Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/143

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
131
THE AGE OF GYMNASTICS.

and Corinth, emulated the Spartan legislator in founding palaestræ, gymnasia, and international race-courses, and devising measures for popularizing these institutions. Four different localities—Olympia, Corinth, Nemea, and the Dionysian race-course near Athens—were consecrated to the "Panhellenic games," at which the athletes of all the Grecian tribes of Europe and Asia met for a trial of strength at intervals varying from six months to four years, the latter being the period of the great Olympic games which formed the basis of ancient chronology. The honor of being crowned in the presence of an assembled nation would alone have sufficed to enlist the competition of all able bodied men of a glory-loving race, but many additional inducements made the Olympic championship the day-dream of youth and manhood, and served to increase the ardor of gymnastic emulation. The victors of the Isthmian and Nemean games were exempt from taxation, became the idols of their native towns, were secured against the vicissitudes of fortune and the wants of old age, by a liberally-endowed annuity fund, and enjoyed all the advantages and immunities of the privileged classes.

Egenetus, a humble citizen of Agrigentum, won three out of the five prizes of the ninety-second Olympiad, and was at once raised from poverty to opulence by the magnificent presents which the enthusiasm of the spectators forced upon him before he had left the arena. His return to his native city was attended by a procession of three hundred chariots, each drawn, like his own, by two white horses, and all belonging to the citizens of the town. All international quarrels and family feuds were suspended when the preparatory interval of forty-eight months approached its close, and even prisoners of war and political culprits were released on parole if they wished to contest the laurel wreath of any championship, for to deprive them of the chance of winning such a distinction was thought a penalty too severe for a merely political offense. The ecstatic power of an Olympian triumph is well illustrated by the story of Diagoras, the Rhodian, who had been a famous champion in his younger days, and was present when his two sons won the entire pentathlon, i. e., carried off the five prizes for which the athletes of all Greece had been training during the four years preceding the sixty-first Olympiad. When the boys lifted their father up and carried him through the arena, the shouts of the assembled multitude were heard in the harbor of Patræ, at a distance of seven leagues, but Diagoras himself had heard nothing on earth after the herald's voice had proclaimed the names of the victors; "the gods," as Pindar says. "had granted that the happiest moment of his life should be his last." Would Diagoras have exchanged that moment for a week of those "beatific visions" which rewarded St. Dominic for his seven years' penance?

If any athlete received more than one prize of the same Olympiad, his victory was commemorated by a statue executed by the best con-