It had been years since I last played the 1996 classic so I’d almost forgotten how much real-life art makes an appearance throughout the game. One of the artworks that caught my eye while exploring the Colosseum level earlier this week was this depiction of Ancient Greek wrestlers, which is taken from a funerary relief found at the Kerameikos necropolis in Athens and currently housed in Greece’s National Archaeological Museum.
Wrestling (or pále, πάλη) was a popular sport in Ancient Greece and was one of the staple events of formal sporting competitions, such as the Olympic and Pythian Games. Training normally took place in a palaestra (παλαίστρα), an enclosed courtyard which formed an integral part of a gymnasion (γυμνάσιον), a type of public institute used for physical training, sporting events, and socializing.
Fitness and combat training were an important part of a young man’s education in many parts of Ancient Greece and it was generally accepted that a well-rounded individual should be well versed in sporting, spiritual, and intellectual matters. As a result, many gymnasia organized lectures and discussions on philosophy, literature, and the arts as a way to nurture both the body and soul.
The scene shown in the screenshot above is taken from the base of a funerary kouros (a statue of an idealized, nude male youth), which dates back to about 510 BC and probably served as a grave marker for a deceased athelete. The relief was carved from Pentelic marble and depicts four male athletes in a palaestra. The athletes in the foreground are shown trying to wrestle each other to the ground while another athlete (on the far right) prepares the pit (or skamma) for the athlete on the far left, who is about to launch himself into the long jump event taking place in the background.
You’ll no doubt have noticed that the athletes are all training in the nude, which was common practice in a society that valued physical fitness and athletic beauty. While you may think this would have left the athletes’ “tender” regions exposed and vulnerable to injury, it was actually against the rules to grab an opponent’s genitals. So you can now breathe a sigh of relief, male readers. 😉
That’s all for this edition of Arte-Factual. If you’re interested in learning more about Ancient Greek history and art, check out the Related Articles listed below!
Sources & Further Reading:
- 3476 (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)
- Ancient Sports: Wrestling (Perseus Project)
- Base of a Funerary Kouros, Found in Kerameikos (Wikimedia)
- Greek Wrestling (Wikipedia)
- Gymnasium (Ancient Greece) (Wikipedia)
- Sport and Society in Ancient Greece by Mark Golden, Cambridge University Press (1998)
- Submission Fighting and the Rules of Ancient Greek Wrestling by Christopher Miller
- The Ancient Athlete: Amateur or Professional? (Perseus Project)
- Arte-Factual: Minoan Dolphin Fresco
- Arte-Factual: Tomb Raider Anniversary: Athenian Owl Figurine
- Lara’s Travels: Meteora