100 Days of Milo: Day 19 — Classical Sources of the Milo Stories

This website as you may have notices it called Milo and the Calf. That’s after the story of the legendary wrestler Milo of Croton and his allegedly strength training regime of carrying a calf on his shoulders everyday, until it became a bull.

A fairly significant number of people find this site because they’re googling about Milo. So, to fill people’s need for a central place for all the Milo stories, and to fulfill my own curiosity about the wrestlers place in classical literature, I created this page:

The classical sources of the Milo 

As with all the resources and inspiration pages, its updated sporadically, so check back every now an again to get your Milo fix.

Top Ten Stand Alone Posts and Pages

Of the over 700 posts and pages on this website, here are top ten “stand alone” pages which are neither Boston Qualifier Questionnaire responses nor book reviews. Its a funny grab bag of stuff. Check ’em out below:

  1. Fitness Habits of Disgraced Generals
    A silly little piece chronicling the fitness habits of Generals McCrystal and Petraeus.

  2. The Egoist on the Fixed Gear
    Some thoughts on the bad behavior of some New York City cyclists.

  3. Divine Madness
    A resource page on the cult/new relgious community/running group also know as “the Community”.

  4. Running Heroes – The Six Women of the 1972 New York Marathon
    A short piece on the running activists who protested the 1972 marathon

  5. Milo and the Calf
    The story of Milo of Croton after whom this website is named.

  6. The Hero Brought Low: Representations of Milo in Art
    s the title says, a short piece on the way Milo of Croton has been represented in art.

  7. Phil Coppess – Hero to Working Stiff Runners
    An appreciation of the incredible amateur runner whose twenty year old course record at the Twin City Marathons still stands.

  8. 12 Thoughts on the New York Marathon Course
    An overview of the New York City Marathon Course

  9. Weight and the Marathoner
    On the role body weight plays in marathon performance

  10. Alex Honnold and the Viewers Guilt
    My thought on climber Alex Honnold and watching free soloing.

Milo: Brains versus Brawn

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.

Painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvee

Painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvee

*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.


Milo in the News

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a lot more people are getting to this website by searching some variation of “Milo and the bull”, Milo and the calf”, Milo of Croton”, etc.

I wasn’t sure why it was happening. Perhaps final papers in freshman intro to classics class were due? Was Milo mentioned on a crossfit blog? Everyone suddenly clamouring for knowledge on greek mythic heroes?

I really had no idea until I got about 2/3rd of the way through Christopher McDougall’s new book, Natural Born Heroes  and then it was obvious.

I believe that’s a kid, Mr. McDougall, not a calf. Still, you got the idea.

McDougall’s new book (which I’ll write a full review of soon) is a wide ranging (probably too wide ranging) look at fitness, both ancient and modern, tied together by the narrative of a group of British officers and Greek resistance fighters who battled the Nazi’s on Crete. The book is a bit of a hodgepodge, but a good read. And it goes into some detail on the Milo myths.

Hence, I believe, the rise in traffic here from the term.

So, if you got here because you want to know more about Milo of Croton, I suggest you check out the resource page I’ve developed which collects the classical sources and provided links to the posts here that reference Milo. And while you’re at it, read some of the Aurelius quotes. No one ever reads those.