Monday, July 2, 2012

Olympic History Lives On!

Well, the Summer Olympiad is almost upon us and for me, this is a time for getting into the spirit of Olympic competition. The greatest athletes in the world will push themselves to the limits of physical and mental strength and endurance in honour of their gods, their countries, their people, and themselves.

Sure, every athlete may not be making an offering to Olympian Zeus prior to competing – times have changed as the wheel of history and belief has turned over the centuries – but, aside from the wonderful array of cultures competing, there are some Olympic aspects, events, that have survived the passage of time.

A recent article by the BBC (click here to read the article) compares the ancient and modern Olympic games, looks at the aspects of the games that are different, and those that are the same. For one thing, in the ancient Olympics, women were not permitted to watch or compete in the games. One of the unfortunate realities of ancient Greece was, of course, the low position of women on the social scale. If there had been a Celtic Olympiad however, the women would have been right in there bloodying the men! Interestingly, one exception in which women were permitted to be involved was in the equestrian events as owners of horses. The article references the first mention of a victorious team being owned by a Spartan princess. Now that sounds like a fantastic story!

Artist Impression of
the Statue of Zeus
The original footrace was the 200M dash which, of course, carries on to this day. Having been a competitor in that event when I was in school, it might have been cool to know the history behind it. Gym teachers, take note! Other events that have stood the test of time are the javelin, the discus, standing long jump and wrestling. Pankration has gone the way of UFC rather than the Olympics and no longer do we see runners in hoplite gear running down the stadium lanes. The historian in me thinks that would be a great one to reinstate. If not that, how about bringing back chariot racing? Tell me the crowd wouldn't thrill to see teams of four-horse chariots thundering past!

Olympic history is one of the most fascinating topics of ancient Greek studies. Should you ever get the chance to visit ancient Olympia, do it. It is a site unlike any other, a truly ancient place that is blanketed in peace. When the games were on, wars stopped, and competition honoured the gods that watched over them all.

This month, when the Olympiad returns to us, when the athletes of the world come together in friendly competition, I doubt that the wars of the world will cease, at least of the space of the Games. It is however, a thing to hope for. 

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