The English Martial Arts Podcast Show
The Noble Art
Boxing, sport, both amateur and professional, involving attack and defense with the fists. Boxers usually wear padded gloves and generally observe the code set forth in the marquess of Queensberry rules. The terms pugilism and prizefighting in modern usage are practically synonymous with boxing, although the first term indicates the ancient origins of the sport in its derivation from the Latin pugil, “a boxer,” related to the Latin pugnus, “fist,” and derived in turn from the Greek pyx, “with clenched fist.” The term prizefighting emphasizes pursuit of the sport for monetary gain, which began in England in the 17th century.
The Greeks considered boxing the most injurious of their sports. A 1st-century-BCE inscription praising a pugilist states, “A boxer’s victory is gained in blood.” In fact, Greek literature offers much evidence that the sport caused disfigurement and, occasionally, even death. An amazingly bloody bout is recounted by Homer in the Iliad (c. 675 BCE):
“Sons of Atreus, and all you other strong-greaved Achaians,
we invite two men, the best among you, to contend for these prizes
with their hands up for the blows of boxing. He whom Apollo
grants to outlast the other, and all the Achaians witness it,
let him lead away the hard-working jenny [female donkey] to his own shelter.
The beaten man shall take away the two-handled goblet.”
He spoke, and a man huge and powerful, well skilled in boxing,
rose up among them; the son of Panopeus, Epeios.
He laid his hand on the hard-working jenny, and spoke out:
“Let the man come up who will carry off the two-handled goblet.
I say no other of the Achaians will beat me at boxing
and lead off the jenny. I claim I am the champion. Is it not
enough that I fall short in battle? Since it could not be
ever, that a man could be a master in every endeavour.
For I tell you this straight out, and it will be a thing accomplished.
I will smash his skin apart and break his bones on each other.
Let those who care for him wait nearby in a huddle about him
to carry him out, after my fists have beaten him under.”
So he spoke, and all of them stayed stricken to silence.
Alone Euryalos stood up to face him, a godlike
man, son of lord Mekisteus of the seed of Talaos;
of him who came once to Thebes and the tomb of Oidipous after
his downfall, and there in boxing defeated all the Kadmeians.
The spear-famed son of Tydeus was his second, and talked to him
in encouragement, and much desired the victory for him.
First he pulled on the boxing belt about his waist, and then
gave him the thongs carefully cut from the hide of a ranging
ox. The two men, girt up, strode into the midst of the circle
and faced each other, and put up their ponderous hands at the same time
and closed, so that their heavy arms were crossing each other,
and there was a fierce grinding of teeth, the sweat began to run
everywhere from their bodies. Great Epeios came in, and hit him
as he peered out from his guard, on the cheek, and he could no longer
keep his feet, but where he stood the glorious limbs gave.
As in the water roughened by the north wind a fish jumps
in the weed of the beach-break, then the dark water closes above him,
so Euryalos left the ground from the blow, but great-hearted Epeios
took him in his arms and set him upright, and his true companions
stood about him, and led him out of the circle, feet dragging
as he spat up the thick blood and rolled his head over on one side.
He was dizzy when they brought him back and set him among them.
But they themselves went and carried off the two-handled goblet.
(From Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad, translated by Richmond Lattimore.)
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