Peter R. Martin: Historical Vocabulary of Addiction.Exercise


Carlos R. Hojaij’s comment


       Peter Martin goes into “exercise’s” etymology and historical citations demonstrating the importance of a proper diet to maintain an equilibrium between body and mind. His erudite paper leading to contemporaneous scientific findings allows him to conclude that “the multiple relationship between exercise and behavioral/alcohol/drug addictions suggest a potential evolutionary role of physical activity in maintenance of physical and emotional health that has been dislocated by our affluent society. More important, these observations point to the importance of exercise to help recreate the level of activity that is required to maintain health and vitality… we appear to have lost in the ‘developed’ world.”            

       This paper stimulated me to revisit our most relevant cultural heritage: the classical Greek and its pragmatical Roman culture. 

1. In “Carmides" Plato (1979) describes Socrates visiting gymnasiums to meet people, young and old, and engage them is his famous dialogues. It is known that the Greeks of that time practice gymnastic and sport completely naked. Metaphorically, a gymnasium would be a place where the body, the soul or ideas could freely be disposed, for any kind censorship was not present. The gymnasium would be a place of excellence for the practice (exercise) of  physical activity and philosophy. Coincidence or not, maybe the most famous philosophical schools in the world, the Academy (Plato) and the Liceum (Aristotle), are the names of two Athena’s gymnasium (Jaeger 2013). 

2. In “Fedro” Plato (1979) mentions Socrates in a dialogue with Fedro citing Herodico: “go from Athens to the walls of Megara and return (a 80 km walking).” Herodico de Salimbria, a Greek doctor from the V century, Hippocrates’s tutor, is considered the first one to propose physical exercise for treatment of medical diseases and maintenance of heath, what currently could be called Sports Medicine (Georgoulis, Kiapidou, Velogianni  et al. 2007).  

3. Gymnastics (together with music) was an essential part of the classical Greek education, once more composing elements of body and soul. Of course, physical exercises were imperative for a better preparation of the citizens, taking into account the common battles between the Greek states and its neighbors. However, in terms of education, the force was not the major point, but the dexterity of movements, harmony, equilibrium and the beauty of the body. 

4. Before the classical period, in 776 BC the Greek states decided to homage Zeus every four years with a festival including disputes comprising several sports. As it is well known, the importance of the Olympiads was so high that all states suspended any kind disagreement and battles for the time of the festival. It was time to honor the heroes of all cities.  

5. The Greek philosophy is based on the principle of isomerism: no prevalence of one force. This principle is applied to the Hippocratic medicine: a state of health would be achieved by the equilibrium (harmony) between the needs of the body and a diet: the necessary amount of food would be dictated by the need of the body in specific situation (Hippocrates’ empiricism). Equally, the sense of measurement (limit) was applied to the mind to permit adequate actions. Icarus is the famous example where the measurement failed. 

6. Jaeger (2013) analyses several aspects of  Da Dieta, written by an unknown author, probably prior to Hippocrates. The author could well be a philosopher and/or a doctor because incorporated in the text are Hippocratic principles and philosophical aspects. It is interesting to cite: “The diagnosis is linked to gnosis, knowledge of the whole nature. In sequence, comes the knowledge of details, to start from foods and their effects on different constitutions, as well in reference to physical efforts. This last aspect is so important as it is an adequate diet…  proposing a systematic and conscious balance to the opposite effects from food and physical efforts.” Here we realize the symmetric principle applied to the relationship between nutrition and physical exercises. In this regard there is a similarity to Herodico, who attributed to exercises the first place in a diet. 

7. It was a Roman writer, the satiric Decimus Junius Juvenalis (Juvenal), living in the I-II centuries who created the aphorism: mens sana in corpore sano. Analyzing this Juvenal expression, I understand the initial (primordial) importance is given to the body. If you don’t have a healthy body, you are unlikely to have a healthy mind. Of course, the mind is able to influence the body, but up to a certain point. I don’t need to go further on this matter. On the other hand, the mind is able to influence the body, again up to a certain point. That is what Peter Martin claims for regular exercise, to help to suppress addiction, a concept going back to Herodico and Hippocrates’s medicine. 

8. Peter Martin writes: “…we appear to have lost in the ‘developed world’ the appetite to regular exercise.” Indeed, the governments and the big monopolies are promoting, “If you want something, press the keyboard.” Smartly, this has created a technical dependence on computers and phones, a new fanaticism almost replacing all religions. The well corrupt and conducted  media promotes a society heavily dependent on fast food, stimulating laziness and self-indulgence. There are announcements for food everywhere, all the time. Currently, there is no further need to seduce; the population has become, if not addicted, entirely “regulated" to constantly eat. It is this cocktail of “be yourself, do yourself pressing the key, enjoy yourself, take it easy, be part of the modern world,” that institutionalizes the sacred obesity and a new aphorism: “be fatty, but happy.” For sure, in this regard there is an epidemic addiction to food, maybe much worse than the one caused by the international Corona Virus-19; the viral epidemic will pass, but not the food addiction, because at least at the beginning it offers just pleasure.  

9. Wall Disney Pictures launched in 2008 a movie initially dedicated to children called “Wall-E” (Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class). Wall-E is a robot from our time, but his presence in the movie relates to 700 years ahead, let’s say 2700. At that time the Earth is literally covered by mountains of garbage. Wall-E survived all these years and continually keeps doing his task: collect garbage and remove it to a specific area. Wall-E had the peculiar characteristic of collecting for itself objects directly linked to the humans that he knew centuries before. One object was a TV, still working. During pauses, Wall-E enjoys watching the humans in romantic scenes, dancing, touching each other, kissing, etc. - a nostalgic robot. Wall-E also has a small insect, the only life left in the planet Earth. One day he is surprised by an intense tremor and terrifying noise. It is a space shuttle just deploying a robot conducted to investigate possible signs of life. The story goes on… important here is to say that the world from where the new robot was coming was a planet inhabited by humans who migrated from Earth due to the destruction provoked by their antecedents. This new world is commanded by a master machine, supervised by an army of robots. The humans had one representative to dialogue with the master machine and evidently follow its orders. The world is entirely automatized, the humans just need to sleep and during the day sit down in their personal electric car and be conducted around the city, always the same route. There is no need to stand up for anything. It they want a sandwich or a soft drink, they only have to press a button and a robot immediately approaches with the order. They are all fatty, happy people with no concerns whatsoever. They could not walk anymore, because they didn’t need to walk. They don't touch each other anymore, for the machines provide all sensations. There are no more moments of doubt and reflection, because the screens installed everywhere anticipate all the answers, etc. Of course, Wall-E was not a movie for kids, but a satirical description of the human world that is already coming, a world with infantilized and superficialized beings: people lacking a sense of identity, personality; they are absent of affective experiences, inter-contact; they miss sense of time, perspective of death; they are no more surrounded by nature to be observed and experienced offering the perception of life in movement. They are obese in body and flat in mind: happy stupids. 

10. Peter Martin well realized his task is gigantic, titanic, for having to deal not just with psychiatric disease, but also to take into consideration a generalized poor education, culture of consumerism, individualism, hedonism, immediatism, all tending to anarchy; an anarchy that seems will be “corrected" by the big brother. 

       (In Central America and South America lives an animal genetically disposed to live in trees [it sleeps holding branches with long arms and relatively enormously curved slot claws] evidently as a way to survive. It is called bicho preguiça (sloth). Bicho preguiça has 8-9 cervical vertebrae and is able to rotate its little head 270 degrees, again a genetic modification for protection, because on land it cannot move faster than 4m per minute; swimming it reaches 13m per minute. Slow movement, slow metabolism; being a vegetarian, it accumulates a large amount of leaves (plenty of water) in the stomach and evacuates feces once a week; it sleeps up to 14 hours per day. Most of the time it gives the impression of being in a torporous state. It is heterothermic, frequently exposed to sun to increase body temperature; heart beats around 40 per minute. Bicho preguiça is a small animal, its size varies between 60 to 80 cm, and weighs from 3 to 8 kg. As consequence of all these biological elements, its very low level of exercise is the clue to reduced energy consumption and survival. Life span: around 20 years).



Carmides. In: Platon, Obras Completas. Aguilar s.a. de ediciones. Madrid; 1979. 

Fedro. In: Platon, Obras Completas. Aguilar s.a. de ediciones. Madrid; 1979. 

Georgoulis AD,  Kiapidou I-S, Velogianni L, Stergiou N, Boland A. Herodicus, the father of sports medicine.  Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc 2007;15(3):315-8.

Jaeger W. Paideia. The Formation of the Greek Man. 6th Edition. Editora Martins Fontes, SãoPaulo; 2013.


June 17, 2021