The Olympics – an athletic event with origins going as far back as the 8th century BC in Greece – is slated to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil less than a 100 days from now! What a reminder that sports and sporting events are forms of intangible heritage in their own right – with gameplay, rules and traditions that have been passed down across generations.
“It is strange that God learned Greek when he wanted to be a writer – and that is not the best learned.” – (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, German philosopher born 15 October 1844, quoted 25 August 1900)
“The world is an extension of Greece and Greece is the world to shrink.” – (Victor Hugo, French Romantic writer)
Festival of Nations as has been called by many, the Olympic Games is the leading multi-sport event held every four years. Originally from Ancient Greece, their revival is owed to the French baron Pierre de Coubertin, in the late 19th century.
The lighting of the Olympic Flame in Ancient Olympia:
The first celebration of the Olympic Games in ancient times on record was in Olympia in 776 B. C. And it is almost certain that it was then the first time. Long ago they held local competitions with a single event: the race of the stadium. From that milestone year, reached its apogee in the fifth and sixth century B. C., when acquired religious significance, as held in honor of Zeus, whose huge statue stood at Olympia. Three events remain in the 293 Olympic Games of antiquity (running, wrestling, pentathlon), while 200 BC was added and the pankration. Winners are admired and become immortal through poems and statues, their unique no prize was a wreath of olive branch.
In the cities that were in warfare, ceasing hostilities while the Games lasted. It was such a price for a city to have an Olympic champion, who on his return from the Olympic games, they demolished part of the walls, wanting to show that “we do not need the walls, when we have a such demigods”
Athletes competed naked, that’s why the regulations strictly forbιted the entry of women, not only on the pitch, but at a great distance from it. If one woman was arrested to violate these rules, she was facing the death penalty. The only exception was the Rhodian Kallipatera, shortly after the death of her husband, Diagoras the Rhodian, who went dressed as a man, wanting to admire her son Peisirrodo struggling to fight. But she was betrayed by her excessive enthusiasm for the victory as by her movements she was revealed that she was a woman. The umpires acquitted her, as she had so many Olympian champions in her the family (father, spouse, siblings, son and nephew).
When the Romans conquered Greece, the Olympics began to lose their importance and it became more evident when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire until 393 AD when Emperor Theodosius banned their conduct. It is worth noting that the 67 A.D. arrived in Greece and the Roman emperor Nero, who took part in all the games! That year alone, “he secured” … 1400 wins !!!
The athlete and General Secretary of the French clubs, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, trying to justify the defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), saying that this is due to lack of proper physical education of his countrymen, that needed improvement. He envisioned to unite the nations and bring youth close to sports so they avoid wars. He believed that the revival of the Olympic Games would achieve both of the above objectives. Although he met many great obstacles, he managed to organize and carry out in 1896 the first modern Olympic Games in the city and country of their birth.
Although the athletes that took part did not exceed 250, it was the largest sporting event ever.
But after the initial success and enthusiasm that followed, the games had serious problems. In Paris in 1900 and in St. Louis in 1904 were overshadowed by international trade events (fairs), which had been included. But the ‘slippery slope’ did not stop here and started to become visible since their degeneration. Contrary to the beliefs of Coubertin, the Olympic Games did not prevent wars and so their conduct ceased during the first and second world warfare.
Political issues and economic interests also affected several Olympiads and in 1936 in Berlin were used for political propaganda by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In the 1970s and 1980s were influenced by African states boycott because New Zealand participated in rugby matches in South Africa. The United States and other countries of the Western world refused to compete at the Olympics 1980 in Moscow, because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. The Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries boycotted the Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles.
During the Classical period in the Olympic Games could involve all Greeks, from various city-states of mainland Greece and its colonies, stretching from Gibraltar and Great Greece (Southern Italy and Sicily) to the Black Sea. The participation of slaves and “barbarians” were strictly prohibited, as those who had committed crimes or had stolen a temple. During the Hellenistic period the games were international.
In the Roman period, as there was decline of the sporting spirit, the Roman emperors competed at Olympia, while the slaves were allowed to participate in the games that took place in other cities..
According to a very strict rule, the participation of women as athletes was prohibited, and even was forbidden the entry to married women in the Stadium. This lasted only for the period of the games. The only woman who was allowed to watch the games was the priestess of Demeter Chamynis, who watched the games sitting on the altar of the goddess, opposite of the seats of the umpires. In Roman times this honorary position held by Regilla, wife of Herod Atticus.
If a woman dared to break the law, the punishment was harsh, they were throwing her from the Typaio hill, as Pausanias records. The only woman who managed to break the law and go unpunished was Kallipateira from Rhodes island, daughter, sister and mother of Olympic victors.
Surprisingly, there were special races for girls, who were taking place in Olympia in honor of the goddess Hera every four years. In Heraea, as they were called, took part young women virgins, who were divided by age, dressed in a short tunic and with bare right shoulder to the chest.
The winner was crowned with olive branch and she was gaining the right to appoint to place carved image with her name to the Heraion and was offered a share of the cow that was sacrificed to goddess Hera. In the Olympic Games women could participate only as owners in equestrian events, which awards the owner of the horse but not the rider. Thanks to this institution, many women were declared Olympic champions. First female Olympic champion was the Kyniska, daughter of the king of Sparta Archidamou, whose horses won the chariot (396 BC). The Velestihi from Macedonia, the Timareta and Theodota from Helia also won in equestrian events..
A set of rules, which were notified during the Olympic Games, governed the organization of the events. The main limitation related to non-Greeks, slaves and women, in which participation was prohibited.
The ancient Olympic Games included a significant number of the events. Many of them are ancestors of the modern Olympic sports and have terms and rules not unknown in modern athletes.
The ancient Olympic events were: Games of events of messengers and trumpeters Javelin, Jump, Disc, Race, equestrian Events, pankration, Fight, Pentathlon, Boxing.
Top pankratiast was the Dorian – son of the famous wrestler Diagora– from Rhodes.
From the 4th century B.C. up to the 2nd century BC, the boxers began to wear a kind of glove consisting of leather strips wrapped advance their acute straps. The Roman invention of cestus, a boxing glove reinforced with iron and lead, transformed the Greek art of boxing in a cruel and deadly struggle.
Immeasurable, however, was the moral significance of the victory at Olympia. Victories praised these great poets like Symonidis, Bacchylides and the most important of all, Pindar. The Olympic medalist when he returned to the town enjoyed great prices. Part of the city walls were demolished for the creation of entrance for the Olympic champion as the city that gave birth to Olympic champion had no need of walls.
Brief information on some of the most renowned Olympians like Leonidas and Diagoras of Rhodes.
Leonidas of Rhodes (Runner)
Leonidas became famous and eventually deified for his victories in racing historical accounts describe him as an athlete with the devil speed. The Rhodian racer managed to win all three events in four successive Olympics, a feat not repeated by another athlete.
Leonidas won his first Olympic victories in 164 BC (154th Olympiad) in all three races of the road and followed those of 160 BC, in 156 BC and the end of 152 BC, when at age 36 gave the island of even three crowns and deified by his countrymen.
Diagoras of Rhodes (wrestler)
Diagoras, son Damagitos and great-grandson of King Ialysos Damagitos, was the most famous of all the wrestlers of antiquity. The poet Pindar calls him “huge” and said that his appearance was striking because of its size but also because of its beauty. Crowned Olympic champion in fist in 464 BC, in the 79th Olympiad. He was also twice winner at Nemea four Isthmia, many times in his hometown of Rhodes, in the Panathenaic Games in Argos, in Lykaio in Aegina, Megara and elsewhere.
Pindar wrote in honor of Diagoras an ode and his statue was erected in the Altis (region of Greece).
He had the happiness to see his sons crowned Olympic champions –Damagitos in the fist, Akousilaos and Dorian in pankratio- and his grandsons Eucles and Pisirodos. In 448 BC, in the 83rd Olympiad, Diagoras saw the apotheosis peripatetic on the shoulders of Olympic champion’s sons and cheered by the crowds. A Spartan who saw him shouted at him that it has now left nothing more than to climb Mount Olympus near the gods, Diagoras leaned on his children’s hands and died.
His daughter was Kallipateira, the first woman of antiquity that went into the games field and watched the ancient Olympics unpunished.
The athletic contests were a central theme of ancient Greek art and literature. They became the reason of birth, since the 6th century. BC of two specific literary genres, the victory celebration anthem, whose main representative Pindar, and epigram.
The coexistence of sport and art started from the Prehistoric period and reached the end of Antiquity. The reason is that sport and art had a common interest: the human body. The ancient painters and sculptors were able to respond in the best way in the difficult task of the performance of motion of the human body at the Gymnasium, the Stadium or the Palaestra.
But if we imagine the ancient Olympics as something imaginary, a “unwrinkled” sport’s paradise where young people were engaged in noble emulation, having harmoniously developed body and mind to gain an olive branch we fall out. The truth is that we have here all the elements of behavior that govern other human activities: kindness, ethics, culture and vanity, greed, corruption, fraud, envy.
The philological research in the texts of ancient Greek writers, illuminating the scenes, offering a rich harvest of hidden aspects of the Olympic Games as it brings to the agenda the imprints of warfare to control the games, instances of political exploitation of victory by either side member and rulers either on the part of athletes, illegal naturalization athletes, bribes and bribery, violations of regulations deceptions of stewards, intense violence, victories without participation, utilization of Olympia and struggles for laundering rulers acts, massacres and conquering actions.
Who will organize and exploit the benefits of the games turned several times the sanctuary of Olympia at the scene of bloody warfare. The concentration of wealth by the influx of thousands of rich and tributes from all Mediterranean sides were the cause of disputes between Pisa (city of Helias six stages east of Olympia), and Arcadia shown that were the main contenders for the organization of the Olympic games.
E.g. in 364 BC during the 104th Olympiad organized by the Arcadians and whereas, according to Xenophon had already started the races and pentathlon, The army of Helias invaded on the sacred site of Olympia and began the great battle near the sports venues and around the Parliament House and the temple of Zeus in front of amazed eyes of thousands of spectators.
Several Greek cities and rulers to ensure Olympic victories not hesitate to buy athletes from other cities and display them as their own citizens. Particularly tyrants from Sicilian Greek cities starred in more transactions of this type with the primary aim of highlighting and promoting them. On the other hand many athletes to earn money they give way to other cities to represent their victory.
In the course of the Olympic Games presented corruption cases. Some athletes to be crowned winners did not hesitate to bribe their opponents thus contravening their oath. From the information we have clearly seen, that corruption and bribing took place not only to some athletes and some coaches but also to the umpires. .
E.g during the 178th Olympiad in 368 BC two Rhodian athletes were arrested in the act -as Pausanias describes, Evdilos bribed by Philostratus in the sport of wrestling.
The only thing not mentioned is probably the doping. However Aristotle describes the deformation of the athletes faces that look like animals because of special diet which were subject to increase their muscle mass. The commentary reminds today’s faces of athletes deformed by the use of growth hormones.
The victory in the Olympic and other Panhellenic games was for the consciousness of the ancient world once influential value, which received the overall social recognition. Along with the hymns and cultivating the sporting ideal, several philosophers and writers’ comment, judge and sometimes complained athletes and sports. A careful reading of thinkers criticized sufficient to demonstrate, that their cause was the abuse of the measure and unilateralism on the part of the sports world, in everything related to the application of philosophical harmony between soul and body.
The content of this observation brings the spirit of the ancient Olympic Games, much closer to the materialistic one-sidedness of our own era. This beyond measure recognition of athletic victory worked, unfortunately, as a key incentive in the consciousness of some athletes, that excessive participation in sport to be the means to fulfill personal goals and ambitions.
From the 5th BC century changes observed in the spirit of games and especially their religious character, and many clearly sided the selfish pursuit of athletes.
The guards offer to the state is comparatively superior from those of the athletes. Similar views will support Aristotle, Plutarch, Pausanias.
Homer, although it makes no criticism of athletes, indicates his faith in substance symmetry, and suggests the importance of the mind in any athletic endeavor. Xenophanes set a more critical issue that nowadays is highly relevant because: ‘in Greece they honor more the athletes from the wise. “The yield excessive value on sports offer displeases him, he considers as criterion of virtue the interest for the city, effectively valuing wisdom as the only virtue.
Euripides shares these views expressed by direct contempt for athletes, accusing them that they are not worth in battle or in politics. The same, perhaps unfair, criticism, supported by Solon, while Isocrates later juxtaposes the problem of providing large fees for athletes, with the non-existent recognition of those who have cultivated their spiritual powers for the general good. Maybe Isocrates did not know how timely would be his views 2500 years after.
Born in Rhodes Island in Greece, carrying on my shoulders the substance of the history, the pros and cons of the Olympic games and the images of statues of Olympic Champions Akousilaos, Eucles, Pisidoros, Damagitos, Leonidas the runner, Diagoras the wrestler who died on the arms of his Olympic Champion sons, the native environment with a grandfather, champion in rowing, a father champion in javelin, my mind travels back in time with lightning flashes by trying to isolate the movements of every attempt Ι see the endeavor of my father with the javelin. Thinking though the << mens sana in corpore sano>> what the Latins said, “healthy mind in healthy body” as I agree with the criticism and the opinions of the Philosophers for the Games and the athletes.
There was not a team sport for the ancient Greeks showing that the self-endeavor was prevailing even in their everyday life, something that is very easy to be criticized as it promotes the ego of the champions.
On the other hand as Xenophon wrote 2.500 years ago “the difference of the man with the other animals is that he is attached to the lust for prize”. Ambition is precisely this aspiration of affirmation in the eyes of significant others, after a successful effort.
All these contradicting thoughts pass very rapidly from my mind trying to describe the endeavor of the sport of javelin to what my father was thinking as an athlete, what was his motivation and what were his feelings while he was training and competing.
The javelin event was directly related to: the daily life of the ancient Greeks, creation of war and hunting. So, as the javelin event seems to be as old as the spear as a weapon of war, it is a nowadays sport in my homeland that requires certain characteristics for the good athlete, as he must be tall, harmoniously fit, long and thin members with long fingers. Patron of the javelin the ancients consider god Apollo, that is why there is an ancient temple next to a stadium in his honor. As sport was one of the events of the pentathlon with input time in the Olympic Games in 708. This is a track and field event where the athlete thrower has to run in order to gain momentum and throw a 2.5 m length spear.
The main difference between the ancient and the modern javelin is that athletes of ancient Greece always adapted a bracket, a leather band forming a loop in the center of gravity of the javelin. It is claimed that the length of the leather band was about 40 centimeters. When they were throwing the javelin, the fingers release the bracket. The bracket seems to be in assisting throwing in two ways: increase the power of throwing and it made safer and more comfortable grip giving the javelin a rotational movement about its axis one or more spin, that stabilize the course and help to travel a greater distance.
The javelin was used in Byzantium, as in previous seasons as a weapon of war as an instrument for the hunting of large wild animals and athletic organ having length 2.30 meters. The Romans were making the javelin by wood of cornel and the length was varying from 1,10-2,40m.
The basic rules of the sport nowadays are:
The separation of the athletes by age and sex. The technic is the same but for children instead of javelin they use an elastic ball whereas for teenagers the javelin is lighter from the one men use. The same applies to female athletes with lighter organs respectively. Of course coaches assort the talented children that have the physical characteristics that can continue as teenagers and man for this sport. The athlete is running in a predetermined track and as soon as he arrives to the valve he throws the javelin in a range that is defined by two lines starting from the valve, while the throw was invalid if the javelin was falling outside this range. Winner of the contest was the athlete that was throwing at a greater distance the javelin which of course would have to drop to the peak. The efforts were at first three where the first six athletes were promoted and another three efforts to classify them.
As a unique prize, in ancient Greece, athletes claimed the olive branch, olive crown or laurel or myrtle “many hated the money but none the glory” as glory can be translated in many ways that could produce indirectly money.
I hope that, pan metron ariston “do everything in moderation”, was governing my father’s and grandfather’s thoughts while they were competing.