A few thoughts on the Olympics
The athletic contests held once every four years at Olympia, starting in
776 B.C., began as part of a religious festival honoring Zeus, the top god
in the Greek pantheon. Athletes would swear an oath on the flesh of a sacrificed
boar to obey the rules and competed for the glory of Zeus, the victors were
thought divinely favored. The sole prize was a crown of olive leaves cut
from Zeus' sacred grove. The ancient Greek Olympic Games, and the numerous
other athletic games they held, served to reafirm their common culture just
as todays Olympic games display, glorify and most of all sell our now common
Western World culture. This similarity is of no great surprise being that
we so often claim descent from the ancient Greek traditions and ideals.
One of those Greek ideals was wealth, the wreath of sacred olive leaves
given to the winner, there was no second or third prize, was merely symbolic;
just as our use of the small gold medal is today. the real payoff came back
home where the local King or upper class rich would give lavish gifts, dora
in Greek. Solon of Athens in the sixth century B.C. legislated rewards of
500 dracmas (more than $300,000) for his cities' victors at the games, the
Greeks had no word or concept for "Amateur". The best and most
famous athletes would even recieve what we today call "apperance money".
The Olympics and the victors were seen as good for business, then as now.
The Greeks went so far as to declare the winners of the chariot races to
be the owners not the drivers, this is how women could win Olympic medals
though they were banned from the games on pain of death.
To the ancient Greeks, who competed nude, the young nude male form was considered
the ultimate object of beauty, and frequently desire by older men judging
from the numerous Kalos or love-names found in the stadiums and on pottery
vessels depicting athletics. Vase paintings show handsome young athletes
pursued by mature men with gifts and in literature wrestling was a metaphor
The modern world is then much like the ancient; the cult of celebrity and
it's inherent cash and social benefits, the lust for glory (kleos ) and
greedful gain (kerdos ) by some. Like the ancient Greeks who were of one
culture but fought amongst each other almost continually, even during the
legendary Olympic truce, we also are of one culture and similar combativeness.
So it goes.
I think Homer in his Odyssey captures the spirit and motivation for competion
best : "There is no greater fame for a man than that which he wins
with his footwork or the skill of his hands"