Seven things you (probably) didn’t know about the Ancient Olympics

 

An excerpt from “The Phantom Games”, a special anthology published to celebrate the (postponed) Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Nobody knows for certain how or why the tradition of Olympic Games began in Ancient Greece. One legend states that the mighty Heracles himself competed and won in a race held at the site of Olympia, near the south-western coast of Greece, and afterward declared that athletic events should be held every four years. What we do know is that the games began in the year 776 BC, and were dedicated to Zeus, the mightiest of all the Greek gods. The forty-foot-tall statue of Zeus built on the site of Olympia has gone down in history as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

And here are 7 things you might not know about it – and if you did know, we’re sorry!

  1. The very first Olympics had only one event. That was the stadion, a race of 190 meters, which has given the English language the word ‘stadium’. Over the years, many others were added; javelin, wrestling, long jump, discus, boxing, chariot racing, pankration (a fearsome fighting event resembling a kind of Greek mixed martial arts) and  the hoplitodromos (competitors ran 400 or 800 yards in full armor with shields and helmet).
  2.  The English word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek word “gymnos,” meaning “naked”.  All of the athletes performed in the nude.
  3. The modern custom of lighting the Olympic torch with a parabolic mirror reflecting the rays of the sun, held by actresses wearing the costumes of Greek priestesses at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, is modeled after the same original method used to signal the commencing of the games.
  4. Women had a separate set of Olympic Games. Although the competitors of the Olympics were exclusively male, women were allowed their own sporting event – the Heraea Games, held during a festival worshipping the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus. The events were confined to only running, but participants did receive a special bonus – high quality beef from a sacred ox sacrificed to Hera.
  5. There were other sporting events held in Ancient Greece besides the Olympics  – the Olympics were followed annually by the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian Games, but the Olympic games were by far the most important.
  6. The whole Greek calendar was based on the Olympics Games. The Olympiad (the period of 4 years which refers to the time between two games) was devised by the historian Ephorus and used as a measure of time in much the same way as we now use AD and BC. Before, every Greek state had used their own calendar, which naturally led to a lot of miscommunication.  There is even some scientific speculation that the most auspicious date to start the games was calculated by the Antikythera Mechanism – the curious Clockpunk-style device found in an ancient Mediterranean shipwreck in 1901, which some archeologists regard as the world’s first computer. 7. During the games, all of Greece was under condition of truce. Capital punishment and every military operation was suspended, to guarantee the safety of competitors and spectators traveling to and from the games.

The Games were held every four years for 12 centuries. Then, in the year 393 AD, it was banned by Emperor Theodosius I, along with other so-called ‘Pagan’ festivals.

There is no living being in our world who can remember the Ancient Olympics; but in the world of Dimensions Unknown Volume III: The Phantom Games, in the story Olympia Nights, we meet the fabled HELIOS … who perhaps still walks the earth today …

You can read his story here …

You can buy The Phantom Games here!

About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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