Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ancient Greece: Home of the Ancient Olympics

History of the Olympics

Michael Phelps in 2008
by marcopako 's photostream @ http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2771657304

The past week and a half has been a fun filled time for everyone all across the globe as thousands of people have descended upon London, England for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. I, like most people in the world, have been watching from my television or keeping tuned in via the internet. Isn't it wonderful how various cultures from all around the world can peacefully join together in one place and cheer on their nation for the race to win the gold? As I contemplate the Olympic spirit while rooting for the United States to bring home the gold (as I write this we are in second place for the most medals with Great Britain in third) I think about how the Olympics all began. The untold stories, the meaning behind the symbols and what stories are yet to be told. 

Where did it all begin?
The first historical documentation we have for the Olympic Games traces to ancient Greece during 776B.C., yet it is believed the Greeks had been conducting them longer than that. Greek legends tell us that it was Hercules who started the first Olympic Games. The poet Pindar wrote:

Hercules by Jasmine Ramig
The Olympic Games 
The Strong son of Zeus' drove the whole of his host 
And all his booty to Pisa, 
And measured a holy place 
For his mighty Father. 
He fenced the Altis and marked it off 
In a clean space, and the ground encircling it 
He set for rest at supper 
In honour of the ford of Alpheos 
And the twelve Kings of the Gods. 
To Kronos' Hill he gave a name: for before 
It was nameless when Oenomaos ruled, 
And drenched with many a snowstorm. 
In this first birthday-rite 
The Fates stood near at hand, 
And he who alone proves the very truth, 
Time. In his forward march 
He has revealed all clearly: 
How Hercules portioned the booty, war gift, 
Made sacrifice and founded 
The fourth year's feast 
With the first Olympiad 
And the winning of victories. 
Pindar c. 518 - 438 BC

Ancient Athletes
 The ancient olympics served as a major religious event that brought several Greek city states together in order to please Zeus, the leader of the Olympian Gods. Every Greek city-state was invited to attend the festivities. The Greeks had colonies that reached from Spain, Italy, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, and Turkey. People would travel from all over to the plains of Olympia to participate and watch. Unlike our modern day Olympics, there were restrictions on who could participate as an athlete. Only athletes who had been born a Greek could participate. It would be just like saying today, only English born athletes could participate because England is the host. Just as today, the athletes who did participate in the events were often admired by the public. You can read some of the ancient athletes stories here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/milo.html The ancient sports included Boxing, Equestrian events (chariot riding and riding), Pankration (a combination of wrestling and boxing), Running and Wrestling. The Summer 2012 Olympics in London has 302 events in 26 sports! What a vast difference!

Ancient Greece Vase by Patrick Hoesly
Since all Greek boys are trained in athletics the games were open to any Greek males to participate. Married women were not allowed to participate nor watch the games. Unmarried women were allowed to watch the games but not allowed to participate.  Unmarried women were allowed to participate in the Herean Games. These games were conducted in honor of Hera, Zeus wife, and were staged every four years.
Some Olympic athletes trained vigorously for the games while other did not. The games held several preliminary matches or heats to determine which athletes were the best. The qualifying athletes would then compete in the semi finals and finals. Today's Olympics follow the same procedure. At the end of the finals, the athlete who won was immediately announced by the Hellanodikis, a Greek judge who would place a palm leave in the athlete's hand. The spectators would cheer and shower the athlete with flowers. To show him victorious, a red ribbon was tied around his head and hands. On the last day of the games, all the victorious athletes would be escorted to the temple of Zeus. There, the Hellanodikis would announce the name of the athlete, his father and his hometown. Afterwards he would place the infamous wreath of olive leaves upon the athletes head. The wreath was considered sacred.  The celebrations did not end there for the athlete. Once he arrived back to home, his hometown would often reward him as well. His town might make a statue of him. They would also award him with a lifetime supply of food, money, tax breaks, honorary appointments or leadership appointments. He would become the hero of his village.

Next time we will continue our study into the history of the ancient olympics as we explore the Olympic Spirit.

What is your favorite Olympic sport to watch?

Who is your favorite athlete?

If you could go to any Olympic city where would you go?

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