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A Visitor's Guide to the Ancient Olympics

A Visitor's Guide to the Ancient Olympics

Neil Faulkner
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    A Visitor's Guide to the Ancient Olympics
    Book Description:

    What was it like to attend the Olympics in 388 B.C.? Would the experience resemble Olympic festivals as we celebrate them today? This remarkable book transports us back to the heyday of the city-state and classical Greek civilization. It invites us to enter this distant, alien, but still familiar culture and discover what the Greeks did and didn't do during five thrilling days in August 2,400 years ago.

    In the Olympic Stadium there were no stands, no shade-and no women allowed. Visitors sat on a grassy bank in the searing heat of midsummer to watch naked athletes compete in footraces, the pentathlon, horse and chariot races, and three combat sports-wrestling, boxing, andpankration,everyone's favorite competition, with virtually no rules and considerable blood and pain. This colorfully illustrated volume offers a complete tour of the Olympic site exactly as athletes and spectators found it. The book evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of the crowded encampment; introduces the various attendees (from champions and charlatans to aristocrats and prostitutes); and explains the numerous exotic religious rituals. Uniquely detailed and precise, this guide offers readers an unparalleled opportunity to travel in time, back to the excitement of ancient Olympia.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16029-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of illustrations and maps
    (pp. vii-ix)
    (pp. x-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Neil Faulkner
    (pp. xv-xv)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 1-43)

    So you want to go to the Greek Olympic Games? You may be disconcerted to learn that getting there is far from straightforward. This may be the premier event in the Greek sporting calendar, but it takes place in a remote rural backwater located a good distance from any major thoroughfare.

    The Games are hosted by the city of Elis, a minor state tucked away in the northwestern Peloponnese, and Olympia itself, the sacred site where the contests are held, lies some thirty-six miles to the southeast. This means the site is a long way from all the major Greek...

    (pp. 44-76)

    The main permanent installations at Olympia are the Sanctuary, which is filled with temples, shrines, altars and statues, and the Sports Complex, which lies immediately east of it. But during the Games, much of the surrounding countryside, especially along the banks of the River Alpheios to the south, is occupied by a temporary Olympic Village.

    The discomfort and lack of facilities in the Olympic Village have already been described (see pp. 18-20). Unless insulated by wealth, in which case you stay in a tented pavilion on a prime pitch attended by slaves, the combination of baking summer heat, lack of...

  11. 3 MYTHS
    (pp. 77-102)

    You cannot understand the Olympics without knowledge of the myths that lie behind them. The Games are, from start to finish, areligiousfestival – in fact, the greatest religious festival in the entire Greek world. Everything that happens is suffused with mythological associations and ritual meanings.

    Disentangling the evidence is far from straightforward. Greek mythology is a hopeless muddle. The same story can be told in a hundred different versions, the details changing over time, and varying from one city to another. The same site can be re-dedicated to a succession of different deities as the centuries roll on....

  12. 4 HISTORY
    (pp. 103-128)

    The Greeks have definite ideas about the origins of the Olympics. But those ideas turn out to be a set of ‘invented traditions’ – essentially myths and rituals rooted in a primeval past. What do we know of theactualhistory of the Games?

    The traditional view is that they began in 776 BC. There is a list of Olympic victors extending back to that year, when one Koroibos of Elis is recorded as the winner of the sprint (orstadion) race. This list, which provides a complete record of every sprint winner from 776 BC to the present day,...

    (pp. 129-157)

    The Olympic Games are managed by the Elean Olympic Committee, a board of nineHellanodikai(‘Judges of the Greeks’), all of whom are citizens of the local city-state of Elis. A small state ruled by an oligarchy (like virtually all the Peloponnesian city-states), Elis’s selection procedure involves the election by popular vote of a group of respectable property-owners, the citizens voting tribe by tribe. All the names are then inscribed on potsherds (ostraka) and placed in a large ceramic vessel. A final choice of nine is made by drawing lots.

    This may seem an odd procedure, but it is an...

    (pp. 158-194)

    The real reason that you and tens of thousands of others have trekked hundreds of miles to this jam-packed, foul-smelling, insect-infested, sun-scorched valley is, of course, to see the greatest sporting superstars in Greece perform. This section introduces you to the lives and careers of the athletes. What sort of men are they, and how have they reached this dizzy summit of success? Let us begin with a famous example.

    Theagenes of Thasos was one of the all-time greats. And like many another sporting hero, he has attracted numerous legends since his death a couple of generations ago. One story...

    (pp. 195-244)

    On the eve of the festival’s official opening, there will be an air of tense anticipation, even infectious excitement. For although the Games are to begin tomorrow, a marvellous spectacle awaits you tonight: the grand procession from Elis.

    It sets out from the city – thirty-six miles northwest of Olympia – two days before the Games begin. It is led by the nineHellanodikai, the fifty-strong Olympic Council, the Heralds, the Trumpeters, the Whip-bearers, and various other EOC officials, along with their staffs of functionaries and slaves. Following them come the athletes and their trainers, perhaps as many as 200...

    (pp. 245-252)
    (pp. 253-256)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 257-264)