Tag Archives: Pancratium

Beating the Air — 1 Corinthians 9:26

The Greeks were especially fond of “competition” and engaged in a contest known as pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling).

The Apostle Paul uses athletic imagery in 4 different places in his writings.  And in 1 Corinthians 9 he wrote:

1 Cor. 9:26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

View of the “Terme Boxer” (Pugile delle Terme). This contestant participated in pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling). Click on images to Enlarge and/or Download.

This bronze statue of a boxer, a pugilist, is signed by Apollonius. He is seated, weary, and battered. The realism of this statute is characteristic of the Hellenistic period. It was found in Rome. It is a first century A.D. copy of a third or second century B.C. original.

This statue was cast in several pieces: the head and left leg were welded to the bust, as are the arms at the armpits, while the right leg was cast in one piece together with the torso.  The forearms also originate from separate castings, as do the genitals and middle toes.  The metal is 80% copper, 10 % tin, and 10% lead.

The leather gloves that the boxers wore—sometimes with metal bands, as in this case—are clearly visible.

He is wearing elaborate leather gloves to protect his hands and forearms.  They consist of thick leather straps that bind four fingers, leaving the thumb free. Some believe it to be a representation of Amycus, king of the Bebryes, who had been in a fight with the divine Pollus, a super boxer!

Blows received during a match wounded his face, ears, and nose but there are no wounds on his body since the face was the main target. The reddish color of the lips, nipples, wounds and details of the gloves result from the intentional use of a specific copper alloy.  Inside the head, under the eye sockets, two hooks are still in place (not visible) to fasten the now lost eye balls, that were of either ivory, stone or glass paste.

The artist was inspired by the style of the Greek sculptor Lysippus, and many consider this piece to be an original Greek bronze of the first century B.C.

This piece was discovered in the March of 1885.  It had been purposefully buried upright and covered with sifted dirt in antiquity.  It is not known where it was originally placed although some believe that it may have decorated the Baths of Constantine (ca. A.D. 315).

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