A History of Bodybuilding
Almost every child these days has been exposed to feats of superhuman strength and bodybuilding thanks to shows such as of the Universe Z and of course their own parents (especially if they are competition weightlifters or bodybuilders), but it nothing new really. People have been fascinated by people who been able to do more than most people since the dawn of time. So if a definitive list was to be drawn up of all the strongest / muscled men who have influenced history, it might look something like this:
Samson (approx 1,120BC 1,080BC)
Samson was born in Canaan (modern day Israel) at the end of the twelfth century BC, but the question is raised as to whether he existed or not. What we do know is that his birth was preceded by an angel telling his mother that she would give birth to a Nazirite (from a different part of the Middle East) and that whatever was to happen, his hair couldn be cut. The reason for this strange request, well, this was demonstrated when Samson was about eighteen when a mountain lion pounced on him. About a minute later, Samson went on his way.
And whilst in the Canaanite army, he managed to bump off a thousand Philistines (from what is modern day Georgia) with just a jawbone. This brought him to the attention of the Philistine nation and to one woman in particular named Delilah and when she was told that she get a reward for finding out the secret of Samson strength leading to some scenes that wouldn go amiss in a torture chamber, she found out about his hair and cut it whilst he was asleep.
Well, now Samson was as weak as a baby and as a result was humiliated by the Philistines, until a national celebration when the Philistines decided to show off its biggest scalp. But as enough time had elapsed for his hair to grow back, Samson (after praying to God) brought the temple down around their ears and also committed suicide at the same time. When news arrived in Canaan of what happened, Samson brothers bought his body back home and he was buried between Zorah and Eshtaol in the same plot as his father.
Like Samson, whilst the debate rages about whether or not there really was a Hercules (the latest suggestion is that he was perhaps a chieftain vassal of the kingdom of Argos near the Gulf of Corinth in Greece) what can be denied is that in terms of superhuman feats, his twelve labours can be beaten, but what about his history? Well, using a combination of the legend and the history of Greece, we can determine that he was born about 550BC and was the result of what could be termed a dangereux between Zeus, the king of the Greek gods and Alcmene.
Why was this liaison dangerous? Well, firstly both Zeus and Alcmene were married (to Hera and Amphitryon respectively) and secondly, any cross breeding between gods and mortals was always likely to create ructions. The first of which was felt on Mount Olympus, when Hera found out what had happened and well, putting it politely a termination
Anyway, Hercules was born (despite Hera best efforts) and the name that the parents chose pushed Hera over the edge and she sent two snakes to deal with Hercules. Which would have worked, if the second ruction of a god / mortal breeding
tedhair programme hadn occurred. Baby Hercules thought that the snakes were toys and started to use them as a rattle. The reason? He was possessed of superhuman strength. Hera was furious and spent the rest of Hercules life making it miserable as possible.
After several years, Hercules got married to Megara and they had two lovely children. Well, this was too much for Hera to bare and so made Hercules kill his wife and children in a fit of madness. When Hercules recovered and saw what had happened, he made an offering to Apollo (the gods version of People Court) and asked forgiveness. He was told in no uncertain terms that he would have to work off his debt by performing several tasks and after a consultation with the Oracle at Delphi, he went to see and told him what happened and that the gods had commanded him to be King Eurystheus personal slave. Now, this king was no dummy and so ordered Hercules to perform ten tasks
tedshair Slay the Nemean lion (and when he did he wore the skin as proof)Task 2: Slay the nine headed Hydra
tedshair of LernaTask 3: Capture of the elusive hind (stag) of ArcadiaTask 4: Capture the wild boar of Mount ErymanthusTask 5: Clean (by sunset that day) the cattle stables of King Augeas of ElisTask 6: Shoot the monstrous man eating birds of the Stymphalian marshesTask 7: Capture of the mad bull that terrorized the island of CreteTask 8: Capture of the man eating mares of King Diomedes of the BistonesTask 9: Take the girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons (from what is now Azerbaijan)Task 10: Seize the cattle of the three bodied giant Geryon, who ruled the island Erytheia
Now as you can imagine, that took Hercules several years, but when reports came back to King Eurystheus that Hercules was on the way back, he panicked and came up with two extra tasks.
Task 11: Bring back the golden apples kept at the world’s end by the HesperidesTask 12: Fetch up from the lower world (Hades) the triple headed dog Cerberus, guardian of its gates
When that last task was completed, Hercules was not going to be bossed around by anyone and became a freelance agent, dealing with minor emergencies such as preventing the Princess of Troy from being eaten by a sea monster, and even helping his father prevent a takeover of Mount Olympus. After all these adventures, Hercules fell in love again and married for the second time. His wife this time was called Deianira and when he came back from his trip to Olympus, she had a present waiting for him. A cloak that she had woven herself with a little added extra. A special balm given to her by a centaur that would make Hercules the most man on earth by ensuring them a fruitful relationship.
However, guess who had given the centaur the balm in the first place? That right Hera, and as you might have guessed this wasn the 6th century BC version of Viagra but was in fact a deadly poison and as soon as Hercules put the cloak on, he had it.
He asked his friends to sacrifice him to the gods to prevent the poison from killing him, and as his friends set fire to the funeral pyre, Hera relented. As the funeral pyre burned, Athena was sent down to take Hercules back to his ancestral home and even today can be seen in the stars.
After the Greeks (and to a certain degree the Romans), interest in feats of strength and muscle started to wane a little. Well, despite his foppish appearance, Porthos was anything but. Alexandre Dumas of course wrote him about in the 1850′s, but the story of the Three Musketeers was set in the middle of the 17th century, with Porthos leading the way.
Born in 1597, Porthos is pretty much unassuming as a child, but when he reaches his 18th birthday, his father despatches him to Paris to become a member of the Musketeers. We hear very little from him until 1625 when a certain D’Artagnan arrives in Paris and manages to team up with Porthos as well as Aramis and Athos and it’s here we start to see just how strong Porthos is.
When D’Artagnan is first introduced to Captain Treville (the captain of the King’s Musketeers) we get an inkling of how strong he must be when Dumas writes
but it’s not until 1845 when Dumas wrote a five act play about the Musketeers set after the original that we see just how strong Porthos really is.
Porthos has arrived in Paris to meet his old colleagues and is at D’Artagnan’s house (who is now a lieutenant) and is discussing his inheritance that enables him to call himself Baron du Vallon. In the library of the estate, there is a book about the twelve labours of Hercules and it tells about a similar person called Milon of Crete who was also remarkably strong. Porthos read about this and decided to do the same. So, he slaughtered a bull on his estate with a single blow, carried it on his shoulders for 600 paces and then ate it just for good measure, but there was one thing he’d not been able to do that Milon could, and that was smother his face in rope and then to break free using the strength in his face. But as D’Artagnan points out, Porthos’ strength is in his arms, not his face.
His strength also helps in the next book "Twenty Years Later", but it’s his final appearance in "The Viscount of Bragelonne" that seals his reputation for superhuman strength. Porthos and D’Artagnan are hiding in a cave from some Cardinal’s guardsmen when D’Artagnan sneezes thus bringing the guardsmen down on them. During the fight a piece of wood is dislodged and threatens to collapse the cave. Porthos holds the roof of the cave from collapsing long enough for D’Artagnan to escape and then with a final "One for all" brings the cave down, killing himself and the guardsmen.
Like Samson and Hercules, it’s a bit tricky to determine if there was ever a real life Porthos, but what is interesting is that in 1617 in the village of Pau in the south of France, an Issac du Portau was born who in 1640 served in a private military force and in 1642 joined the Musketeers under the guidance of a certain Monsieur Treville and according to local tradition was still alive in 1670. So was this du Portau, the real life influence for Porthos, one of the strongest men in European literature? We simply shall never know.
The reason for Porthos being given superhuman strength was due in part to the time the books were being written. The "Enlightenment" was sweeping across the Europe and towards the end of the 19th century the Olympic games were reborn marking the pinnacle of this revolution of ideas. One of the ideas that was reborn during this time was the recognition of the perfection of the human body (as in the classical Greek statues) and if there was one man who embraced this idea completely, it was Eugene Sandow
Eugene Sandow was born in Konigsberg, in Prussia (what is now part of the Baltic nation of Latvia) in 1867 and like a lot of the people profiled so far had a normal childhood. During his teenage years he ran off to join the circus where he developed an interest in acrobatics, but in 1887 in Brussels in Belgium, he met Louis Durlacher (otherwise known as "Attila"). He recognised the young man’s obvious talents and decided to turn this unassuming young man into the world’s first real life muscleman.
Now as we have seen bodybuilding wasn’t exactly new in the late 19th century, but it was rather haphazard. Through a process of trial and error, Durlacher and other German trainers managed to hit on a system that worked and after only a couple of months of training, both Louis and Eugene travelled across Europe and by 1889 was the toast of London after defeating a well known stage strongman called "Sampson".
Despite the Victorian’s fascination for feats of strength and muscle, they were rather unkeen on the idea of doing it themselves. The
tedshair blame for this could be laid at the door of Dr. Peter Steinchron who wrote a book in the mid 1870′s stating
add to this allegations of "muscle binding" a condition caused by lifting too much weight and causing the muscles to grow so big that it would be possible to literally seize up. The fact that no evidence had even been recorded of this condition was beside the point.