Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: On Wimbledon Grunters

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: On Wimbledon Grunters

Article excerpt

What a pleasure it was to watch the men's final at Wimbledon contested with a minimum of grunting, exclaiming and gesticulation. Romans would have approved.

It was well known that athletes and those taking exercise had a tendency to grunt. Seneca the Younger (c . 4 bc-ad 65), multi-millionaire Stoic philosopher and adviser to Nero, described his unfortunate lodgings over the baths, which made him abhor his ears: quite apart from people hawking their wares, depilators making their victims shriek, bathers singing out loud and splashing about, 'those working out with weights -- whether actually working out or just faking it -- grunt away; when they let out their breath, they emit shrill wheezes'. The satirist Juvenal mocks the way female gladiators, taught by their trainers to prepare for the real thing, 'grunt while they practise thrusts at a tree-stump (and then reach for the potty)'.

The assumption is that the grunting associated with exercise was largely a matter of showing-off: it sent out the message 'look what a heroic effort we are putting into all this'. …

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