Ever since the ancient days lovers of sports have idolized athletes. Armchair athletes, even in days long gone by, longed to posses the prowess, skills and extreme capabilities of the favorites. The great athletes become heroes, often for an entire culture. Women are smitten, little boys and girls want to grow up to be like them, and adults long to be the same.
There is definitely something powerfully captivating about watching an athlete fully express all the power, grace, skill, strength, and dedication humanly possible. Modern fans of sports celebrities have nothing on the ancient Romans. The idolizing of Roman gladiators was carried to such an extreme, that a great deal of money was made from selling their sweat. After workouts or contests gladiators went to steam rooms in the Roman baths, where slaves oiled their skin, and then used a tool called a strigil to scrape the mixture of oil, dirt, and sweat from their skin.
The strigil was a curved piece of metal with a sickle shape, and had a cross section like celery. It was designed to remove and collect “gloios,” the oily, gluey mixture of oil and sweat. This was then sold to the aristocracy. Strigmentum, as it was also known, sold for as much as a half million dollars for very small amounts!
Gladiators were such celebrities that their prized gloios was used by the rich to perform hoped for miracles. The smell of the concoction was so foul that using it was followed by a thorough drenching in perfumes.
Women applied gloios to their skin to increase fertility and libido, and it was used for such diverse purposes as hair dye, and toothache treatment. Older men used gloios from young athletes to treat their ailments. It was supposed also to be helpful for increasing fertility.
Pliny the Elder wrote about it thus:
“These scrapings have the power to soften, warm, dissolve and grow flesh because sweat and oil make them medicines…They are applied to inflamed and contracted wombs and in the same way they stimulate menses as well and soothe inflammations and swellings of the fundament, likewise pains of the nerves, dislocations, and swellings of the joints.”
“…mix it with wine lees, put it on at night and in the morning…wake up with a head of blonde hair.”
This may seem outlandish to us moderns, but a thousand years from now, who knows what will be thought of our health practices? One thing that should survive, is our continuation of the natural connection between celebrity and sports.