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PENTATHLON (πένταθλον, quinquertium). The pentathlon was one of the competitive games of the great festivals of Hellas, in which, as the name denotes, the competitors entered for a group of five contests. These five were leaping (ἅλμα), the foot-race (δρόμος), throwing the quoit (δίσκος), throwing the spear (ἄκων or ἀκόντιον), and wrestling (πάλη). They are included in the compact and convenient pentameter of Simonides: ἅλμα, ποδωκείην, δίσκον, ἄκοντα, πάλην.

And Eustathius, commenting on Hom. Il. 23.621, quotes the following distich:-- “ ἅλμα ποδῶν δίσκου τε βολὴ καὶ ἄκοντος ἐρωὴ
καὶ δρόμος ἠδὲ πάλη, μία δ᾽ἔπλετο πᾶσι τελευτή.

In these lines the contests are placed in a slightly different order, the foot-race being last [p. 2.365]but one, instead of second. This is also the order given by the Scholiasts on Pindar (ad Isthm. 1.35) and on Sophocles (ad Elect. 691), who are not trammelled by metre. We may therefore, and for other reasons to be touched on later, suppose this order to be the right one.

Of these five contests the δίσκος, δρόμος, and πάλη are described elsewhere (see DISCUS, STADIUM, and LUCTA). The leaping (ἅλμα) was what we call “the long jump,” measured by distance on the ground, and not by height. The jumper habitually aided himself by holding in his hands ἁλτῆρες, weights of metal or stone, something like our dumb-bells (see art. HALTERES), which he dropped when he took off, thereby gaining additional impetus. But even if we take these ἁλτῆρες into account, and even imagine the further assistance of a spring-board (for which there is no authority), we can never feel absolutely satisfied as to the enormous leaps mentioned by Greek writers. The greatest is that attributed to Phaÿllus of Kroton, who is said to have cleared a distance of fifty-five feet. The Scholiast on Lucian (ad Somn. s. Gall. 6) writes: τῶν πρὸ αὐτοῦ σκαπτόντων ν́ πόδας καὶ τούτους πηδώντων, Φάϋλλος ὑπὲρ τοὺς ν́ πάνυ ἐπήδησεν. Among modern athletes the longest jumps recorded scarcely attain to even half this distance (the Hellenic foot differing little from ours: see MENSURA), without the use of artificial aid. With the assistance of weights (ἁλτῆρες), a leap of 29 ft. 7 in. was made at Chester in 1854. We are almost driven to think that the ἅλμα must have been rather a succession of bounds than a single one--possibly such a contest as that known in modern sports as “the hop, step, and jump,” where each foot touches the ground once between taking off and alighting finally. The best “hop, step, and jump” on record is 49 ft. 3 in., which closely approaches the feat of Phaÿllus.1 But this is of course a purely conjectural inference, and a somewhat bold one, though not without considerable plausibility.

In the passage quoted above from the Scholiast on Lucian the word σκαπτόντων will be observed. So Pindar (Pind. N. 5.19, ed. Boeckh) writes: “ μακρά μοι
δὴ αὐπόθεν ἅλμαθ᾽ ὑποσκάπτοι τις: ἔχε γονάτων ἐλαφρὸν ὁρμάν.

It will hardly do to say with the Scholiast on this passage that τὰ ἐσκαμμένα are the scratches on the ground marking the length of the other competitors' leaps, for it would seem that they are to be made before the leaps are taken--as indeed the words of the Scholiast on Lucian imply: τὰ ἐσκαμμένα, then, were probably a space of broken--up soil prepared in order to break the shock of alighting, besides giving the jumpers a mark to jump towards, and facilitating the after-measurement of the distance cleared.

The ἀκόντιον, a spear or javelin, was probably thrown at a mark, but definite details of this contest are wanting. In vase representations the weapon is thrown by a thong (see figure in article HASTA), which gave it a rotatory motion and thus increased the steadiness of its flight, on the principle of our rifled guns.

There remains the perplexing question of how the total competition of the pentathlon was regulated and decided; and with this is connected the question, already touched on, of the order of the five distinct but component events. We may say with some confidence that the order was that accepted above,--viz. leaping, throwing the quoit, throwing the spear, the footrace, wrestling. This order is supported not only by the authority of Eustathius and the Scholiasts already quoted, but also by the following most important passage in an ode of Pindar (Pind. N. 7.70-73), written in honour of a boy who had won the prize in this competition at the Nemean Games. The passage contains, according to a habit of Pindar's, a simile allusive to the victory celebrated. He writes: ἀπομνύω
μὴ τέρμα προβὰς ἄκονθ᾽ ὧτε χαλκοπάραον ὄρσαι
θοὰν γλῶσσαν, ὃς ἐξέπέπεμψεν παλαισμάτων
αὐχένα καὶ σθένος ἀδίαντον, αἴθωνι πρὶν ἁλίψ γυῖον ἐμπεσεῖν.

( “I swear that without overstepping the bound I have sent forth the swift speech of my tongue as it were a bronze-headed javelin, such as saveth from the wrestling the strong neck sweatless yet, or ever the limbs be plunged in the sun's fire.” ) This seems plainly to imply that if a competitor proved himself the best man in the three first contests he was then exempt from contending in the two last (which would also naturally be the most exhausting of the five). Of two matched competitors, therefore, the winner was the one who “scored the odd event.” This leads to the further conclusion that at the beginning the competitors were drawn in ties--A against B, C against D, E against F, and so on. Then suppose A, C, and E each to have won three out of five contests in their respective matches; these winners would be drawn again. Suppose A to be drawn against C; then E would be an ἔφεδρος, or bye, and would be matched with either A or C for the final heat (or τάξις). This is illustrated by the story in Pausanias (3.2, 6) of Tisamenos, a descendant of the Eleian seer Iamos, who settled among the Lacedaemonians. Misinterpreting an oracle which promised him success “in five glorious contests,” he thought himself destined to win the pentathlon, and trained and entered for it accordingly, but ἀπῆλθεν ἡττηθείς: καίτοι τὰ δύο γε ἦν πρῶτος: καὶ γὰρ δρόμῳ τε ἐκράτει καὶ πηδήματι Ἱρώνυμον Ἄνδριον, καταπαλαισθεὶς δὲ ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἁμαρτὼν τῆς νίκης--he came to understand that the oracle had foretold his success not in games, but in battles. Here it is implied, though Pausanias thinks it needless to say, that though Tisamenos won in the leap and the foot-race, he was beaten in the two throwing competitions, and therefore lost the total match by being finally beaten also in the wrestling (καταπαλαισθείς).

Of course, if there were many entries for the pentathlon, the labour for the best competitors would be very great, and also the successive ties would take a long time. Probably, however, [p. 2.366]the first consideration would make the field small, and the second accounts for the fact that in the Olympian games three Hellanodikai were appointed to judge in the pentathlon. Thus three matches could be going on at once.

The pentathlon was highly esteemed in Hellas for its influence on both health and comeliness, as promoting a completer development of the body than any of the single contests; and it was in especial favour among the Spartans, who disapproved the injuries and disfigurements incidental to boxing and the pancration. [A full and able discussion of most of the points here touched on will be found in an article by Prof. P. Gardner in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. i. p. 210. Some further remarks by the writer of the present article occur in the next volume of the Journal, vol. ii. p. 217. For explanations differing from those here given, see A. Holwerda's Zum Pentathlon (Archaeol. Zeituny, 1881, p. 206); and Fedde's Der Fünfkampf der Hellen. may be consulted.]


1 This suggestion was made to the writer of this article by Mr. J. B. Martin, then President of the London Athletic Club. According to a recent traveller, the “hop, step, and jump” is practised by modern Greek youths.

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