[6: 61] John the Tricentennial Man speaks
De' fortissimi già contesa e guerra,
E tra Sassoni io vidi, e tra Lombardi;
Ché fortissimi allhor l'antica terra
Produsse i corpi, hor son più frali e tardi.
Pur il nostro parer, ch'hor via men erra,
Udivan quei possenti e que' gagliardi,
Però s'a voi d'udirmi anchora aggrada,
Ceda a grave consiglio acuta spada.
"The strongest men's battles and wars
Among Saxons and Longobards I saw,
As the Ancient Mother Earth then produced
Very strong bodies -- now frailer and slower.
And yet my opinion, then more erroneous,
Was listened to by those valiant, powerful men;
So, if you still wish to be listening to me,
Let the sword give in to some grave advice."
The idea that the men of ancient eras were much more muscular than now has a Greek origin. It has been followed and reflected on as a true anthropological datum up to the early 19th century by the Italian poet and scholar Giacomo Leopardi, see his Zibaldone (scattered thoughts, making a very thick volume) and Operette Morali (brief dialogues on "morals" i.e. human condition). The physical decadence went in parallel with the general decadence of civilization; see also Dante, Inferno 14: 94 ff.