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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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Greek Opposition Leader Mitsotakis Coming To Moscow For High Level Talks

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Archons of Greek Orthodox Church issue toothless letter about abortion law

The good news is the Archons did say some good things in reaction to the New York abortion law. But there was no consequence.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In relation to our previously published piece about Governor Andrew Cuomo signing abortion into the New York State Constitution, we noted that at the time of the article’s writing, no entities within the Orthodox Church in any jurisdiction issued any kind of statement condemning this law. Of all fourteen universally acknowledged Local Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church was particularly of note, since their Archons awarded a humanitarian award known as the Athenogoras Award to extremely liberal, pro-abortion politicians, Andrew Cuomo being one of these.

Well, the Archons did issue a statement yesterday:

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Condemns New York’s New Abortion Law

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, strongly condemns the State of New York’s new Reproductive Health Act that was passed on January 22, 2019. This new law allows abortions up to the moment of birth and gives people who are not doctors the right to perform abortions.

The Order also deplores the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the new law, as One World Trade Center was lit pink to commemorate the passage of the law, as if it represented a great advance for the rights of women. The rights of no human being are ever advanced at the expense of another. The State of New York will not truly have respect for the rights of women until it once again restores legal protections for every human being, from his or her first moment of existence until natural death.

Hailed as progress, New York’s Reproductive Health Act is not actually an advance, but a regression, a return to a time of barbarism when the weak were at the mercy of the strong and had no protection from legal structures or governing authorities.

The Order implores New York’s legislators to reconsider this dangerous new law and reinstitute protections for all human life, no matter how weak and vulnerable. Only when such protections exist can any society truly prosper.

Rev. Alexander Karloutsos
Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Spiritual Advisor of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle

Is this enough?

It does not seem to be so. Governor Cuomo and his award, along with pro-abortion Roman Catholic Vice President Joe Biden, also received this award at the same time Governor Cuomo did.

What did not happen in this letter was that neither politician was named, nor were the four (out of five) Greek Orthodox politicians in the New York State Assembly that voted FOR this law.

Neither did the Archons move to rescind the Athenagoras Awards they gave to Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Biden. This move appears to be still far too politically calculated, and keeping with the tragic, curious and distressing behavior of the leadership within the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Monomachos.com is a popular blog site whose editor, George Michalopulos, is undoubtedly one of the giants among those Greek Orthodox who seriously uphold at the notion that the Church ought never compromise herself. Yet, he was very happy with the letter that is shown above because for him it represented a “180-degree turnabout” in terms of the history of the Archons’ behavior, which he noted elsewhere as smacking of “the feeling that their primary job is to raise money for Istanbul.”

He neglected to mention the lack of mention of the Awards, but perhaps understandably, his surprise at any sort of traditional statement by this group was leading to exuberance where perhaps it is not deserved.

The Greek Orthodox Church seems to have an overall alignment with very liberal figures, and it is unclear as to why. But this tendency of people that are considered good and faithful Greek Orthodox churchgoers to align with liberal politics in the United States is very different than the sharply conservative tendencies of Russian Orthodox churchgoers, or Greeks or Romanians in the US.

The other rather liberal church is the US is the Orthodox Church in America, but this group does tend to involve itself in social causes in the US – especially abortion – in a very conservative, if rather feeble, manner. They do make their presence known at the annual March for Life and this is of great value.

We wish to name all the Greek Orthodox elected New York assembly members here, with their votes regarding the state abortion measure:

Michael Gianaris             (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.
Andrew Gounardes         (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.
Nicole Malliotakis           (R)                            – No. (and she is a woman!!)
Aravella Simotas             (D)                            – Yes.
James Skoufis                  (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.

This measure enshrined abortion at any point in a woman’s pregnancy as a constitutional right. The law stipulates several following procedures are now “rights:”

  • The law allows non-physicians to perform abortions.
  • The law allows abortion through the third trimester.
  • and the law repeals protections for babies that survive abortions (this means that if the baby gets delivered alive, it will still be killed.)

This is a barbaric law, and a resounding victory for people aligned with some very dark ideas about life and death. It is a tragedy, and while the Archons’ letter condemning it is at least a token statement, it really wants a full-throated response from the Christian world.

In fact, even Muslims and religious Jewish people ought to be outraged as well. All the Abrahamic religions understand that only God is the author of life. In this viewpoint, people do not themselves create life. We only cooperate with God to bring it into existence, by his blessing.

But we can cause death, and this power is influenced by forces that are not interested in God, traditional values, family, children or anything of the sort.

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Greek MPs pass Prespes deal with 153 votes in 300-seat House

Opinion polls indicate that most Greeks oppose the settlement, a fact which may not bode well for Tsipras in an election year.

The Duran

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Via Ekathimerini


Greece’s parliament on Friday ratified a landmark accord that changes the name of neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), ending a decades-old dispute and opening the way for the ex-Yugoslav republic to join the European Union and NATO.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who hammered out the deal with his FYROM counterpart last year, secured the parliamentary majority needed to get the accord approved with support from independent and opposition lawmakers.

“Today we are writing a new page for the Balkans. The hatred of nationalism and conflict is giving way to friendship, peace, and cooperation,” Tsipras wrote on his social media account.

FYROM has already ratified the deal, brokered last year, and its prime minister promptly sent a tweet hailing the Greek parliament’s vote.

The settlement seeks to end a 28-year old row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the term “Macedonia” by renaming the tiny Balkan state “Republic of North Macedonia” to differentiate it from Greece’s northern province of Macedonia.

Greece’s European Union allies welcomed the ratification.

“They had imagination, they took the risk, they were ready to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted. “Mission impossible accomplished.”

Opinion polls indicate that most Greeks oppose the settlement, a fact which may not bode well for Tsipras in an election year. A general election is due by October, and his party is trailing the opposition New Democracy by up to 12 points.

The debate in the Greek parliament was heated, with voting almost interrupted on Friday when an MP for the right-wing Golden Dawn Party, asked to cast his vote, responded: “No to treason!”

Several MPs in favour of of the accord reported attempts to intimidate them.

Many Greeks fear the agreement could lead to territorial claims against Greece and say it constitutes an appropriation of their country’s ancient cultural heritage. Macedonia was the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Protests against the deal have at times turned violent this week, and on Thursday evening police fired teargas to disperse crowds outside parliament. Smaller groups of people braved heavy rain on Friday to demonstrate outside the parliament.

New Democracy slammed the agreement.

“This deal should never have been signed or brought to parliament for ratification,” party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament. “It is a national defeat … a national blunder that is an affont to the truth and history of our country.”

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