Olympics and History of the Ancient Greek Games Part 1
About the olympics and history of the ancient Greek games, information on the sports as practice for war in Greece.
THE ANCIENT GREEK GAMES
On the west coast of Greece, 10 mi. from the sea, rises a broad, fertile plain. High mountains covered with pine, oak, and olive trees surround the plain. Where the Alpheus, and its northern tributary, the Cladeus, flow together in the valley lies Olympia, the site of many ancient religious ceremonies. The Temple of Hera, goddess of the seasons, was probably the oldest place of worship at Olympia. The most famous site was Altis, the sacred grove of Zeus, in the center of Olympia.
The origin of the Greek games held at Olympia is steeped in myth, but it seems certain that some form of athletic contest took place for centuries before their recorded beginning date of 776 B.C. One myth suggests that Zeus and Kronos fought for possession of the earth in the mountains surrounding Olympus. When Zeus was the victor, celebration games were held below in the valley. Pindar the poet tells the legend of Pelops, who won the hand of Hippodamia as his bride on the site of Olympia. According to legend, King Oenomaus, father of Hippodamia, had decreed that no suitor would be allowed to marry his daughter unless he could escape with her in a chariot. Oenomaus had succeeded in overtaking 13 previous suitors, and, by the terms of the race, they were slain by his poisoned spear. Using guile, however, Pelops convinced Oenomaus's charioteer to remove the axle pins from his master's vehicle, causing the king to die when his chariot crashed. Pelops instituted the Olympic games in honor of his victory.
In a later account, Iphetus, King of Elis, and Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver, wished to bring peace to the war-torn Peloponnesus. Iphetus consulted the oracle at Delphi, and was told that Zeus was angered because the games had been so long neglected. Thereafter, around 820 B.C., the games were supposed to have been restored, and the names of Iphetus and Lycurgus inscribed on a bronze discus which, according to a record of the 2nd century, A.D., hung in the Temple of Hera.
The 1st recorded game took place in 776 B.C. with one event, a one-stade (the length of the stadium) race. Coeroebus, a cook for the local town of Elis, won the race. Thereafter, for nearly 1,200 years, Olympic contests were held every 4 years at the site.
Men came from all over Greece to compete. Foot races of one stade, 2 stades, and 12 or 24 stades, were run. The javelin, discus, boxing, and wrestling events were added later. Many altars, shrines, temples, baths, and several gymnasiums were built for the athletes to worship and train in. The stadium held 45,000 spectators, and later a hippodrome was built for chariot races.
Two of the contests deserve special mention. The pentathlon was a 5-round elimination event including the broad jump, javelin, foot race, discus, and wrestling. Aristotle (who was scornful of the one-sided development of the boxers and wrestlers) offered high praise to the beautifully proportioned physiques of the pentathlon athletes. The Greek idea of manly beauty was embodied in their athletes. Physical perfection, according to one source, was an ideal to be sought after, even more than friendship.
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