WTF Fun Fact 13648 – The Greek Gymnazein

The term ‘gymnastics’ comes from the Greek gymnazein, which means “to exercise naked.” This ancient practice, initially a method of training young men for warfare, has significantly evolved over the millennia.

Today, it’s a sophisticated sport with precise routines and complex scoring systems. Let’s delve into how gymnastics transformed from its ancient roots to the contemporary spectacle we see today.

The Greek Gymnazein and Naked Training

Gymnastics has its roots in ancient civilizations. Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese engravings show that gymnastics-like activities were common in these cultures. The Greeks, however, are credited with developing gymnastics as a method to prepare young men for battle. Originally, these exercises were performed naked – a practice that is unimaginable in today’s times.

As the sport evolved, it moved away from its military training purpose. By the early 19th century, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, known as the “father of gymnastics,” founded gymnastics centers across Germany. These centers aimed to foster health and patriotism among the youth. Jahn’s influence extended to developing early versions of apparatuses that are still used in modern gymnastics.

Apparatus Evolution from the Greek Gymnazein

Gymnastics today is divided into different apparatuses, each with its own history and evolution.

  1. Pommel Horse: This apparatus originated as a method for soldiers to practice mounting horses. Jahn developed a more sophisticated version to train the body for strength and agility.
  2. Parallel and Horizontal Bars: Also attributed to Jahn, these apparatuses have evolved significantly. The women’s uneven bars, derived from parallel bars, showcase a combination of agility and grace.
  3. The Vault: This apparatus underwent significant redesign for safety reasons. The modern vaulting table, with its wider and cushioned surface, replaced the older, more dangerous design.
  4. Still Rings: Known for requiring immense strength, the still rings date back thousands of years to Italy. They emphasize stability and control, with athletes aiming to keep the rings as stationary as possible.
  5. Balance Beam: What started as a simple log suspended in the air is now a padded beam, requiring extreme focus and precision. It’s an event where the slightest error can have significant consequences.

The modern Gymnazein

Modern gymnastics is far more than just physical exercise; it’s a blend of art, grace, strength, and agility. It demands not only physical prowess but also mental focus and artistic expression. Each routine, whether on the floor or an apparatus, tells a story, and gymnasts spend countless hours perfecting every movement and expression.

The Olympics have been a major stage for gymnastics since its inclusion in the modern games. It’s here that gymnastics truly comes into the limelight, with athletes from around the world showcasing their skills. The evolution of the sport is evident in the level of difficulty and creativity displayed in these routines, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible in Jahn’s time.

Gymnastics is not just for elite athletes. It’s a sport that offers something for everyone, from young children learning coordination and balance to adults looking for a fun way to stay fit. It helps develop a range of physical skills like strength, flexibility, and coordination, as well as mental skills like concentration and discipline.

The Future of Gymnastics

The future of gymnastics looks promising, with new techniques and elements being introduced regularly. Advances in coaching, equipment, and athlete training continue to elevate the sport to new heights. The emphasis on safety, combined with a push for more artistic expression, ensures that gymnastics will remain a beloved and exciting sport for generations to come.

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WTF Fun Fact 12676 – The Ancient History of Ukraine

There’s nothing “fun” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the fact is that war turns up some interesting things. In this case, more proof that Ukraine has its own unique history and culture.

Digging war trenches is not the same as digging for archaeological purposes. Nevertheless, that’s how some of Ukraine’s ancient artifacts are coming to light as they defend themselves from the invading Russians.

According to the Kyiv Independent, digging in the port city Odesa, located on the Black Sea has uncovered ancient amphorae. Odesa was once known as Odessus. Ancient sources say it was founded by the Milesians, who came from a city in what’s now modern-day Turkey. Ancient inscriptions show that it was likely under some form of democratic government shared by five ancient Greek states. It played an important role in ancient history because it was a port town, so it saw people and goods from all over the region. Its local money even had an image of the Egyptian god Serapis on it.

The modern soldiers of the Ukrainian 126th Territorial Defense found slightly more recent archaeological artifacts – ancient Roman amphorae, which have been dated to the 4th or 5th century CE. These are tall jars (and shards that often held wine or were used as decorative vessels). They shared the discovery on Facebook.

Russia has been targeting Odesa with missile strikes as well as a blockade of the port in order to disable the city’s vital operations in grain and wheat exports to the rest of the world.

If anything can be said to be “lucky” here, it’s that the amphorae are in excellent condition and have been turned over to the Odessa Archaeological Museum, which will hopefully be able to preserve this important part of the city’s history. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Ukrainian Soldiers Uncover Fourth-Century Urns While Digging Defense Trenches” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12674 – The Man Who (Maybe) Died Laughing

Whoever said laughter is the best medicine probably never read about the death of the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Chrysippus of Soli.

At the age of 73, the master of Stoic ethics and logic and leader of the Stoic School attended the 143rd Olympiad, which took place from 208 to 204 BC. At some point, a donkey came along and ate some of the figs he had with him. He found this hilarious, saying “Now give the donkey a pure wine to wash down the figs!” (Ancient humor doesn’t really translate well to the present, in case you haven’t noticed.)

The story is that Chrysippus laughed so hard as his own joke that he eventually fell to the ground and started foaming at the mouth. The people around him tried to help, but he died.

(Note that another story of his death is that he became dizzy and died after drinking undiluted wine at a feast.)

But the real question is, could the first story really have happened?

Technically, yes. You can die laughing.

Uncontrollable laughter can cause a heart attack, asphyxiation (which leads to a lack of oxygen), and can lead to a loss of muscle control causing you to collapse and fatally injure yourself. But it’s extremely rare.

However, there have been other stories of people laughing themselves to death. King Martin of Aragon is said to have laughed to death upon hearing a joke by his favorite court jester in 1410 (though indigestion seems to have played a role). Pietro Aretino apparently died by suffocation while laughing in 1556. And reports say that in 1660 a Scottish aristocrat, Thomas Urquhart, laughed so hard at hearing that Charles II was king, that he died laughing. And there are more modern cases too.

Do we believe them all? No. But it’s not impossible. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “This Greek Philosopher Died Laughing at His Own Joke” — Culture Trip

WTF Fun Fact 12655 – Alexander the Great and His Horse

King Alexander the Great spent his entire adult life trying to conquer the world on behalf of Macedonia, and by his side, nearly the entire time was his horse, Bucephalus.

The ancient writer Plutarch wrote much of what we know about the life of Alexander, including the story about how the 12-year-old future king won his noble steed.

A horse dealer tried charging Alexander’s father a very high sum for the horse (to be fair, his father was King Philip II of Macedon). No one had seemed it a good deal since the horse could not be tamed. But young Alexander saw some potential and made a deal with the horse seller – if he could tame it, he could keep it. If not, he would pay the high sum.

Of course, we know where this story goes – Alexander subdued the horse and then rode it into nearly every battle for decades until the horse died during a campaign in India.

As someone who felt he had the right to conquer the world, Alexander left his name all over it, including over 70 cities named Alexandria.

But he loved his horse Bucephalus so much that when it died in 326 BCE, he named a city Bucephala.

The ancient writer Pliny the Elder also wrote about the event:

King Alexander had also a very remarkable horse; it was called Bucephalus, either on account of the fierceness of its aspect, or because it had the figure of a bull’s head marked on its shoulder. It is said, that he was struck with its beauty when he was only a boy, and that it was purchased from the stud of Philonicus, the Pharsalian, for thirteen talents. When it was equipped with the royal trappings, it would suffer no one except Alexander to mount it, although at other times it would allow anyone to do so. A memorable circumstance connected with it in battle is recorded of this horse; it is said that when it was wounded in the attack upon Thebes, it would not allow Alexander to mount any other horse. Many other circumstances, also, of a similar nature, occurred respecting it; so that when it died, the king duly performed its obsequies, and built around its tomb a city, which he named after it” The Natural History of Pliny, Volume 2, translation by John Bostock, Henry Thomas Riley.

– WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Bucephalus: The Horse of Alexander the Great” — ThoughtCo.

WTF Fun Fact – Servant of Philon

WTF Fun Fact - First Robot

The servant of Philon was an ancient Greek humanoid figure capable of automatically filling a wine cup when placed in its hand. It accomplished its task using a pneumatic system that was very advanced for its time. WTF Fun Facts