Ancient Olympians II
At the young age of nine, Theagenes of Thasos became famous throughout Greece. It seems the boy was walking home from school, when he noticed a bronze statue of a god in the marketplace of Thasos. For some, strange reason, but probably out of admiration, Theagenes tore the statue from its base and took it home. This act outraged the citizens, who perceived it as highly disrespectful, and they debated whether or not they should execute the child for his deed. One elder, however, suggested that they have the boy return the statue to its proper place. Theagenes did this, his life was spared, and word of this amazing feat spread across Greece.
At the 75th Olympiad, Theagenes had designs on winning both the boxing prize and the pankration prize.
After defeating the boxer Euthymos, Theagenes was too tired to win a second crown for the pankration. Interestingly, the judges fined Theagenes for entering the boxing competition merely to spite Euthymos. Furthermore, Theagenes did not box in the 76th Olympiad. Pausanias implies that this was what we might nowadays call “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
- Victor in the 79th Olympiad, 464 BCE.
The boxer Diagoras of Rhodes embodied every quality of the noble ancient athlete. Immortalized in one of the most famous odes of the poet Pindar, Diagoras was victorious in not only the Olympic games, but in every other major Greek athlethic festival as well. The extent and number of his triumphs certainly contributed to his fame, but the virtuous character of Diagoras was as important to the ancient Greeks as his success as a boxer.
We know that Diagoras’ family was of the noble, ruling class on Rhodes, and the Rhodians claimed that the boxer himself was the son of the god Hermes. Such legends were a common means of explaining how mortal men could perform “super-human” athletic achivements.
In his Ode for Diagoras, Olympian 7, Pindar praises the boxer as a “fair-fighter” and a “gigantic” man. Diagoras also “walks a straight course on a road that hates arrogance.” In addition to his Olympic victory, Diagoras won four times at the Isthmian games, twice at Nemea, and at other games held in his native Rhodes, Athens, and elsewhere throughout the Greek world. We have no exact record of his career, but it is clear that Diagoras was a legend in his own time.
Moreover, Diagoras lived to witness the Olympic victories of his two sons Damagetos and Akousilaos. At the 83rd Olympiad in 448 BCE, Damagetos won the second of his two prizes for the pankration, and Akousilaos won the boxing victory. Then, the sons carried their father on their shoulders while the adoring crowd showered them with flowers and congratulated Diagoras on his sons. Another of his sons, Dorieus, won no less than three successive Olympic titles in the pankration, along with eight Isthmian victories and seven at Nemea. Two of the sons of Diagoras’ daughters were also Olympic boxing champions.
Olympia crowned three generations of Diagoras’ family, adding to the fame that the boxer won in his own right and no doubt fueling other legends of the immortal ancestry of the Diagoras family. Even baseball’s Griffey and Ripken families fall a generation short of imitating the achievements of Diagoras, his sons, and grandsons.
Life is a game, lets play