Combat Sports in the Ancient World is primarily concerned with the historical significance of the fighting sports in the ancient culture of Greece and the surrounding areas. It discusses, in detail, the nature of wrestling, boxing, pankration, and stick fighting, and elaborates the practice of each discipline in its relation to warfare and everyday life. In this examination, we learn much of how the common hopes and aspiration of the regular people were very similar to ours today – one wished for greatness, and that greatness could be immortalized if one became a Champion. That said, there are many differences from current sport and that of antiquity, most obvious the far more rigorous rules enforced in modern combat circles. However, far more intriguing is the remarkable similarities between their era and ours, at least in terms of sporting excellence. In its discussion of the significance of sports, and specifically those involving hand-to-hand combat, it devotes sections to the military, recreation, medicine, and philosophy. These chapters discuss the (rather large) significance of these individual athletic contests to those separate areas of Greco-roman life. These details range from the actual immortalization of certain athletic heroes into semi-deities, as the tales of their conquests are repeated to the succeeding generations, to the records of specific tournaments, including the Olympics and the competitions at Delphi. The author speaks to these events with a similar tone as, perhaps, a modern MMA sports writer, though the ancient from of the sport holds more in common with the UFC in its “no holds barred” format of the early 1990’s than its version in 2016.
The book is a fascinating deconstruction of ancient life, through an incredibly relatable lens – athletic competition. Of course, today the most popular sports are not one-on-one fights to the death, but larger team sports that nonetheless channel the same violent energy. It’s certainly possible to envision a past in which, had they possessed the means, championship fights in the Olympics would have reached hype levels equivalent to the Super Bowl. The book’s discussion of these familiar concepts is thought-provoking, because prior to reading, I had no knowledge of the everyday lives of ancient Greeks, even after cursory lectures of clothing and food I’d experienced earlier in the schooling career. However, at this moment, I can say that (were I fluent in Greek and familiar with the fighters of the time) I could have carried out an interesting conversation with a random person in ancient Greece. So I think the book was incredibly enlightening, both for its engaging description of the combat sports and for those sports fascinating similarity in spirit to those we enjoy today. Its execution was fluid, and the content was an astonishingly good thing to write a book about. I will now proudly observe it on my bookshelf from this day forth, with the joy of a small Greek child who looks up to the terrifying man-beasts which reign supreme over the ancient athletic landscape.
Recommendations: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, The Martian by Andy Weir, Farside by Ben Bova, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.