At Our Most Primal

Every fifth year, in the shadow of the great Temple of Zeus, the ancient world crowned its heavyweight champion. The Olympic games, in Elis Greece, were the Wrestlemania of the ancients. There were no gold-encrusted belts, no bronze, slilver or gold medals; the reward of for victory at the ancient games was a simple crown of olive branches and a lifetime of respect. To seize the crown and the glory, it was necessary to throw your opponent, three times. An old poem tells the story of Milo of Croton, humanity’s first great wrestling champion.

When none adventured in the Olympic sun
The sight of boisterous Milo to withstand

The unrivalled chief advanced to seize the crown.
But mid his triumph slipped unwary down

The people shouted and forbade bestow
The wreath on him who fell without a foe.

But rising in the midst he stood and cried,
Do not three falls, the victory decide?

Fortune, indeed, hath given me one, but who
Will undertake to throw me the other two?”

There was nothing fake about wrestling in those days. It was a bloodsport, the life of the losing combatant was ended. There were few men more feared than the great Milo. On the day of his wrestling event, he would show up at the colisieum with an ox. Before his matches began, he would strangle the animal with his bare hands. As competitor after competitor fell before his feet, Milo would feast on the raw meat of the dead oxen. The corpse of the animal, lying in the dust, was stripped of all flesh before sundown. The strength of the man was legendary, it was said that with one hand he could throw a 300 pound man 20 feet, he could balance a full chariot on his head, Milo could uproot trees and kill a man with a single blow to the sternum.

The story of Chris Benoit, the story of Milo of Croton, these are nothing new. Wrestling is a sport that is nearly as old as time itself. The Egyptians wrestled, the hieroglyphics of their battles etched into the limestone interiors of the Pyramids. The Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the Brits, they all wrestled. In 858 A.D. the Japanese chose their new Emperor based on the outcome of a wrestling match. Nearly every culture on the planet has taken part in this highly ritualized, tragically innocent form of violence. Wrestling appeals to human nature at it’s most primal, most instinctual form.

We’ve hardwired wrestling in our history, into our great literature. Odysseus and Ajax wrested to a draw in Homer’s Aenid. In Chaucer’s rhyme of sir Thopas, the knight and the miller wrestle for a golden ram. Beowulf wrestles Grendel to death. In the bible, Jacob wrestles an angel. Wrestling is a part of us, a part of what it means to be human. The stories are woven into the very fabric, the very foundation of our culture.

We make our wrestlers out to be immortals. Like Milo, we give them legendary strength and ability. They are heroes, gods even. With a single, ruthless, modified headlock, Chris Benoit became immortal, making legend of his legacy. His name joins the overflowing list of humanity’s champions and challengers, heroes and villains, echoing down through the vast emptiness of time.