Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/144

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
132
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

temporary sculptor of his native state. What a terrestrial Walhalla it must have been, that sacred mountain-grove of Elis, where these statues were erected in the shade of majestic trees, while the summit of the hill and the open meadows were adorned by such masterpieces of Grecian architecture as the temple of Jupiter Olympius and the Pantheon of Callicrates! Besides the military drill-grounds and the public gymnasia, of which every hamlet had one or two, and where the complete apparatus for all possible sports was often combined with free baths and lecture-halls, the larger cities had associations for the promotion of special favorite exercises, the brag-accomplishments of the rival towns. Wrestling, javelin-throwing, running, leaping, pitching the quoit, riding, driving, climbing ropes, shooting the arrow, were all practised by as many amateur clubs, which commonly owned a race-course or a private hall.

How many of the most admirable character-traits of the ancient Greeks, and how much of their success in the arena of life may be distinctly traced to these sources of mental and physical health! Health in the widest sense of the word was, indeed, the primary characteristic of their age, for health and vigor are synonyms. The same process of adaptation that qualifies the body for the performance of athletic feats disqualifies it for the development of any morbid elements, and accelerates the elimination of effete matter from the organism. We accordingly see that, among the creatures of the wilderness whose normal condition is one of muscular vigor, disease is wholly abnormal, and premature death only the consequence of wounds or protracted famine. "The immunity of hard-working people from the consequences of wrong or over-feeding," says Dr. Boerhaave, "is a proof that nine-tenths of your fashionable diseases might be cured mechanically instead of chemically, by climbing a tree, or chopping it down, if you prefer, instead of swallowing castor-oil and sulphur-water." Physical exercise, by accelerating the circulation of the blood, stimulates the activity of all those internal organs whose functions conjointly constitute the phenomenon of life, and counteracts innumerable functional disorders, any one of which is sure to react on the nervous system and the organ of the soul.

Mental pathology, if rightly understood, is a physiological science which must recognize the intimate connection and interaction of soul and body, and the influence of every physical derangement on the most subtile functions of the brain.

The physical superiority of the ante-Alexandrian Greeks to the hardiest and most robust nations of modern times is perhaps best illustrated by the military statistics of Xenophon. According to the author of the "Anabasis," the complete accoutrements of a Spartan soldier, in what we would call heavy marching order, weighed seventy-five pounds, exclusive of the camp, mining, and bridge-building tools, and the rations of bread and dried fruit which were issued in weekly installments, and increased the burden of the infantry soldier to ninety, ninety-five, or