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ILLUSTRATIONS OF SCRIPTURE FROM THE PUBLIC GAMES IN GREECE.
Games and combats instituted by the ancients in honour of their gods. The most renowned heroes, legislators, and statesmen contended in these games. -The victors were crowned with laurel.-Returned to their homes in a triumphal chariot.—These exercises intended to prepare the youth for the profession of arms. The conductor of the games. The combatants trained from their earliest years. Preparatory exercises.-Laws of the games. Boxers exercising.—Runners.—Athletæ laid aside their clothes.-The cestus. Leather cap.-Pugilism, the most rude and dangerous exercise.— Wrestlers. Preparing for combat.-Manner of the contest.-Foot-race. -The lists.-Entrance, middle, and extremity of the stadium.-Prizes set up at the middle. Goal, at the extremity.-Strictness of the rules. Chariot races.-Rewards various. Judges. Herald Crowns-Competitors rejected.
GAMES and combats were instituted by the ancients in honour of their gods; and were celebrated with that view by the most polished and enlightened nations of antiquity, The most renowned heroes, legislators, and statesmen, did not think it unbecoming their character and dignity, to mingle with the combatants, or contend in the race; they even reckoned it glorious to share in the exercises, and meritorious to carry away the prize. The victors were crowned with a wreath of laurel in presence of their country; they were celebrated in the rapturous effusions of their poets; they were admired, and almost adored by the innumerable multitudes which flocked to the games, from every part of Greece, and many of the adjacent coun
tries. They returned to their own homes in a triumphal chariot, and made their entrance into their native city, not through the gates which admitted the vulgar throng, but through a breach in the walls, which were broken down to give them admission; and at the same time to express the persuasion of their fellow-citizens, that walls are of small use to a city defended by men of such tried courage and ability. Hence the surprising ardour which animated all the states of Greece to imitate the ancient heroes, and encircle their brows with wreaths, which rendered them still more the objects of admiration or envy to succeeding times, than the victories they had gained, or the laws they had enacted.a
But the institutors of those games and combats, had higher and nobler objects in view than veneration for the mighty dead, or the gratification of ambition or vanity; it was their design to prepare the youth for the profession of arms; to confirm their health; to improve their strength, their vigour, and activity; to enure them to fatigue; and to render them intrepid in close fight, where in the infancy of the art of war, muscular force commonly decided the victory
This statement accounts for the striking allusions which the apostle Paul makes in his epistles to these celebrated exercises. Such references were calculated to touch the heart of a Greek, and of every one familiarly acquainted with them, in the liveliest manner, as well as to place before the eye of his mind the most glowing and correct images of spiritual and divine things. No passages in the nervous and eloquent epistles from the pen of Paul, have been more admired by critics and expositors, even
a Potter's Grecian Antiq. vol. i, p 440.
in modern times, than those into which some allusion to these agonistic exercises is introduced; and, perhaps, none are calculated to leave a deeper impression on the Christian's mind, or excite a stronger and more salutary influence on his actions.
Certain persons were appointed to take care that all things were done according to custom, to decide controversies that happened amongst the antagonists, and to adjudge the prize to the victor. Some eminent writers are of opinion that Christ is called the "author and finisher of faith," in allusion to these judges. "Thus," says Mr. Dunlop, "he eases us of our burdens, animates our faintness, retards the progress of our enemies, and at length will, with his own hand, set upon our heads that beautiful diadem which he hath purchased with his own blood."e
Those who were designed for the profession of athletæ, or combatants, frequented from their earliest years the academies maintained for that purpose at the public expense. In these places, they were exercised under the direction of different masters, who employed the most effectual methods to inure their bodies for the fatigues of the public games, and to form them for the combats. The regimen to which they submitted was very hard and severe. At first, they had no other nourishment than dried figs, nuts, soft cheese, and a gross heavy sort of bread called μaa; they were absolutely forbid the use of wine, and enjoined continence.
When they proposed to contend in the Olympian games, they were obliged to repair to the public gymnasium at
b Potter's Gr. Antiq. vol. i, p. 441.
• Burder's Orient. Cust. ob. 366.
Elis, ten months before the solemnity, where they pre pared themselves by continual exercises. No man that had omitted to present himself at the appointed time, was allowed to put in for any of the prizes; nor were the accustomed rewards of victory given to such persons, if by any means they insinuated themselves, and overcame their antagonists; nor would any apology, though seemingly ever so reasonable, serve to excuse their absence. No person that was himself a notorious criminal, or nearly related to one, was permitted to contend. Further, to prevent underhand dealings, if any person was convicted of bribing his adversary, a severe fine was laid upon him; nor was this alone thought a sufficient guard against unfair contracts and unjust practices, but the contenders were obliged to swear they had spent ten whole months in preparatory exercises; and besides all this, they, their fathers, and their brethren, took a solemn oath, that they would not by any sinister or unlawful means, endeavour to stop the fair and just proceedings of the games.d
The spiritual contest, in which all true Christians aim at obtaining a heavenly crown, has its rules also, devised and enacted by infinite wisdom and goodness, which require implicit and exact submission, which neither yield to times nor circumstances, but maintain their supreme authority, from age to age, uninterrupted and unimpaired. The combatant who violates these rules forfeits the prize, and is driven from the field with indelible disgrace, and consigned to everlasting woe. Hence the great apostle
of the Gentiles, exhorts his son
Timothy strictly to ob
serve the precepts of the divine law, the rule of his con
a Potter's Grecian Antiq. vol. i, p. 449.
duct in the hand of the Mediator, without which, he can no more hope to obtain the approbation of God, and the possession of the heavenly crown, than a combatant in the public games of Greece, who disregards the established rules, can hope to receive from the hands of his judge the promised reward: "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully," or according to the established laws of the games.
Like the Grecian combatants, the Christian must be wellborn; born, "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of Lord, which liveth and abideth for ever;" he must be free: "a citizen with the saints, and of the household of faith;" he must "abstain from fleshly lusts," and "walk in all the statutes and commandments of the Lord, blameless." Such was Paul; and in this manner he endeavoured to act: "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." "The latter part of this verse Doddridge renders, “lest after having served as an herald I should be disapproved ;" and says in a note, "I thought it of importance to retain the primitive sense of these gymnastic expressions." It is well known to those who are at all acquainted with the original, that the word ęužas, means to discharge the office of a herald, whose business. it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, and display the prizes, to awaken the emulation and resolution of those who were to contend in them. But the apostle intimates, that there was this peculiar circumstance attending the Christian contest, that the person who pro claimed its laws and rewards to others, was also to engage f 1 Cor. ix, 27.
2 Tim. ii, 5.