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  • Writer's pictureCathleen Baclaski

Kleomedes of Astypalaia

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Usually I blog about my adventures in Astypalaia, one of Greece's Dodecanese islands. It is a butterfly shaped island floating in the Aegean Sea. Now you are wondering how am I going to tie Astypalaia and boxing together. The answer is Kleomedes of Astypalaia, he was an Olympic champion boxer from the 71st or 72nd Olympic Games in 496-492 BC.

Greeks were boxing as far back as 700BC according to historical accounts. It was a more brutal sport than it is today. Take the following into consideration. All fighters were naked except for the leather straps they used to wrap their hands. There were no weight classes, opponents were drawn by lot. No rounds or time limits of any kind existed, so the fight continued until one of the fighters gave up, was incapacitated or died. Breaking a rule such as eye gouging or striking the genitals could result in punishment, a whipping by the referee.

Historical accounts state that Kleomedes of Astypalaia fought in either the 71st or 72nd Olympiad, in 496 or 492 BC. By all accounts he was a fighter without equal, crushing all opponents. In these games he killed his opponent Ikos of Epidarous. Killing the other fighter was not considered a foul, but the illegal strike Kleomedes used to defeat his opponent was. He was disqualified from the games and fined heavily for the infraction. The DQ caused him to fly into a fit of rage, and he headed home to Astypalaia.

During his voyage home his anger grew. When he reached Astypalaia he marched over to the school house and used his brute strength to pull a support pillar out from the ceiling. The structure collapsed, killing all of the children inside.

The Astypalaians were furious with Kleomedes for this hateful act, and attempted to stone him to death. Their attempts to kill him were not successful.

Kleomedes escaped death by fleeing to the local temple to the goddess Athena where he hid in a magical chest. When the locals opened the chest, the boxer had vanished. Great consternation followed his disappearance, so the Oracle at Delphi was consulted to cast a clarifying light on the situation. Her answer was the following.

"Kleomedes of Astypalaia is the last of the heroes, honor him with sacrifices, since he is no longer an ordinary mortal".

He was revered in Astypalaia from that moment forward.

I am glad that boxing has changed over the millennia. I think we can do without nude fighters beating each other into submission.

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