It's the quintessential Greek sport: harmonious, competitive, agonizing, nautical, and above all, intelligent. It combines Odysseus's brains and brawn and love of the sea with the tactical precision of the Spartan pikeman.
Eakins rejected gentlemen athletics as his theme. Instead, he took a subject that had been the stuff of illustrated weeklies and the penny press and turned it into fine art. Eakins celebrates not fire from heaven but honest sweat, not genius but hard work.
The feel of a good row stays with you hours afterward. Your muscles glow, your mind wanders from the papers on you desk and goes back, again and again, to that terrific power piece at the end of the workout when it felt as if you and the boat were flying, as if you legs were two cannons and your arms were two oars and the great lateral muscles of your back were pterodactyl wings and the brim of your baseball cap was a harpoon.
Think of aerobics plus weight lifting minus the music or camaraderie. Combine unalloyed endurance with straightforward strength and demand poise, timing, and practiced form as well. Think of pure pain: that's the ergometer.