Olympics and History of the Ancient Greek Games Part 3

About the olympics and history of the ancient Greek games, information on the sports as practice for war in Greece.

THE ANCIENT GREEK GAMES

Olympic contestants were required to train very diligently. They ate very little in the morning--fermented bread, or cheese, and water--and trained all day without rest. The evening meal, however, was substantial--6 1/2 lbs. of meat was an ordinary meal for some of the he-men athletes. Milo of Croton in the 6th century B.C. was the greatest Olympic victor. He won the wrestling crown 6 times and was never defeated. He was equally well-known for his eating and his tricks. A typical meal for Milo included 7 lbs. of meat, 7 lbs. of bread, and 4-5 quarts of wine. Milo supposedly consumed a whole 4-year-old bull one day at Olympia. One of Milo's feats was to hold a pomegranate in his hand so tightly that no one could open his fist, yet so gently not one drop of juice was squeezed from the fruit. He would also tie cords around his forehead and hold his breath until his veins popped out, bursting the cords. Another of Milo's tricks was his undoing. Wandering in the forest, he noticed a tree had been cut with an ax. Wedges of wood had been placed in the cuts, and Milo attempted to widen the cuts with his bare hands. Unfortunately, his hands got stuck in the tree and there he stayed, until a pack of hungry wolves devoured him.

The inhabitants of the hometown of an Olympic victor would break a hole in their defensive wall when the athlete returned. The rationale behind this ritual was that with such a famous champion in the town, there was no need for fortification against the enemy. Poems were written to the victors, statues made of them (some of which went permanently on display at Olympia), vase paintings depicted their contests, and their exploits were sung by choirs of youths. They were sometimes worshiped after death like minor gods. Losers, however, were greeted by scorn. Cheaters were considered to have offended Zeus, and fared even worse. They were fined and the money went to build "Zanes" or statues of Zeus near the stadium which bore the name of the offender and his offense--warnings to future athletes.

The Olympic Games reached their height in the 5th-4th centuries B.C., and their decline coincided with the decline of Greek supremacy and the rise of the Roman Empire. Aristophanes observed that Greek youths were no longer interested in their sports--they had deserted the gymnasiums, were pale-faced and narrow-chested. The large cities began to hire professional athletes, many of whom were not native Greeks but swiftly nationalized to comply with the rules. One of the most outrageous farces took place when the Roman Emperor Nero arrived at the games in 66 A.D. with 5,000 bodyguards and hangers-on. He entered several events and invented some others on the spot. During the chariot race, Nero lost his mount, but his rivals stopped the race until he got back on. Needless to say, Nero was pronounced victor of all the events he entered.

In 388 A.D., the 291st Olympiad took place with the last recorded victor being Prince Varastades, later King of Armenia, who won the boxing event. Six years later, Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, abolished the games because they were a pagan spectacle. Barbarians looted the site, earthquakes and fire destroyed some buildings, and Theodosious II ordered the rest of the temples leveled. Finally, the Cladeus River changed course and covered the valley with silt. Few would hear about Olympia and her games for 1,500 years.

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