooden clubs, about a foot and a half long, and cut into the shape of pears, place one on each shoulder, brandish them about in cadence with the music, at the same time stamping with their feet, and continuing this exercise for half an hour. These stand on their hands, with their heels in the air, and leap up by a plank set against the wall, or even without the assistance of the plank; those dance to the sound of lively music, sometimes turning round, sometimes leaning against the wall, sometimes standing on one hand, sometimes on the other. Some lie down on their backs with cushions under the head and arms, and raise in cadence heavy pieces of wood; while others, standing upright, shake their bodies in every direction, up, down, forward and backward. These postures are varied to infinity, and they are generally succeeded by wrestling. The combatants never try their strength, till they have paid each other a thousand compliments. They first clap their hands one against another, then cross them over their foreheads; they next lie down on the ground, each seeking the means of attacking his antagonist to the greatest advantage. The contest is thus prolonged till the victory is decided, and the vanquished party kisses the hand of the conqueror. When the champion has beaten all his adversaries, he solicits some donation of the spectators. If he can prove that he has overcome the most eminent champions of the great cities, he has a right to have a lion placed on his tomb.

These violent exercises cause, as may be supposed, a profuse perspiration; there are, therefore, persons always in attendance