"Neither Letters nor Swimming": The Rebirth of Swimming and Free-diving


In a novel study of the impact of classical culture, John McManamon demonstrates that Renaissance scholars rediscovered the importance of swimming to the ancient Greeks and Romans and conceptualized the teaching of swimming as an art.
The ancients had a proverb that described a truly ignorant person as knowing “neither letters nor swimming.” McManamon traces the ancient textual and iconographic evidence for an art of swimming, demonstrates its importance in warfare, and highlights the activities of free-divers who exploited the skill of swimming to earn a living. Renaissance theorists of a humanist education first advocated a rebirth for swim training, Erasmus included the classical proverb in his Adages, and two sixteenth-century scholars wrote treatises in dialogue form on methods for teaching young people how to swim.

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John M. McManamon, Ph.D. (1984), is Emeritus Professor of Renaissance History at Loyola University Chicago. He has published monographs on Italian humanism and the history of underwater archaeology, critical editions, and numerous articles, including Caligula’s Barges and the Renaissance Origins of Nautical Archaeology Underwater.
"In tracing the world of swimming from antiquity to the Renaissance, with a focus on the primary source material, McManamon has produced a book full of rich detail." Alexander Nice, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, January 2022.
List of Figures

 1 The Classical Notion of an Art
 2 The Classical Proverb
 3 Classical Clues for Swimming as an Art

part 1: Ancient Legacy

1 The Art of Swimming: Rationale and Training
 1 The Age for Learning to Swim
 2 Swimming Technology
 3 Swimming and the Natural Environment
 4 Swim Strokes
 5 Learning to Swim

2 The Art of Swimming in Practice
 1 Rescuers
 2 The Further Benefits of Swimming
 3 Swimming for Pay

3 The Profession of Free-Diving: Rationale and Training
 1 Free-Diving as Metaphor
 2 Terminology and Labor Organization
 3 Training and Gender

4 Free-Diving to Earn a Living
 1 Diving for Sponges
 2 Diving for Other Marine Species
 3 Underwater Mining and Salvage
 4 Building Activities (Villas / Ports / Bridges)

5 Military Diving and Swimming: The Open Seas
 1 Free-Diving for Military Purposes
 2 Swimming for Military Purposes (Table 1)
 3 Organized Rescue
 4 Self-Rescue
 5 Technological Aids

6 From the Open Seas to Rivers and Lakes
 1 Greek Mercenaries in Persia
 2 A Contrast: Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar
 3 The Macedonians and Rome’s Militarization
 4 Swimming Enemies
 5 The Batavi as Supreme Swimming Auxiliaries
 6 Swimming Heroes Battle River Gods

7 The End of the Ancient Tradition and Nonnus of Panopolis
 1 Vegetius on Training
 2 Late Antique Poets and Historians on Military Swimming
 3 A Shift in Mood: Ausonius and Erotic Aquatics
 4 Nonnus and the Celebration of Erotic Aquatics
 5 Hero and Leander on Stage and in Epyllion
 6 Nonnus bis: Literary Evidence for Free-Diving

part 2: Medieval Impoverishment

8 Legendary Aquatic Feats of the Middle Ages
 1 Swimming and Diving in the Early Middle Ages
 2 Aquatic Feats of the Heroes of Sagas and Epic
 3 Free-Diving Heroes of Medieval Legend
 4 Swimming and Free-Diving in Northern European Histories

9 The Medieval Profession of Free-Diving
 1 Medieval Salvage Diving in Law and Practice
 2 Free-Diving for Pearls in the Middle Ages
 3 Free-Diving for Coral in the Middle Ages
 4 Dante’s Free-Diver Simile

part 3: The Renaissance Conceptualization of Swimming and Free-Diving

10 Erasmus, Nicolas Wynman, and the First Art of Swimming
 1 The Intuition: Italian Treatises on Education in the Humanities
 2 The Imprimatur: The Adages of Erasmus
 3 The Innovator: Wynman’s Latin Dialogue on How to Swim

11 A Cambridge Don Tackles Swimming
 1 Digby’s Dedication to Richard Wortley
 2 Why: Digby’s Rationale for Swimming as an Art
 3 When and Where
 4 How: Entries, Strokes, and Rotation
 5 How: Methods of Turning Around
 6 How: Fun Things to Do (Festivitates)
 7 Head-First Diving and Free-Diving (Urinatio)
 8 Novelty and Survival

12 Scholars and Engineers Contribute
 1 Swimming as Ideal and Metaphor
 2 Renaissance Engineers and Swimming
 3 Renaissance Engineers and Diving

13 Diving in the Renaissance
 2 Renaissance Origins of Archaeological Diving
 3 Science, Mathematics, and Italian Salvage Companies
 4 Globalization

 1 Proverbial Ignorance in the Classical World
 2 The Renaissance of Swimming
 3 The Middle Ages: Legendary Swimmers
 4 The Rebirth of Swimming
 5 The Impact on Free-Diving
All interested in the history of the ancient world and the revival of ancient culture during the European Renaissance as well as those who swim or dive underwater.
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