Friday, 31 July 2009

Throw Nature out with a pitchfork, / And yet She will return.

Even Alexander the Great, labelled ‘the first globalist’ by one biographer, did not deny the deep-rooted attachments of ethnicity. In the confusion of loyalties of Alexander’s Greece this had tragic implications for the athlete, Dioxippos.

Diodorus Siculus 17.100-101
Circa. 30 B.C.

Alexander the Great held a huge banquet for his friends [325 B. C.]. During the drinking something occurred which is worth mention. Among the companions of the king was a Macedonian named Koragos who was very strong in body and who had distinguished himself frequently in battle. The drink made him pugnacious, and he challenged to a duel one Dioxippos of Athens, an athlete who had won several glorious victories [including one in the pankration at Olympia in 336 B.C.]. As might be expected of those in their cups, the guests egged them on and Dioxippos accepted the challenge. Alexander set the day for the battle, and when the time came for the duel thousands of men assembled for the spectacle. Because he was one of them, the Macedonians and Alexander rooted for Koragos, while the Greeks favored Dioxippos. Koragos came onto the field of honor clad in the finest armor, while the Athenian was naked with his body oiled and carrying a well-balanced club.

Both men were marvellous to see in their magnificent physical condition and their desire for the fight. The spectators anticipated a veritable battle of gods. The Macedonian looked like Ares as he inspired terror through his stature and the brilliance of his weapons; Dioxippos resembled Herakles in his strength and athletic training, and even more so because he carried a club.

As they approached each other, the Macedonian hurled his javelin from the proper distance, but Dioxippos bent his body slightly and avoided it. Then the Macedonian poised his long pike and charged, but when he came within reach, the Greek struck the pike with his club and splintered it. Now Koragos was reduced to fighting with his sword, but as he went to draw it, Dioxippos leaped upon him, grabbed his sword hand in his own left hand, and with his other hand he upset his opponent’s balance and knocked his feet from under him. As Koragos fell to the ground, Dioxippos placed his foot on the other’s neck and, holding his club in the air, looked to the crowd.

The spectators were in an uproar because of the man’s incredible skill and superiority. Alexander motioned for Koragos to be released, then broke up the gathering and left, clearly annoyed at the defeat of the Macedonian. Dioxippos released his fallen foe and left as winner of a resounding victory. His compatriots bedecked him with ribbons for the victory which he had won on behalf of all the Greeks. But Fortune did not permit him to boast of his victory for very long.

The king became increasingly antagonistic toward Dioxippos, and Alexander’s friends and indeed all the Macedonians about the court, envious of Dioxippos’s arête, persuaded one of the servants to hide a gold drinking cup under the pillow of his dining couch. During the next symposion they pretended to find the cup and accused him of theft. This placed Dioxippos in a shameful and disgraceful position. He understood that the Macedonians were in a conspiracy against him, and he got up and left the symposion. When he had returned to his own quarters, he wrote a note to Alexander about the trick which had been played on him, gave this to his servants for delivery to the king, and then committed suicide. He may have been ill-advised to accept the duel, but he was even more foolish to have done away with himself, for it gave his critics the chance to say that it was a real hardship to have great strength of body, but little of mind.


Michael Bell at TOQ Online mentions the fight between Dioxippos and Koragos in his excellent post on the similarities between modern MMA and ancient Greek combat sports.

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