Tuesday, 24 January 2012

No biting, no gouging ... and flowers

The more I research the arts and writings we still have from Ancient Greece, the more connections I find with aspects of modern life.

I saw the movie ‘Warrior’ the other day. It’s about a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament in which the two finalists are estranged brothers. I was interested because MMA is similar to the Ancient Olympic sport of pankration. This was a combination of boxing and wrestling which famously had no rules except ‘no biting and no gouging’. It seems to have started at the 33rd Olympic Games in 648 BC but has never been included in the Modern Olympic Games, even in 1896 when they began.

They say that even the no biting, no gouging rule was ignored by the Spartans, who were trained to use any method possible to win in a battle. So Spartans were barred from competing in the pankration of the Ancient Olympic Games. They were too dangerous!

According to the Wikipedia page, ‘In Greek mythology, it was said that the heroes Heracles and Theseus invented pankration as a result of using both wrestling and boxing in their confrontations with opponents. Theseus was said to have utilized his extraordinary pankration skills to defeat the dreaded Minotaur in the Labyrinth. Heracles was said to have subdued the Nemean lion using pankration, and was often depicted in ancient artwork doing that.’
Taken by Yair Haklai in 2008, St Petersburg

The fighting in ‘Warrior’ includes a bewildering series of techniques of striking and grappling and submission holds. There is a statue that shows a submission hold in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It is a Roman marble copy of a third century BC Greek bronze and is known as the Uffizi WrestlersThis photo is of a copy of it (a copy of a copy!) in the Yusupov Palace in Saint Petersburg.

There’s a story in Pausanias (translated by Peter Levi) about a pankratiast or all-in-fighter called Arrachion of Phigalia. He had won twice in previous Olympic Games and in the final bout of the 54th Olympiad (564 BC), he was caught by his opponent in a strangle-hold. As he tried to get out of the hold, he broke his opponent’s toe. The opponent submitted because of the pain, but just at that moment Arrachion died in the strangle-hold. Arrachion’s dead body was proclaimed the winner. As I watched the story of ‘Warrior’ unfold, I wondered whether something similar would be the climax. If you haven't seen it, I won’t spoil the ending for you …

I’ve been away for ten days visiting relatives and came back to Cumbria to find snowdrops, crocuses and cyclamen out in the garden. This is earlier than usual by two weeks or so. 

I particularly love the cyclamen at this time of year. In Greece they flower from now until the heat begins in April and the autumn ones flower from September through to December. So as long as there’s rain there are wild cyclamen among the rocks and scrub on the mountains. In The Boy with Two Heads I had them garlanding a statue of Pan, god of wild places.

Talking of The Boy with Two Heads, Connie is now working on the text layout. We met on Saturday and decided on various design features and spacings. Because the story is told partly in extracts from blogs and diaries, we have had to use two different fonts and various heading styles. Our own two heads were better than one again, especially as one of the decisions was to do with running heads! The cover is still causing problems, but the whole is progressing, though more slowly than anticipated - as always in my long experience of publishing. 

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