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Olympic Games of Ancient Greece
The legends surrounding the beginning of the Olympic games are many, but it is generally believed that Heracles, the son of Zeus, founded the ancient Greek Olympic games. There is some evidence that the games had been going on for longer than we have written records for. The first records of the games at Olympia are from 776 BC.
The first Olympic games were not the games of today that represent a worldwide competition between the best athletes of the world. The ancient Olympic games were dedicated to the Gods and only involved Greek athletes. There are mythological origins of the games. One myth is that Pelops, the son of Tantalus (who defied the Gods), wanted to marry Hippodamia. Hippodamia was the daughter of Oenomaus, the king of Pisa. The king lusted after his own daughter and strived to kill all of her potential mates by winning fixed races. Pelops, according to legend, replaced the lynchpins of the king's chariot with wax ones, so the pins would fall out. The plan worked and the king was killed and Pelops married Hippodamia ("The Modern Olympics"). Pelops commemorated his victory with the Olympic games.
Another, more accepted, mythical origin of the ancient Greek Olympic games is the religious foundation. One theory is that the games were initiated to worship Zeus Olympios, who was the overlord of Mt. Olympos, or that the infant Zeus had protectors who ran a footrace. Another myth is that Zeus himself started the games to celebrate his triumph over his father, Cronus ("Where did the Olympic games come from" 3). The victor of the games was regarded as "having been touched by divinity, as being raised above the station of a mere mortal" (Cartledge 11). Additionally, the prizes for winning were all symbolic, like the olive branch wreaths and crowns. Further proof of the religious aspect is at the end of the Olympic games there was a procession to the altar of Zeus, which reportedly made of the blood and ash of the burned oxen that were slaughtered for the festival (Cartledge 12). The legend goes that a god threw a thunderbolt and that is where the altar of Zeus stood. In times to come, many worshipers of Zeus donated buildings and statues ("Where did the Olympic games come from" 3).
The Greek word agon means agony, which may describe the fierce competitiveness of the Olympian athletes. The athletes of the games prayed to the Gods for success in their races. They offered up gifts, when they won, of food or animals. The Olympic games of ancient Greece promoted the worship of the gods, particularly Zeus, at Olympia.
Although there is some speculation about the games starting earlier, the generally accepted date for the beginning of the ancient Greek Olympic games is 776 BC. The ancient games were much different than the games of today. There was only one event at the first Olympics, and this was a footrace of 200 yards. This race was called a stade. The first winner was Coroebus, a cook when he wasn't racing (Rolfe 13). There were no women competing in the Olympic games and only virgin women could watch. One woman, Kallipateira, entered the stadium to watch her son and when he won, she jumped over the wall in excitement and when her clothes pulled off, she was revealed as a woman. She was not punished, however, because she had many Olympian victors in her family ("The Story of Kallipateira"). The athletes ran completely naked. The story is that an athlete lost his loincloth while running and continued running naked. It became a tradition that held for several years.
To understand the traditions of the Olympics during these times, you need to realize how far many of the athletes and the spectators had to travel for these games. Some traveled as far as 200 miles on foot to see the games. There were inns along the way, but they were inadequate and the food was bad. When the 70,000 people who showed up they were confronted with no facilities; nowhere to stay and bugs were terrible. More than likely, they stayed in tents, if they were lucky, or just in the field. There was little water, extreme heat in the summer, rotting animal sacrifices and no bathroom facilities (Conan). The athletes faced the same problems, but the victors enjoyed a lifestyle usually only reserved for the rich. Once there, the Olympic games, which were a festival, opened with the oath taking and the swearing in ceremony. The games also included singing and religious rituals. The victors went by procession to their hometowns, which gave them prizes and basically took care of them for the rest of their lives (Conan). There were no professional or amateur athletes, as they were recognized as just athletes.
Despite the unsanitary conditions and the difficulty in getting to the ancient Olympics, it was a very popular festival and lasted for almost 1200 years, uninterrupted. The ancient Greeks worshiped their gods at the festivals and the games represented all that was valuable to the Greeks at that time. The pride of training hard, competing and emerging victorious was very important to the Greeks.
By 600 BC, more events had been added, to include chariot races, discus throw, javelin throw, the long jump, running, wrestling and pankraton, which was a mix of boxing and wrestling, which allowed choking, threats of broken limbs and if there was a rule violation, the judge hit them on the head with a stick (Rolfe 13). Long distance running and equestrian events were added as the years went on. The competition of pankraton was similar to kickboxing, except that the athletes were able to do anything but gouge eyes. They often broke the fingers of their opponents, kicked each other in the genitals and twisted each other's feet. Strangling was allowed and some of the competitors preferred death to a loss, so they would fight to the death. These physical events were grueling and often the competitors fought until one of them gave up.
For one month before and after the ancient Greek Olympics were held, there was a truce between the Greek inter-states. This truce was made because the spectators and the participants in the Olympics had to travel from so far away and they needed to be safe while traveling to the and back from the games. The truce also allowed the games to continue without interruption from war.
There are some indications that the ancient Greek Olympics had some examples of corruption, though not as evident as in recent times. One example is Eubulus of Dessale, a boxer who tried to get his opponents to throw the match against him. Another example, and the one that probably led to the Greeks to make greater efforts to clean up the games, was the episode with Nero. In 67 AD, Nero, the Roman Emperor, bribed the judges in a chariot race. When his chariot fell over and he came in last, the judges awarded him the victory anyway (Conan).
After Nero's death, the officials made attempts to ensure that the ancient Greek Olympic games were more honorable and for the most part, this was true.
The ancient Greek Olympics were held every four years from 776 BC for the next 12 centuries. The ancient games lasted until 393 AD. The Romans had won the wars against the Greeks in 146 BC and were now in control of the Olympics. The games lasted until 393 AD, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (Rolfe 14) decided to end the games. The Emperor was incensed that the people were worshipping the gods and he wanted them to worship him. The Romans ruined the Olympic stadium and what was left was destroyed by natural events, such as floods and earthquakes. This was the end of the ancient Greek Olympic games. It would be centuries before the games would be reinstated and they would be different from the ancient games, but the influence of the ancient Greeks would forever be evident in the competitions.
In 1894, a Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, presented the idea of the modern Olympic games to be held in 1900 in Paris. Delegates from 34 countries heard his idea and decided to have the first modern Olympic games in Athens, Greece in 1896. The next two Olympics were held in Paris (1900) and then in St. Louis (1904). The first modern Olympic games that had representation of the rest of the world were held in London in 1908. From that time on, only WWI and WWII would prevent the Olympic games from happening. The first women's games were in 1912 and the first winter Olympic games were in 1924, being held every two years opposite from the summer events ("The Modern Olympics").
Politics has unfortunately had a large effect on the modern Olympics. The United States and Russia have boycotted games held in the other's…[continue]
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