212 BC | Olympia


How to win the crowd.

When a humble and much inferior combatant is matched against a celebrated and seemingly invincible athlete, the sympathy of the crowd is at once given to the inferior man. They cheer him on and back him up enthusiastically, and if he manages to touch his opponent’s face and gets in a blow that leaves any mark, there is at once again the greatest excitement among them all. They sometimes even try to make fun of the other man, not out of any dislike for him or disapproval but from a curious sort of sympathy and a natural instinct to favor the weaker. If, however, one calls their attention at the right time to their error, they very soon change their minds and correct it. This was what Cleitomachus did, as is told. He was considered to be a quite invincible boxer, and his fame had spread over the whole world, when Ptolemy, ambitious to destroy his reputation, trained with the greatest care and sent off the boxer Aristonicus, a man who seemed to have a remarkable natural gift for this sport. Upon this Aristonicus arriving in Greece and challenging Cleitomachus at Olympia, the crowd, it seems, at once took the part of the former and cheered him on, delighted to see that someone, once in a way at least, ventured to pit himself against Cleitomachus. And when, as the fight continued, he appeared to be his adversary’s match and once or twice landed a telling blow, there was great clapping of hands, and the crowd became delirious with excitement, cheering on Aristonicus. At this time they say that Cleitomachus, after withdrawing for a few moments to recover his breath, turned to the crowd and asked them what they meant by cheering on Aristonicus and backing him up all they could. Did they think he himself was not fighting fairly, or were they not aware that Cleitomachus was now fighting for the glory of Greece and Aristonicus for that of King Ptolemy? Would they prefer to see an Egyptian conquer the Greeks and win the Olympian crown, or to hear a Theban and Boeotian proclaimed by the herald as victor in the men’s boxing match? When Cleitomachus had spoken thus, they say there was such a change in the sentiment of the crowd that now all was reversed, and Aristonicus was beaten rather by the crowd than by Cleitomachus.



From the Histories. A Greek hostage arriving in Rome around the age of thirty-five, Polybius became the tutor and later friend of the prominent general Scipio Africanus the Younger, with whom he traveled to Spain and Africa. Of the original forty books of his history, only the first five are extant in their entirety.