It’s All Greek to Me

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It’s All Greek To Me

“Let him who would move the world, first move himself.” – Socrates

Some tribes we chose, some tribes we’re born into, and in both cases we should be aware of our place, and aware of the consequences of our actions. Within my limited sagacity, there have been few constants. Beliefs, political systems, friends and enemies all have swirling, amorphous status changes, as fickle or as steadfast as our current dogmas (or lack thereof). At the root of it all, according to that Maslow guy, our hierarchy of needs is an established foundation of many of our actions, a force that, when stripped naked, seems to equal us out a bit, make us all of the same stuff inside.

But the ‘Hierarchy of Wants’ sure seems to separate us pretty darn quickly. The needs of the grand Tribes (family, country, humanity as a whole) too often take a back seat to what we, who can quickly switch roles from tribal member to ego-based Me, want.

In the words of Henry Rollins:

Gimmee gimmee gimmee
I need some more
Gimmee gimmee gimmee
don’t ask what for

So this weekend, when that barbecue chars whatever tongue-teaser you threw on it, when that first big jump into the lake/river/pool changes the surface temperature of your skin just a little faster than you are comfortable with, when the beer flows freely between friends, and when you watch the sky light up over the State Fair with the explosive reverberations of dynamic fiery asterisks , take a quick second to ruminate on your role in this Tribe. Let’s appreciate that a good part of our place within this Tribe is choice.

If I spent more time reading and less time lifting heavy objects only to put them back down, I might find more gems like the following excerpt from Vision and Spirit, an Essay on Plato’s Warrior Class, by local philosopher, professor and all around smart guy, Joe Simmons:

Indian dynamic yoga is a preparation for insight and the liturgical form of religious worship. One type of gymnastic movement is called Surya Pranam. It is a ten stage movement involving all the major muscle groups of the body. When done with speed and concentration, it is highly aerobic and develops great flexibility. However, this is not why Indian yogans do the exercise. “Surya” is derived from the root “su” meaning “creation.” “Surya” is another name for the creator or supreme Hindu divinity. From the divinity comes the “prakti” or dynamic creative energy. In ancient India the sun was both a symbol and materialistic source of this creative heat and light.

This gymnastic movement, or “sun prayers,” was performed a disciplined athletic yoga, affecting mind, body and spirit. Here the purpose for Indian dynamic yoga would be the same as Plato’s basic gymnastic training. Athletics become “religious” training. Exercise becomes ritual.


For Plato, ascent towards spiritual vision and fulfillment begins with our organic nature. The philosopher and mystic visionary begins as an athlete. The organic nature is disciplined as a means of disciplining one’s soul. In the Republic Socrates perpetuates the Greek concept of a sound mind in a sound body through athletic training. (Plato himself was a competitive wrestler in the Greek Olympic Games. “Platon” is a nickname meaning “broad shouldered, well muscled, and large.”)

For Plato, exercise and sport is ascetica. It develops “askesis,” the ability to discipline oneself in preparation for action. In Sparta vertical jumps were used for conditioning. Many Spartan women could do these vertical jumps by the hundreds. Again, the exercises of Plato would be of like nature to these Indian and Spartan gymnastic movements. Plato based the beginning steps of spiritual mastery on these types of gymnastic dancing. Though we do no know all the specifics of his athletic training programs, we do know from the Republic the great importance Plato attaches to these athletic exercises. Why, we may ask, does Plato treat this Greek “yoga” with such reverence? Plato’s teacher Socrates had drawn from Greek culture his notion of sport. For classical Greek there was an intrinsic connection between sport and character. (Gymnastic for Plato meant exercise in general though he refers to some specific movements throughout his writings).


It is at this point that Plato gives an interesting twist on his concept of reciprocity between ritual exercise and self-development. In the Republic, Socrates says that “the excellence of a good body doesn’t make the soul good”. It is the other way around. It is the “excellence of a good soul” which “makes the body as good as it can.” He had already insisted that “after poetry the young must be trained in gymnastics.” The youth must be an athlete, “carefully trained all through life from childhood up.” If this “gymnastic,” or physical training in general does not affect the soul (the spiritual and philosophical powers), why Plato’s insistence on exercise? The answer. I believe, lies in line 404b. Here Socrates says that the military athletics need an athletic program which is “a sister” to “simple poetry.” In other words, Plato’s warrior class doesn’t use physical training for bodily development, but for the development of the warrior/guardian’s soul. Physical excellence is a by-product.

So keep on developing your warrior/guardian souls. I will be.

me river 4



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Showing 6 comments
  • Steven

    Speaking about the ancient Greeks, what is the fitness impact of growing up in a world without cars, TV’s or junk food? Fitness Has Fallen Since The Days Of Ancient Greece

  • Jack

    Excellent video! Can’t wait to try it!


  • Brian

    No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training; it is a part of his profession as a citizen to keep himself in good condition, ready to serve his state at a moments notice.

    Just a little more insight from the great thinker.

  • Brian

    Also, the link that Steven posted is not working. Is there another way to get there?

  • Steven

    I don’t know why the link doesn’t work, but if you search the page it takes you to for “Ancient Greek rowing” and click the “5 year” date range button you’ll find the article.

    While we’re on the topic of ancient Greece, I’ll mention my own profession of Massage Therapy was used by athletes as part of their training.

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