Things I Don’t Understand About Another Ancient Greek


My dear love was looking up information about the ancient Greek wrestler Milo of Croton for good reasons that I’m sure existed. The interest in Milo was pretty casual up to the point of discovering that he was affiliated in some way with Pythagoras of Samos, the Pythagoras famous for siding with squares and making people laugh over his bean issues, assuming he and his followers had any particular bean issues and people didn’t just make that up so people would laugh about the Pythagoreans. You probably have problems like that too. Famous figures of Ancient Greece usually have hilarious stories attached to them, but when they intersect with Pythagoras — whom you’ll remember as a man who allegedly claimed to have a golden thigh and the ability to write on the Moon — the crazy-funny level just leaps up and usually off the charts and lands in a beanfield where it dies of embarrassment.

For example: it’s apparently argued whether Milo had anything to do with the famous Pythagoras of Samos, because he might have just been associated with another Pythagoras of Samos who happened to be an athletic trainer. See, Milo was a seven-time Olympic athlete, so he’d have good reason to bother with athletic-type people. This is assuming that Pythagoras of Samos the Athletic Trainer wasn’t also Pythagoras of Samos the Loopy Philosopher/Mathematician/Cult Leader.

But as Olympic athletes go, Milo was apparently one of them, with a win in boys’ wrestling and then five men’s wrestling titles. Apparently he was beaten at his seventh Olympics by a young wrestler who’d developed a style of “arm’s length” wrestling. My love and I aren’t sure exactly what that style is. It makes it sound like he was beaten by slap-fighting. I’m not surprised he didn’t return to the games after being beaten by that; I wouldn’t blame him if he died of embarrassment. But maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe he was bested by an opponent who stood at arm’s length and held out his arms and kept pointing out “I’m not touching you” until Milo stormed off in disgust. Again, I wouldn’t fault him for not returning with something to foil this tactic, like, telling his opponent’s moms on them.

But being unable to believe the slapping and not-touching in the Olympics was the least of his accomplishments. Apparently he was a military leader who convinced the Crotoniates to lead an army to defend the Sybarites against Telys, tyrant of Sybaris. Now to be fair, by which I mean dismissive, that’s just the sort of thing you did in those days. You just weren’t part of Ancient Greek society unless you were setting up a tyrant or overthrowing a tyrant. And it was important to cities, too. Not getting the occasional tyrant to be overthrown marked a city as the seriously hick part of the Peloponnese, the way you today might look askance at a metro region that can’t even get an Arena Football team. Some up-and-coming cities would rent out a battlefield and set up themselves while overthrowing them and put themselves on the map that way.

But not everyone did this work in style; according to Didorus, and if you can’t trust him who can you trust, said he lead the Crotonites into battle while draped in a lion’s skin, wielding a club in a Hercules-like manner, and wearing his Olympic crowns. The lion skin I don’t wonder about, but: his crowns? All five of them? How? I know they weren’t, like, the crowns the Queen of Britain wears — remember, Pythagoras of Samos and the ancient Greeks lived literally more than three centuries before Queen Elizabeth II — and were more kind of wreaths of flowers of the kind you wear when you’re a charming bride. But that’s still, five. Put five crowns of anything on your head and you’re going to have them flying off all the time, unless you keep one hand clinging to your scalp so as to maintain some semblance of balance. It’s got to throw off his club-wielding. This is the price for not being able to pick just one crown.

Of course, who says he wore them all on his head? Maybe he put one on his head, and one on each arm, and one around each thigh? That would be quite practical as long as he didn’t have to share a tight seat, such as on a roller coaster, with someone. But why would he? Chairs wouldn’t be invented for dozens of years until after his death, the date of which is not actually known.

According to further legend, he died when he attempted to split a tree down the middle with his bare hands, which got stuck, which sounds like a worse way to die than just “of embarrassment following an Olympic slap-fighting loss”. But apparently while his hands were stuck he was set upon by wolves, who ate him, which raises a further question: what, he couldn’t tear some wolves limb-from-limb using just his feet? There is a painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvée (1743 – 1807) which purports to show Milo at his wolf-induced death, arguably fighting off the wolves with his feet, although it really looks to me more like he’s working on advanced belly rubs. I have to point out that there’s little evidence Suvée ever met Milo and none that he interviewed any of the wolves involved.

There’s much more to the legend of Milo of Croton, of course, and I may come back to it, but for now I think it fair to say: Ancient Greece. Like, what the heck, guys? You know?

Robert Benchley: The Score In The Stands


I like baseball and won’t argue with people whining that it’s a slow sport because they mostly go in determined to find something to disapprove of and there’s no reasoning from that starting point. (I’ll grant it’s horribly served by television, though.) Robert Benchely, I’m delighted to remember, had a bit about the opening week of baseball in Love Conquers All that looks at the action in a game. I think the fifth inning the high point of this match.


The opening week of the baseball season brought out few surprises. The line-up in the grandstands was practically the same as when the season closed last Fall, most of the fans busying themselves before the first game started by picking old 1921 seat checks and October peanut crumbs out of the pockets of their light-weight overcoats.

Old-timers on the two teams recognized the familiar faces in the bleachers and were quick to give them a welcoming cheer. The game by innings as it was conducted by the spectators is as follows:

FIRST INNING: Scanlon, sitting in the first-base bleachers, yelled to Ruth to lead off with a homer. Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Liebman and O’Rourke, in the south stand, engaged in a bitter controversy over Peckingpaugh’s last-season batting average. NO RUNS.

SECOND INNING: Scanlon yelled to Bodie to to whang out a double. Turtelot said that Bodie couldn’t do it. Scanlon said “Oh, is that so?” Turtelot said “Yes, that’s so and whad’ yer know about that?” Bodie whanged out a double and Scanlon’s collar came undone and he lost his derby. Stevens announced that this made Bodie’s batting average 1000 for the season so far. Joslin laughed.

THIRD INNING: Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Zinnzer yelled to Mays to watch out for a fast one. Steinway yelled to Mays to watch out for a slow one. Mays fanned. O’Rourke called out and asked Brazill how all the little brazil-nuts were. Levy turned to O’Rourke and said he’d brazil-nut him. O’Rourke said “Eah? When do you start doing it?” Levy said: “Right now.” O’Rourke said: “All right, come on. I’m waiting.” Levy said: “Eah?” O’Rourke said: “Well, why don’t you come, you big haddock?” Levy said he’d wait for O’Rourke outside where there weren’t any ladies. NO RUNS.

FOURTH INNING: Scanlon called out to Ruth to knock a homer, Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Scanlon yelled: “Atta-boy, Babe, whad’ I tell yer!” when Ruth got a single.

FIFTH INNING: Mrs. Whitebait asked Mr. Whitebait how you marked a home-run on the score-card. Mr. Whitebait said: “Why do you have to know? No one has knocked a home-run.” Mrs. Whitebait said that Babe Ruth ran home in the last inning. “Yes, I know,” said Mr. Whitebait, “but it wasn’t a home-run.” Mrs. W. asked him with some asperity just why it wasn’t a home-run, if a man ran home, especially if it was Babe Ruth. Mr. W. said: “I’ll tell you later. I want to watch the game.” Mrs. Whitebait began to cry a little. Mr. Whitebait groaned and snatched the card away from her and marked a home-run for Ruth in the fourth inning.

SIXTH INNING: Thurston called out to Hasty not to let them fool him. Wicker said that where Hasty got fooled in the first place was when he let them tell him he could play baseball. Unknown man said that he was “too Hasty,” and laughed very hard. Thurston said that Hasty was a better pitcher than Mays, when he was in form. Unknown man said “Eah?” and laughed very hard again. Wicker asked how many times in seven years Hasty was in form and Thurston replied: “Often enough for you.” Unknown man said that what Hasty needed was some hasty-pudding, and laughed so hard that his friend had to take him out.

Thibbets sharpened his pencil.

SEVENTH INNING: Libby called “Everybody up!” as if he had just originated the idea, and seemed proudly pleased when everyone stood up. Taussig threw money to the boy for a bag of peanuts who tossed the bag to Levy who kept it. Taussig to boy to Levy.

Scanlon yelled to Ruth to come through with a homer. Ruth knocked a single and Scanlon yelled “Atta-boy, Babe! All-er way ’round! All-er way round, Babe!” Mrs. Whitebait asked Mr. Whitebait which were the Clevelands. Mr. Whitebait said very quietly that the Clevelands weren’t playing to-day, just New York and Philadelphia and that only two teams could play the game at the same time, that perhaps next year they would have it so that Cleveland and Philadelphia could both play New York at once but the rules would have to be changed first. Mrs. Whitebait said that he didn’t have to be so nasty about is. Mr. W. said My God, who’s being nasty? Mrs. W. said that the only reason she came up with him anyway to see the Giants play was because then she knew that he wasn’t off with a lot of bootleggers. Mr. W. said that it wasn’t the Giants but the Yankees that she was watching and where did she get that bootlegger stuff. Mrs. W. said never mind where she got it. NO RUNS.

EIGHTH INNING: Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Litner got up and went home. Scanlon yelled to Ruth to end up the game with a homer. Ruth singled. Scanlon yelled “Atta-Babe!” and went home.

NINTH INNING: Stevens began figuring up the players’ batting averages for the season thus far. Wicker called over to Thurston and asked him how Mr. Hasty was now. Thurston said “That’s all right how he is.” Mrs. Whitebait said that she intended to go to her sister’s for dinner and that Mr. Whitebait could do as he liked. Mr. Whitebait told her to bet that he would do just that. Thibbets broke his pencil.

Score: New York 11. Philadelphia 1.

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