An Ordinary American in Ireland – The Pugilist At Rest
An Ordinary American in Ireland – The Pugilist At Rest
Theogenes was the Daddy of all gladiators, I first came across his fine self in The Pugilist at Rest from the little known but terrific writer Thom Jones. He told of sheer brutality, the two contestants not even being allowed the freedom of a ring, instead they were strapped to boulders facing one another, once the signal was given, they would commence hammering one another with fists encased in heavy leather thongs.
Incredibly, it was a fight to the death, fourteen hundred and twenty-five times Theogenes was strapped to the boulder and fourteen hundred and twenty-five times…think about it…he won the man was not a man, a giant perhaps…
Similar to Arnie ‘Mr. Olympia’ Schwarzenegger, Theogenes used his sporting prowess as a springboard to launch a political career, albeit he went a step beyond hinting at divinity by declaring himself divine and a son of Hercules. I don’t know about you, but I kind of believe the guy, I mean he could eat an ox, remained unbeaten for twenty-two years, beating fourteen hundred and twenty-five opponents, who let’s face it probably looked like Arnie ‘I’ll be back’ Schwarzenegger. Indeed, even after his death he continued to exert a significant influence, and is that not a definition of divinity? Following instructions delivered by none the less than the Delphic Oracle, the citizens of Thasos brought his statue to their city to deliver it from plague.
Thom Jones describes the statue of Theogenes in the Terne Museum in Rome as thus, ‘a muscular athlete approaching middle age. He has a thick beard and a full head of curly hair. In addition to the telltale broken nose and cauliflower ears of a boxer, the puglist has the slanted, dropping brows that bespeak of torn nerves. Also, the forehead is piled with scar tissue…His neck and trapezius muscles are well developed. Hs shoulders are enormous; his chest is thick and flat, without the bulging pectorals of the bodybuilder. His back, oblique, and abdominal muscles are highly pronounced , and he has the greatest asset of the modern boxer – sturdy legs. The arms are large, particularly the forearms, which are reinforced with leather wrappings of the cestus. It is the body of a small heavyweight – lithe rather than bulky, but by no means lacking in power: a Jack Johnson or a Dempsey…’
So, a man after all, but what a man. But I digress, I mean to tell you of Tom ‘The Moor’ Molineaux of this parish, Galway City, Connemara, Connaught, Ireland. However, Tom was originally a Virginian, born there on a slave plantation, from an early age he was pitched against fellow slaves for the amusement of the plantation owners, he was good, very good, so good, he fought his way to freedom and moved to England to become a professional boxer. In December 18010, he challenged Tom Cribb for the heavyweight title of the world. They battered one another over thirty-three rounds in the chilling rain and heavy wind of Shenington Hollow of Oxfordshire; the battle of the two Toms, with Cribb emerging as the victor, if such can be called such. They met again, almost a year later at Thistleton Gap, Leceister, how could you go back to such a thing? They did. Cribb won again.
I speak of Tom Molineaux because he died of liver failure in the regimental bandhall of the 77TH Regiment of Galway. Tom had being on a grotesque circus circuit of travelling boxers, modern gladiators in the sodden fields of Monaghan and Westmeath. He had taken ill whilst in Galway, the circus had left town without him, and so this great Virginian of Herculean proportion was found near death under the Spanish Arch by two soldiers who brought him to the bandhall where he died, he was thirty-four years old. He is buried in St. James Cemetery, Mervue, Galway City.
It was of course The Fox who told me of Tom Molineaux, I had a few brewskies on me at the time, so perhaps it was maudlin sentimentality, but I felt no shortage of affiliation with the great boxer, after all we are two Americans adrift in the town of Galway, we Yankees gotta stick together. I trawled St. James’ cemetery to pay homage at his grave but poignantly I could not locate, I wonder if it has sunk and being built upon by another set of coffins?
That thought really stuck in my craw, this modern Theogenes, the Black Ajax as he was known, removed from memory completely. His feats were beyond mere boxing, fights then were a brutal mixture of boxing and wrestling with almost ¬anything allowed, including head-¬butting, bone-breaking and vicious kicks to the kidneys. There were no timed rounds and fighting continued until a man was down. He was given thirty seconds of ¬respite, before being ordered back to a square in the centre of the ring known as the ‘scratch’. Opponents hideously bludgeoned one another until it became impossible to distinguish who the boxer was, all facial features and indeed power of recollection being removed. Cribb and Molineaux were the two greatest names of the ring, all of England including ‘Mad’ King George III clamored for the fight. Picture Tom, climbing into the scratch to the baleful melody of a poorly performed Yankee Doodle Dandy, the home crowd booing him. They puckered one another over and back or eighteen rounds and Molineaux began to get the upper hand, whilst he had Cribb on the ropes, the crowd invaded the ring, in the madness, Molineaux received several broken fingers. The fight was continued, Molineaux being pounded, jaw fractured, rib cage shattered; George MacDonald Fraser describes it,
‘They were mauling each other like sleep-walkers floundering in the mud with the rain washing the blood and mire off o’them….‘You never saw two men so dead and yet alive, disfigured so bloody you could only tell ’em apart by their skins.’
In the thirty-fifth round, the Mighty Molineaux gave way. The Pugilist at Rest.
Linus Bird – Star Spangled & Adrift