Tom Lavell, A recreation of ancient wrestling
Tom Lavell, Referee watches Greek wrestlers in ancient Olympic games

“Ἄλλως δὲ πῶς” ἔφην “λόγον ἔχει τεχνικώτατον καὶ πανουργότατον τῶν ἀθλημάτων τὴν πάλην οὖσαν ἅμα καὶ πρεσβύτατον εἶναι; τὸ γὰρ ἁπλοῦν καὶ ἄτεχνον καὶ βίᾳ μᾶλλον ἢ μεθόδῳ περαινόμενον αἱ χρεῖαι πρῶτον ἐκφέρουσιν.” ἐμοῦ δὲ ταῦτ’ εἰπόντος, ὁ Σωσικλῆς· “ὀρθῶς” ἔφη “λέγεις, καὶ συμβάλλομαί σοι πίστιν ἀπὸ τοῦ ὀνόματος· ἡ γὰρ πάλη μοι δοκεῖ τῷ παλεύειν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ δολοῦν καὶ καταβάλλειν δι’ ἀπάτης, κεκλῆσθαι.” καὶ ὁ Φιλῖνος “ἐμοὶ δ'” εἶπεν “ἀπὸ τῆς παλαιστῆς· τούτῳ γὰρ μάλιστα τῷ μέρει τοῖν χεροῖν ἐνεργοῦσιν οἱ παλαίοντες, ὥσπερ οἱ πυκτεύοντες αὖ πάλιν τῇ πυγμῇ· διὸ κἀκεῖνο πυγμὴ καὶ τοῦτο πάλη προσηγόρευται τὸ ἔργον. οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ συμπάσαι τῶν ποιητῶν καὶ καταπάσαι ‘παλῦναι’ λεγόντων, ᾧ μάλιστα χρωμένους τοὺς παλαιστὰς ὁρῶμεν, ἔστι καὶ ταύτῃ προσάγειν τὴν ἐτυμότητα τοῦ ὀνόματος. σκόπει δ’ ἔτι” εἶπεν “μὴ τοῖς μὲν δρομεῦσιν ἔργον ἐστὶν ὅτι πλεῖστον ἀπολιπεῖν καὶ πορρωτάτω διαστῆναι, τοὺς δὲ πύκτας οὐδὲ πάνυ βουλομένους ἐῶσιν οἱ βραβευταὶ συμπλέκεσθαι· μόνους δὲ τοὺς παλαιστὰς ὁρῶμεν ἀλλήλους ἀγκαλιζομένους καὶ περιλαμβάνοντας· καὶ τὰ πλεῖστα τῶν ἀγωνισμάτων, ἐμβολαί, παρεμβολαί, συστάσεις, παραθέσεις, συνάγουσιν αὐτοὺς καὶ ἀναμιγνύουσιν ἀλλήλοις. διὸ τῷ πλησιάζειν μάλιστα καὶ γίνεσθαι πέλας οὐκ ἄδηλόν ἐστι τὴν πάλην ὠνομάσθαι.”
(Plutarch, Symposiaka 2.4.638d-f)

“And besides,” I said, “how does it make sense that wrestling, which is the most skillful and strategic of sports, is at the same time the oldest too? For necessity produces first what is simple, artless, and accomplished by force rather than systematic skill.” When I had spoken, Sosicles said, “You are right, and I’ll offer you confirmation with an etymology: ‘wrestling’ (palê), seems to me to be derived from paleuein, which means ‘to trick,’ or ‘to overthrow by deceit.'” And Philinus said, “It seems to me to be derived from palaistê, ‘palm,’ for it is principally with this part of the hand that wrestlers operate, as, on the contrary, boxers do with the fist, (pugmê); so the one activity is called ‘boxing’ (pugmê), the other ‘wrestling’ (palê). And there is another possibility: since the poets say ‘besprinkle’ (palunai) for ‘dusting’ and ‘powdering,’ of which we see wrestlers (palaistai) make much used, it is possible also in this way to derive the true meaning of the word. Consider again,” he said, “is it not the goal of runners to distance each other as much as possible, to put the maximum amount of space between each other? And boxers are not allowed by referees to clinch, however eager they may be; it is only the wrestlers we see laying hold of each other and embracing each other,—most parts of the contest, frontal and lateral stances, bring them together and mix them up with each other. Clearly the inference is that wrestlin (palê) got its name from ‘draw near’ (plêsiazein) and ‘be close’ (pelas).*”

* The true etymology is unknown; see Boisacq, s.v. παλαίω.

(tr. Paul A. Clement & Herbert B. Hoffleit, with one of their notes)

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