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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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Paranoid Turkey Claims “Greece, Israel, & Egypt Are Part Of Khashoggi’s Murder Plot”

A new Turkish narrative has been launched claiming that Greece, Israel and Egypt are part of the murder plot of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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Via Zerohedge


As we noted previouslythe conflict over gas in the eastern Mediterranean is intensifying.

The dispute concerns gas blocks, with Turkey furious about the energy cooperation of these Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt in the East Mediterranean Sea. While Turkish warships have been active, it appears Turkey is taking a new approach to this hybrid war.

As KeepTalkingGreece.com reports,a new Turkish narrative, based on paranoia and conspiracy theories, has been launched claiming that Greece, Israel and Egypt are part of the murder plot of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggipresumably in an effort to garner global opinion against their energy-hording neighbors.

This unbelievable allegation has been claimed by Erdogan’s close aide Yigit Bulut, who is famous for his delirium and ravings, during an appearance on state television of Turkey.

“Greece, Israel and Egypt are part of murder plot involving slain Saudi Arabia journalist Khashoggi in Istanbul,” Yigit Bulut said in TRT Television, where he is a frequent guest.

Enlisting the ‘good old traditional perception’ that Turkey is surrounded by enemies, KeepTalkingGreece notesthat Bulut said:

“a belt extending from Europe to Israel has always harbored hostility towards Turkey they never wanted Turks in this region. Europe even made Turks to fight unnecessary wars against Russia.”

It is worth noting that Russia and Turkey have come closer recently due to Syria, a cooperation sealed with armament sales to Ankara triggering the anger of US and the NATO of which Turkey is a member.

Bulut vowed that Turkey will continue oil and gas exploration in the East Mediterranean off-shore Cyprus.

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Turkey vows to make ‘sea bandits’ drilling gas off Cyprus pay, like ‘terrorists in Syria’ did

Ankara claims jurisdiction for offshore research in the East Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich with natural resources.

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Via RT


Ankara will not allow any “sea bandits” to roam free and tap the disputed natural gas reserves off Cyprus, Turkey’s president has vowed, while commissioning a new warship to challenge competitors militarily, should the need arise.

“We will not accept attempts to seize natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean through the exclusion of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC),” Erdogan said Sunday, according to Daily Sabah. While claiming that Turkey has no ambitions to annex any “territories,” Ankara promised to protect “the rights of our country and of our brothers.”

“Those who thought that they could take steps in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean despite [this] have begun to understand the magnitude of their mistake. We will not allow bandits in the seas to roam free just like we made the terrorists in Syria pay,” Erdogan said at a ceremony transferring the TCG Burgazada corvette to the Turkish Navy.

The exploration of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus has become a sensitive issue for the international community, ever since the first gas deposit discoveries were made off the coast in 2011. While the Republic of Cyprus belongs to the EU community and is recognized by the UN, TRNC, the northern third of the island, has been occupied by Turkey since 1974. As a result, Ankara continues to claim jurisdiction for offshore research in the East Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich with natural resources.

The region has recently witnessed an escalation in tensions, after the Turkish Navy intercepted a Greek frigate which tried to interfere with a Turkish research vessel’s seabed exploration on October 18. The incident prompted a diplomatic row with Greece, which traditionally supports the ethnically Greek government of the Republic of Cyprus. While Greece denied interfering with the Turkish research vessel, Ankara has cautioned its neighbor and longtime opponent not to stir trouble in the region.

To ease tensions, Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades has offered Turkey on Friday to cooperate on exploiting the East Mediterranean’s potential oil and gas wealth, stressing that the ethnically split island nation should be reunified. All previous international efforts to unite the island have failed. To avoid any further intercommunal tensions and hostilities the United Nations continues to maintain a buffer zone there.

“We will continue with our goal of exercising the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus, as an independent state – member of the European Union, proceeding seamlessly with our energy planning for the benefit of all the legitimate inhabitants of the country, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots,” the president noted.

US-based ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum have already been licensed by the Cypriot government to undertake seabed exploration of Block 10. Last month, Nicosia also invited France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and ExxonMobil to explore Block 7. ExxonMobil’s Stena IceMax drillship is scheduled to arrive in Cyprus on November 12. Turkey, meanwhile, started conducting its first deep-sea drilling off Antalya’s shores on its Mediterranean coast this week.

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After Embarrassing Defeat, NATO, EU and the West Try to Alter Reality in Macedonia

Amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air.

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Authored by Aleksandar Pavic via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Although the September 30, 2018 name-change referendum in Macedonia, which was supposed to set that ex-Yugoslav federal republic on a path to (certain) NATO and (blithely promised but much less certain) EU membership, failed miserably, with only 36.91% of the voters turning out, well short of the 50% + 1 necessary for it to be valid – one would never know it from the reactions of its Western proponents and impatient beneficiaries. Indeed, a new term may be needed to adequately describe the reactions of the key pillars representing the reliquiae reliquiarum of the Western-led post-Cold War unipolar moment. Fake news simply doesn’t do them justice. Fake reality anyone?

The US State Department was firmly in denial, releasing the following statement“The United States welcomes the results of the Republic of Macedonia’s September 30 referendum, in which citizens expressed their support for NATO and European Union (EU) membership by accepting the Prespa Agreement between Macedonia and Greece. The United States strongly supports the Agreement’s full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity. As Macedonia’s parliament now begins deliberation on constitutional changes, we urge leaders to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions.”

EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn wasn’t to be outdone in his contempt for the 63% of the Macedonian “deplorables” who stayed home in order to voice their disagreement with renouncing their perceived national identity and country name (it was to become “Northern Macedonia”) in exchange for the double joy of a) becoming NATO’s cannon-fodder in its increasingly hazardous game of chicken with Russia and b) the EU’s newest debt-serfs: “Referendum in Macedonia: I congratulate those citizens who voted in today’s consultative referendum and made use of their democratic freedoms. With the very significant “yes” vote, there is broad support to the #Prespa Agreement + to the country’s #Euroatlantic path. I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines, in the interest of the country.” He was seconded the following day, in a joint statement, by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EU Commission.

Understandably, as the most direct public stakeholder, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was particularly (hyper)active. As the disappointing results began to roll in, Stoltenberg went into immediate damage control, tweeting“I welcome the yes vote in Macedonia referendum. I urge all political leaders & parties to engage constructively & responsibly to seize this historic opportunity. #NATO’s door is open, but all national procedures have to be completed.” He reinforced his delusional missive the next day, releasing a similar statement co-signed by EU President Donald Tusk. And the day after, during a news conference, Stoltenberg even offered lightning-quick NATO accession to the unwilling Macedonians – January 2019, to be exact – if they would just be so kind as to urgently implement the very agreement that they had just so emphatically rejected. When NATO says it promotes democratic values – it means it!

But that wasn’t the end of the “democracy mongering” surrounding what may well prove to be NATO’s, the EU’s and the rest of the end-of-history West’s Balkan Waterloo. For example, the EU Parliament’s Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, although “regretting that the turnout was less than 50%,” nevertheless hailed the referendum’s results and “call(ed) on the opposition to respect the expressed will of the majority [sic] of voters.” The Group’s leader, Udo Bullmann, while also maintaining that, somehow, a voter turnout of under 37% still represented a “majority,” additionally used the occasion to chastise Macedonia’s President for having the nerve to call for a boycott of the referendum (he committed the crimethink of referring to it as “historical suicide” during his UN General Assembly address), as well as to decry – what else? – “reports about Russian interference in the electoral process.” It goes without saying that Bullmann offered absolutely zero proof for his assertion. On the other hand, according to numerous media reports, as September 30 approached, while no high Russian official was to be seen anywhere in the vicinity, a veritable procession of Western political bigwigs made the pilgrimage to Skopje in order to reveal to the natives their “true” best interests: Sebastian Kurz“Mad Dog” Mattis, the indefatigable StoltenbergFederica MogheriniJohannes HahnAngela Merkel. No meddling there, obviously…

Speaking of Angela Merkel, she also joined her fellow Western democrats’ show of unanimous disdain for the Macedonian voters’ majority opinion, urging the country to “push ahead” with the implementation of the majority-rejected accord, citing voters’ “overwhelming support” [sic], and arguing through the mouth of her spokesman that the required 50% + 1 turnout was actually “very high,” as voter registers purportedly included many people who had long since left the country.

Coincidentally (?), the same argument was used by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who opined that the “yes” votes cast in the referendum do, in fact, “represent the majority despite the low turnout because Macedonia does not have the 1.8 million voters entered into its electoral rolls but just 1.2 million since 300,000 people have left the country since the voter lists were last updated 20 years ago.” The fallacy of his reality-challenged claim is easily exposed if we just take a glance at the results of Macedonia’s last parliamentary elections (December 2016), in which voter turnout was just under 1.2 million (1,191,832 to be exact) or, officially, 66.79%. If we were to believe Kotzias and Merkel (who lodged no objections at the time), that would have meant that the turnout for the 2016 elections had been 99% – a figure that would make any totalitarian dictator blush with envy. On the other hand, since those elections did produce the “desired result,” enabling the current heavily pro-NATO/EU government led by Zoran Zaev to be formed, that automatically made them “valid” in the eyes of the high priests of democracy in Brussels, Berlin, London and Washington.

Needless to say, Zaev joined his Western patrons’ charade, hailing the referendum as a “democratic success,” and announcing that he would seek the Macedonian Parliament’s support to amend the constitution and get the agreement with Greece ratified (according to the so-called Prespa Agreement, the Macedonian Parliament must adopt the necessary constitutional amendments by the end of 2018) so that the Greek Parliament can do the same, which would seal the deal. However, Zaev and his Albanian political partners are currently well short of the necessary two-thirds majority (reportedly, they can count on 71 deputies, or 9 short of the needed 80), and will have to call early elections if they don’t soon succeed in securing it.

Yet, let it not go unsaid that Zaev was singing a rather different tune prior to the referendum, assuring that “citizens will make the decision,” and that Parliament would vote on the necessary constitutional changes only if the referendum is successful. But that was then, when confidence was still high that the usual combination of Western pressure, money and overwhelming domination of the media spectrum would get the job done. And then reality struck on September 30…

Still, amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air. As a Deutsche Welle opinion piece put it, the “low voter turnout for Macedonia’s referendum is a bad starting point for the country’s future development.” And, according to DW in Serbian, a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commentary warned that “politicians who otherwise ceaselessly talk of democracy as a ‘special value’ should not call on the parliament in Skopje to accept the voting results.” In other words, Macedonia’s people (read – a large majority of the majority Slavic population) have “voted with their feet” and rejected the agreement, and no new parliamentary election, no matter the results, can change that unpleasant-but-immutable fact. That alone will delegitimize any Western-led effort to “manufacture consent” by ramming the agreement through the present or future Parliament – although, as we know, NATO doesn’t put too much stock in referenda anyway, while the EU is not averse to making citizens vote as many times as needed to obtain the “right” result.

But the West has lost more than just legitimacy in Macedonia – it has damaged its reputation, perhaps irretrievably. In the words of former presidential advisor Cvetin Chilimanov, “The West has humiliated us… Macedonians have rejected this media, psychological, political and propaganda aggression against the people, and that’s the tragedy of these days, that a large percentage of a people that had been genuinely oriented towards the West has changed its mind and stopped looking at the West as something democratic, something progressive and successful… That is the reason for the boycott. Pressure was applied against Macedonia, a country that had always been open to ties with the West, but which did not want to make this disgusting compromise and humiliate itself before the neighboring countries, before Western countries. We did not understand why that humiliation was needed so that we might become a member of Europe. What’s worst, perhaps that is now the thinking of a silent majority of the people, that they won’t forget this insult and this attack on Macedonia.”

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