Gymnasium (ancient Greece)

Gymnasium, Olympia

The gymnasium (Greek: γυμνάσιον) in Ancient Greece functioned as a training facility for competitors in public game(s). It was also a place for socializing and engaging in intellectual pursuits. The name comes from the Ancient Greek term gymnós meaning "naked". Only adult males were allowed to use the gymnasia.

Athletes competed nude, a practice which was said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body, and to be a tribute to the gods. Gymnasia and palestrae (wrestling schools) were under the protection and patronage of Heracles, Hermes and, in Athens, Theseus.[1]

Etymology

The word gymnasium is the latinisation of the Greek noun γυμνάσιον (gymnasion), "gymnastic school", in pl. "bodily exercises" and generally "school",[2] which in turn is derived from the common Greek adjective γυμνός (gymnos) meaning "naked",[3] by way of the related verb γυμνάζω (gymnazo), whose meaning is "to train naked", "train in gymnastic exercise", generally "to train, to exercise".[4] The verb had this meaning because one undressed for exercise. Historically, the gymnasium was used for exercise, communal bathing, and scholarly and philosophical pursuits. The English noun gymnast, first recorded in 1594,[5] is formed from the Greek γυμναστής (gymnastēs),[6] but in Greek this word means "trainer" not "athlete". The palaestra was the part of the gymnasium devoted to wrestling, boxing and ball games.

Pompeii gymnasium, from the top of the stadium wall.