Classic’s professor Tom Stevenson has written a fascinating piece* parsing the ancient sources for a true record of how many Olympic wins Milo had – was it six… or seven? The whole article is worth a read, if ancient history is your thing, but this part from the introduction really stuck with me:
[Milo] became a famous symbol of brute strength, viz. a symbol of ‘brawn’ rather than ‘brains’. In this guise he appeared regularly in stories about the limits of physical strength, especially in comparison to athletic achievement. Writer like to dwell upon his human frailty in spite of his athletic prowess, and on his unflattering death.
As I read more of the ancient sources on Milo, this is becoming more clear to me.
As Cicero said:
What cry can be more contemptible than that of Milo of Croton? When he had grown old, he saw some athletes training on the track, looked at his own arms, wept and said these indeed are now dead.’ Not so, you idiot. It is you who are dead, for your nobility came not from yourself but from your trunk and arms. (Sen. 9:27)
When I wrote my post on representations of Milo in art, I think I was guessing at part of this – that Milo was in part a cautionary tale about hubris — but I didn’t know the literature enough to see how he was both praised for his strength, and, perhaps, found wanting in intelligence.
I find it interesting that in modern mainstream fitness culture, it’s the story of the calf, not the wolves, that has gain resonance.
More on this, I’m sure, as I develop the classical resources on Milo page.
*Dr. Stevenson has been kind enough to correspond with me about this article and send me a more recent version published in the journal Nikephoros. If and when that version goes online, I’ll link to it.