The pankratiast Poulydamas of Scotussa, a small town in Thessaly, is often mentioned as the prototype of a strong athlete. He won only one Olympic victory, in 408 BC, but became famous for his legendary tours de force. He is told to have killed a lion once with his bare hands, after the example of his great hero Herakles. He could hold a bull by his hind legs, so that it could not tear himself loose. When the bull finally managed to get free, he left his hooves in Poulydamas' hands. According to another story, Poulydamas could stop a chariot with galloping horses by holding the wagon from behind with one hand. P116His exploits were known as far as Persia. The Persian king summoned him at his court and challenged him to fight three of his bodyguards, the so-called 'immortals'. And of course Poulydamas beat them.

Poulydamas received a statue at Olympia. On the base, his heroic deads were depicted and described in a relief and in an inscription. Three of the four reliefs are preserved.

The last story about Poulydamas concerns the end of his life. One day the athlete was in a cave with his friends. The roof started to tear open and the friends ran out of the cave. Poulydamas stayed inside, thinking he was strong enough to support the roof. He was, however, crushed by the mountain. After his death, he was honoured at Olympia as a hero with healing powers.

© KU Leuven, 2012