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Olympic dreams: A Greek gift to humanity

The Olympics were more than just an athletic event: they were a means to develop the mind, preserve freedom, and promote unity.

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If you can escape the toxic vortex of the twenty-first century and dream of a time our world was being born, you would have to travel to ancient Greece.
Hellas
Hellenes (Greeks) have always called their country Hellas (Greece). However, Hellas was not one country but something like a couple of thousands small states spread all over mainland Greece and the Mediterranean. Hellas was the Greek United Nations: employing the diplomatic niceties of peace but perpetually bickering and, often, fighting border conflicts and, sometimes, real wars.
Yes, the Greeks of hundreds of states were one people with the same language, piety for the same Olympian gods, and similar traditions like reading Homer and investigating the natural world and the heavens.

Diskobolos of Myron, the thrower of the discus in the Olympics and other Panhellenic games. The marble statue dates to the fifth century BCE. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Athletics
The best of the Greeks, including Homer, embraced the education of the mind. But they also added athletics as an end and a means to an end: educating the Greeks to live well and preserve their freedom.
Athletics meant competing peacefully in sprint and long distance footraces, the throwing of discus and the javelin, jumping, wrestling, boxing and horse and chariot races in order to tame the violent in human nature while, at the same time, honoring the gods that made their athletic and other achievements possible.
The religious dimension of Greek athletics was ancient and powerful. It’s impossible to separate athletics from the worship of the gods. The Olympics celebrated Zeus; the games at Delphi honored Apollo; the Isthmian games in Corinth centered on Poseidon; in Nemea and Dodona in Epiros in northern Greece, Zeus was the divine sponsor of the games.
Pausanias, a Greek doctor from Asia who toured Greece in the second century, said that Greece was a land full of sights and memorable stories. But nothing in Greece did Zeus bless more than the Olympic Games (Guide to Greece 5.10.1).
The sibling to athletics was the cultivation of the mind with works of civilization: reading and writing, geometry, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, theater, sculpture, painting, architecture, and technology.
The Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle included a palaistra (wrestling) school for the vigorous physical education of the students.
The Greeks knew they had to find a way out of strife and civil wars. Enemies surrounded most of their small poleis. If they failed to tone down their aggressive competitiveness, they were doomed.

Gold coin representing Zeus from Lampsakos, a polis in the Troad in northwestern Asia Minor (Greek Ionia). Coin dares to about 360 BCE. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Who founded the Olympics?
Herakles offered an alternative way to the politics of hubris. He was born in Thebes as the son of Zeus and a mortal mother, Alkmene. He was a powerful demigod with great virtues and tremendous courage and fortitude. He became the greatest hero of the Greeks through good works: killing monsters and evildoers. He served the common interest.
Pindar, 518-after 440 BCE, the Theban lyric poet, credits Herakles with the founding of the Olympics (Olympian 2.1-7). It’s quite possible he did. Among other honors, the Greeks thought of Herakles as the patron god of athletes.
Pelops
Another hero sharing with Herakles the honor of establishing the Olympics is Pelops, dating from the late second millennium BCE. Peloponnesos means the island of Pelops. This was a daring man. When he heard that Oinomeos, king of Pisa, challenged any one to compete with him in a chariot race, he volunteered. Pelops won the contest and killed Oinomeos. He then married a woman horse-tamer, Hippodameia, daughter of Oinomeos.
Achilles and the games honoring Patroklos
The third possible influence in the founding of the Olympics comes from Achilles, king of Phthia in Thessaly. His mother was Thetis, a sea-nymph daughter of the sea-god Nereus. Achilles was the greatest Greek hero in the Trojan War. His uncontrollable wrath shaped the ten-year conflict. The death of his best friend, Patroklos, shocked him so much he reentered the war and killed Hektor, a Trojan hero who had killed Patroklos.
Achilles honored Patroklos by sponsoring athletic competitions.
The prizes for the victors in the Patroklos funeral games go to the first, second and third winner – a tradition dropped in the Olympics that rewards only the first winner.
Achilles sponsored the following games: the chariot race, boxing, wrestling, footrace, close combat, discus and javelin throwing, and the bow and arrow competition. He was generous with the prizes, which included gold, iron, cauldrons, tripods, mixing bowls, a “silver-studded sword,” horses, mules, oxen, and “beautifully girdled women.” Achilles is proud for his solid-footed horses because they were immortal, gift of Poseidon to his father Peleus (Homer, Iliad 23.256-24.6).
Homer also briefly mentions athletics when Odysseus finally arrives in Phaiakia (Kerkyra), his last stop before arriving home at Ithaca. Young men of Phaiakia competed in jumping, running, boxing, wrestling, and the throwing of discus. In fact, one of those young me, Laodamas, invites Odysseus to try his hand at some sport. “There’s no greater fame a man earns in life than the glory he wins with his feet and hands,” Laodamas tells Odysseus.
Another young man, Euryalos, insults Odysseus, telling him he looked more like a captain of a ship rather than an athlete. This angers Odysseus. He grabs a discus and throws it further than any local. Then he tells the Phaialians he was the best in athletics among the Greeks at Troy (Odyssey 8.97-253).

Greek postage stamp honoring the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece, 1896.


The Olympics
The very ancient religious-athletic traditions of the Greeks finally found a formal expression in the Olympics in Olympia, located in northwestern Peloponnesos. This is early eighth century BCE – a time of troubles for Greece.
Pausanias reported that Iphitos started the Olympics. Iphitos, a prince from Elis, a polis about forty kilometers north of Olympia, consulted the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The priestess of Apollo told him he and the people of Elis should revive the Olympics, including the Olympic Truce or ekecheiria (holding of hands) (Guide to Greece 5.4.5-6).
Iphytos did that and the first Olympiad took place in 776 BCE. The only game in the first Olympiad was the stadion, a sprint footrace of about 200 meters.
The people of Elis administered the Olympics for centuries. They built the infrastructure for the quadrennial games. The magnificent temple of Zeus was at the center of the Olympics. In early fifth century BCE, Pheidias sculpted the statue of Zeus from gold and ivory (chryselephantine). On his right hand, the seated god held a two-meter statue of Nike, goddess of victory.
Every four years, Greek athletes and thousands of spectators gathered at Olympia for a truly great athletic competition and a magnificent festival of food, entertainment, and renewal of the Greek identity — Hellenism. Writers read their work. Politicians spread their ideas. Dancers and musicians produced shows. Greeks from one polis met Greeks from all over Greece and the Mediterranean. They talked about the athletes and their hopes and fears. The Olympics became a meeting place for understanding and fixing Greece.
The Olympic Truce, the holding of hands, forbade conflict around the time for a new Olympiad. Yes, the ekecheiria was a small step, but it helped in building a more cohesive and civilized country.

Zeus Nikephoros (Zeus holding Nike, goddess of victory). Alexandrian Age, 2nd-1st centuries, BCE. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Were the athletes evil?
Not every Greek loved the Olympics. In late fifth century BCE, the poet Euripides denounced the festival as a waste of time and the athletes as evil, being slaves to their jaws and servants to their belies. Instead of watching athletes and taking part in useless pleasures, Euripides urged the Greeks to honor good and virtuous men governing poleis and other men with good ideas for the abolition of strife and war (Autolykos, fragment 282).
Seven hundred years after Euripides, Galen, the greatest Greek physician since Hippokrates, associated athletes with pigs, force-feeding themselves flesh and blood (Galen, Exhortation for Medicine 9-14).
Athletics and civilization
Euripides and Galen missed the significance of the Olympics. Like dozens of Panhellenic athletic and religious festivals, the Olympics gave meaning of what it was to be Greek. They were laboratories searching for the magic of what keeps people civilized.
Pausanias tells us that athletes learned that not money but swiftness of foot or strength of body win Olympic victories. In addition, Pausanias reports that athletes and their fathers, brothers and coaches took an oath in front of a bronze statue of Zeus of Oaths (Zeus Horkios). Zeus was holding a silver-plated thunderbolt in each hand. The athletes and their supporters and trainers stood in front of the statue and slices of meat from a boar sacrificed in honor of Zeus. They swore not to shame the Olympics by bribes or other unethical conduct (Guide to Greece 5.21.2-4; 5.24.9-10)

Death of Ladas by George Murray, 1899. The runner Ladas is dying while receiving the crown of victory at the Olympics. Courtesy Wikipedia.


We learn from Lucian, a second century Greek writer, that the spectator in the Olympics would probably find himself in the midst of huge cheering crowds. One could barely help but admire the virtues of the athletes: their physical beauty, dramatic skills and daring, enormous pride and unbeatable tenacity and passion for victory. It was not surprising that one could hardly stop cheering and applauding the athletes and the games (Anacharsis 9-14).
But the most exalted treatment of athletes was that of Pindar. He made a living by praising victorious athletes. He said an athletic victory brings beauty to a manly deed, lifting the mind above the “pursuit of money.” Man, Pindar said, is ephemeral. What is he and what is he not? Man is a dream of a shadow. Yet, when the gods bless men with a ray of sunshine, a brilliant light settles on them. Their lives become gentle (Pythian Ode 8.70-98).

Unearthed ruins of the temple of Zeus in Olympia. Courtesy Wikipedia.


The Olympics lasted for 1,167 years. In 393 of our common era, the Christian emperor Theodosius I brought them to an end.
A millennium-and-a-half later, Greek and French intellectuals revived them. The first modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896.
The Olympics remain an indelible Greek gift to humanity. They are a tradition of enormous potential for the improvement of the human condition – especially making athletes and spectators of sport virtuous and diminishing men’s hunger for war.

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The man behind Ukraine coup is now turning Greece against Russia (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 57.

Alex Christoforou

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On July 11, Greece said it would expel two Russian diplomats and barred the entry of two others.

The Duran reported that the formal reason is alleged meddling in an attempt to foment opposition to the “historic” name deal between Athens and Skopje paving the way for Macedonia’s NATO membership. Moscow said it would respond in kind.

Nothing like this ever happened before. The relations between the two countries have traditionally been warm. This year Moscow and Athens mark the 190th anniversary of diplomatic relations and the 25th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Hellenic Republic. They have signed over 50 treaties and agreements.

Greek news daily, Kathimerini says the relationship started to gradually worsen behind the scenes about a couple of years ago. What happened back then? Geoffrey Pyatt assumed office as US Ambassador to Greece. Before the assignment he had served as ambassador to Ukraine in 2013-2016 at the time of Euromaidan – the events the US took active part in. He almost openly contributed into the Russia-Ukraine rift. Now it’s the turn of Greece. The ambassador has already warned Athens about the “malign influence of Russia”. He remains true to himself.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris connect the dots between the Ukraine coup and Greece’s recent row with Russia, and the man who is in the middle of it all, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.

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Via Sputnik News

Actions similar to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Greece do not remain without consequences, said spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova.

“We have an understanding that the people of Greece should communicate with their Russian partners, and not suffer from dirty provocations, into which, unfortunately, Athens was dragged,” Zakharova said at a briefing.

“Unfortunately, of course, we are talking about politics. Such things do not remain without consequences, do not disappear without a trace. Of course, unfortunately, all this darkens bilateral relations, without introducing any constructive principle,” she added.

On July 11, the Greek Kathimerini newspaper reported that Athens had decided to expel two Russian diplomats and ban two more from entering the country over illegal actions that threatened the country’s national security. The publication claimed that the diplomats attempted to intervene in a domestic issue, namely the changing of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the Republic of North Macedonia, the agreement for which was brokered by Skopje and Athens last month.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has vowed to give a mirror response to Greece’s move.

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Greece folds to deep state demands, expels Russian diplomats over meddling (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 54.

Alex Christoforou

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Ahead of the NATO summit, Alexis Tsipras made an unprecedented move to expel two Russian diplomats and bar the entry of two others Russian diplomats to Greece.

The claim that Tsipras’ radical left government cites in its expulsion is the tried and true Russia meddling narrative. The SYRIZA Greek government claims alleged “Russian meddling” in an attempt to foment opposition to the “historic” name deal between Athens and Skopje, a deal which coincidently paves the way for FYROM to join NATO.

A little creativity would have been nice, but in this specific case Alexis Tsipras decided to just go with the canned, Deep State script known as “Russian meddling” in order to guarantee that his very unpopular name deal with FYROM goes through the rigged approval process.

The fact that a government as corrupt as Greece’s SYRIZA is now suddenly issuing expulsions for bribery is ironic to say the least.

Did Tsipras cut off his nose to please his EU/NATO paymaster to spite Greece’s face?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Greece’s recent expulsion of Russian diplomats, in what is clearly a Deep State orchestrated maneuver to drive a wedge between two countries that have had traditionally close ties, while fitting another piece into NATO’s geopolitical puzzle to engulf the balkan states.

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Alexis Tsipras puts on a necktie, places noose around Greece’s neck (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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While many Syria party members hailed Tsipras’ victory, the reality is that Greece will be stuck in its bailout for years to come.

The terms of Greece’s exit make it extremely difficult for the next government to bring life to an ailing economy. Greece may have exited the Troika austerity plan, only to enter a new austerity outside of ECB and EU protection.

After long insisting he would only wear a necktie when Greece’s debt problem was solved, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras finally put on a tie last Friday, after he formally announced Greece’s exit form years of eurozone austerity.

Tsipras said…

“Today is an important day for all, but primarily it belongs to those who for eight years was viciously hit by the crisis, for those who saw a lifetime of toils destroyed and those who carried the burden for the country.”

Eurozone finance ministers offered Greece a 10-year deferral and maturities extension on a large chunk of past loans as well as 15 billion euros in new credit to ensure Athens can stand on its own feet after it exits its bailout in August.

Greece’s has a debt mountain equal to approximately 180% of GDP, the highest in the 19-country eurozone.

Greeks have seen their economy shrink by a quarter, unemployment hit record high and salaries and pensions slashed by about 40% since first falling into crisis in 2010.

Greece has already undergone three international bailouts.

A smiling Tsipras addressed members from his radical left Syriza, and right coalition partner Independent Greeks…

“Bets are made to be won. It’s a bit difficult (wearing the tie) but I will get used to it.”

Tsipras publicly removed the tie about half an hour later.

Fofi Gennimata, head of Socialist PASOK party, was not impressed with Tsipras’ theatrics: “The noose around the neck of Greeks remains.” 

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss whether Greece’s exit from austerity is really an exit at all, or just another political ploy with no real economic relief in sight for the Greek people.

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Via Bloomberg

In a way, the debt relief deal Greece has received as it exits its bailout makes good sense: It keeps the country on a tight leash, all but eliminating the possibility that it will go on a borrowing spree in the financial markets and misspend the money as it’s done before. On the other hand, the scheme gets superimposed uncomfortably onto the country’s political cycle: It puts the next government on the spot, making a backlash against it all but inevitable.

The deal hammered out by the Eurogroup, comprising the euro zone finance ministers, extends by 10 years the maturities of 130.9 billion euros ($152.4 billion) in old bailout loans, which make up about 40 percent of Greece’s total debt. They are already due in more than 30 years, but the new deal also defers interest payments on them by a decade. Besides, Greece gets 15 billion euros in cheap funding (the average rate for these bailout loans was 1.62 percent as of the end of March) that it can use to repay expensive debt to the International Monetary Fund, some 2.6 billion euros of which is due by the end of 2019.

It’s at the higher end of what was expected given Germany’s decidedly ungenerous stance on Greek debt, and it’ll let Greece tap the markets, though as Bloomberg Opinion’s Marcus Ashworth writes, it’s not clear investors will turn up in their numbers. The debt deferments are contingent on a large primary surplus (before debt repayments and interest) of 3.5 percent until 2022 and then 2.2 percent until 2060, as well as a whole program of tough economic and governance measures, which will be controlled by the creditors in the course of quarterly inspections. In other words, the country’s exit from the bailout program is far from clean.

It’s easy, therefore, for the political rivals of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to claim that Greece doesn’t get much out of the deal and that it’s not really a bailout exit. “Nothing exciting,” Costis Hatzidakis, vice president of the opposition New Democracy party grumbled about the exit terms. He described them as putting Greece in a “fish bowl” until 2022 with enough cash to pay off maturing debt but not much ability to borrow privately: The interest Greece has to pay on bonds is still too high at about 4.2 percent.

That fits the recent assessment of a group of European economists led by Jeromin Zettelmeyer of the Peterson Institute of International Economics. They wrote:

In the best-case scenario, Greece would maintain high primary surpluses until 2022 or 2023, but a longer period of exceptional fiscal discipline, as imagined by the Eurogroup, is very unlikely. By the late 2020s, it will be clear that the Greek debt dynamics are again unsustainable. At that point, however, the costs of restoring Greek debt sustainability will be much higher than they are today, because a large new stock of expensive private sector debts will have accumulated in the meantime. These debts would either need to be restructured or — in effect — repaid by the European official sector.

New Democracy isn’t just making populist noises. It’s highly likely that it will run the next government, to be elected by October, 2019. It has led the polls since 2016, gradually expanding its lead over Tsipras’s leftist Syriza bloc. Tsipras  appears resigned to a loss next year and mainly interested in assuring his legacy: That would explain his recent efforts to resolve the dispute with neighboring Macedonia over its name, to which Greek governments have long claimed the former Yugoslav republic has no right. The compromise has led to suggestions that Tsipras deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, since the name deal would remove a major obstacle to the entire former Yugoslavia’s ending up in the European Union, but it doesn’t help Tsipras at home where most Greeks oppose it.

If the center-right New Democracy wins next year and consolidates power, quick economic gains will be required if it hopes to keep some modicum of public trust. After all the hardship Greece has endured, the roughly 2 percent a year growth the Bloomberg consensus forecast promises the country in 2018, 2019 and 2020 is painfully insufficient. But how does one stimulate growth while forced to maintain large primary surpluses and only borrow at rates that can make Greece’s debt look unmanageable again by the end of the electoral cycle in 2023?

Ironically, New Democracy, which lost power to Syriza in 2015 because Tsipras promised an end to austerity and a debt write-off, is now in Syriza’s position, bemoaning Tsipras’s inability to reduce the face value of the debt and Greece’s lack of leverage in speeding up economic growth. If it tries to run up Greece’s private debt to spur investment, it may get slapped on the wrist or create a new debt crisis for the next four-year parliamentary period.

The heavy-handed bailouts may have helped keep Greece running and in the euro zone, but, just as their critics have claimed, they have rendered the Greek democracy somewhat redundant. Officially out of the bailout program, Greece still cannot really make its own policy. It may be doomed to a cycle of protest votes, weak governments, and, unless these governments are prudent, debt crises. Breaking that cycle might just be a goal that would justify allowing some moral hazard; it’s just hard to imagine the creditors trusting Greece again enough to loosen the leash.

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