Saturday 20 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 4

Yesterday at the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece we looked at all those naked, bronzed, oiled-up male athletes running their races and throwing their javelins. Today we’ll see them get close and personal in the boxing, wrestling and pankration.

The rules for these fighting sports were a lot different to today’s. All 3 age groups were expected to compete – 12-15 years, 16-20 years and the over 20s. There were no weight categories in any group, so the smallest fighter had to fight the biggest if their names were pulled “out of the hat” together.

Boxing was said to have been invented by Apollo, the god of sport. He had several young boyfriends with sporting connections. The most famous was Prince Hyakinthos of Sparta who was killed by a flying discus. The Spartans founded the Hyankinthia festival in his honour and held many sporting contests, as well as naming a flower after him.

Wrestling was more like the current Olympic sport rather than the American version. Again, there were no weight categories. Tripping was allowed by biting and gouging weren’t. One Athenian athlete who became an Olympic wrestling champion was Pantarkes. Born in about 450 BC he became a trainee sculptor at the age of 12 to Phidias of Athens. It wasn’t long before they became a couple. Phidias was a bout 40 at the time. There was no thought of paedophilia as a crime in those ancient days. The boys expected it and it was always consensual.

Phidias is the man who redesigned the Parthenon so it could be used as the grand highlight of the Greater Panathenaean Games on Day 7 and he built HUUUUUUGE statues. One of them became one of the 7 Wonders of the World – the statue of Zeus at Olympia (right). This was almost 40 feet tall (12 metres) and made of ivory and gold plated bronze. Phidias was clearly  smitten with young Pantarkes when he was building it. Pantarkes, who must have started his wrestling training when they met, had a well-toned body and Phidias used him as a model for one of the figures decorating Zeus’s statue. Phidias even carved “Pantarkes is wonderful” onto one of Zeus’s little fingers. Pantarkes would have watched the Greater Panathenaean Games, maybe even competed in a couple of them.

The third contact sport was pankration. This was very brutal and a no-holds-barred version of ultimate cage fighting (without the cage). As such it was the best training for soldiers in the gym and one of the most popular. Plato once wrote that one pankration contests attracted thousands of competitors! Again, the origins of the sport go back to mythology. Hercules (left) is one named originator. Both the Disney cartoon and the TV series of a few years back always forgot to mention that Hercules was the hero who had more boyfriends than any other – at least 4.

Pankration fighters were often the butchest athletes around, mainly because it involved developing more muscles, strength and agility than any other. One famous fighter attracted the attention of bisexual Alexander the Great. He was Dioxippus, a soldier in Alexander’s army who had been the Olympic pankration champion in 336 BC. As an Athenian native he would have seen and even participated in the Gayest Games.

Even though non-Athenians took part in other events, one group was excluded from the pankration because they were too good – the Spartans. Their reputation as the ultimate fighting warriors would not have produced much of a competition.

With Day 4 coming to a close we look forward to a change of sport tomorrow and a whole day of equestrian events.

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to

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