INDEPENDENT VIEWS. Ancient Greek Athletic Festivals. by Dr. John T. Powell *

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1 Ancient Greek Athletic Festivals by Dr. John T. Powell * If the Olympic Games were being held now... you would be able to see for yourself why we attach such great importance to athletics. No-one can describe in mere words the extraordinary pleasure derived from them and which you yourself would enjoy if you were seated among the spectators feasting your eyes on the prowess and stamina of the athletes, the beauty and power of their bodies, their incredible dexterity and skill, their invincible strength, their courage, ambition, endurance and tenacity. YOU would never stop applauding them. Lucian (2nd Century A.D.) in Anacharsis 12 Introduction What cannot be measured is the impact that the thinkers had upon athletes and upon the Festivals. The esteem in which philosophers and poets were held and the quality of expressed thought in the Palaestra, the Lyceum and the Academy must have influenced society. It is known that, in the 5th Century before Christ at least 137 Greek cities all held athletics festivals: this shows how much a part of Greek life was devoted to preparedness, through contest and general physical activity. Funeral Games The description, by Homer in the 23rd Iliad 1 is the earliest description of funeral games known. It is not known when Homer lived or whether the poems he wrote described Games as he saw them or whether they were of Games held two or three centuries previously. * Professor of Human Kinetics School of Human Biology University of Guelph, Ontario (CAN) The blond Achaeans, described by Homer, were invaders from the North who later became settlers ; they were war-like and to keep them ready for war they exercised and exulted in victory. in the Iliad, Glaucus said : My father bade me ever be far the best and far excel all other men and not to put to shame my father s lineage. 2 Achilles prepared the funeral Games for his beloved hero friend Patroclus. The first contest was the chariot race with a dual first prize of a servant-woman and a tripod, the second prize being a mare heavy with a mule, a cauldron as third, gold pieces as fourth and a jug was fifth. Achilles judged fairly, arguments were mediated with reason and each contestant received a prize. Each of the riders presented himself and when Antilochus stood, his father, Nestor gave him a long speech of advice insisting that skill in driving and use of tactics were far more important than speedy steeds. He suggested to his son that he hug the turning post without actually touching it - this, he said was the crucial manoeuvre. The combatants drew lots for lanes and Achilles placed Phoenix at the turning point. A whip was cracked and the chariots moved. Then comes a thrilling description of the race with Eumelus taking the lead, followed by Diomedes. but the God Apollo causes him to lose his whip, which the goddess Athena returns to him and in turn she breaks the yoke of Eumelus chariot from which he is thrown to be badly bruised. Antilochus rides neck-andneck with Menelaus but Diomedes wins followed by Antilochus, Menelaus, Meriones and Eumelus, last. 259

2 Achilles took pity on Eumelus offering him second prize as consolation but Antilochus objected. Argument ensued but all was amicably settled. Meriones took fourth prize and fifth, Achilles gave to old Nestor who accepted, making a speech recounting his victories when a youth, saying that, then in the funeral games for King Amarymeus he won every prize but one the charioteers. The boxing contest is next described where Epeius claims the victor s prize of a mule, having dropped Euryalus with a solid blow to the cheek and then he helps him to his feet. Odysseus and Aias confront each other for the wrestling title. The contest is even and long until, very skilfully, as Aias lifts him, Odysseus hooks his leg behind Aias knee drops him and pins him. The second fall also goes to Odysseus but before the bout continues (3 falls were necessary to win) Achilles stepped in offering equal gifts to each competitor. Some authorities write that the contest was a draw (H. J. Rose in the Oxford Classical Dictionary) but Walter Leaf s translation agrees with the above resolution of the contest 3. Then followed a foot race in which Aias (not the wrestler but the son of Oileus), the youth Antilochus. and Odysseus compete. Odysseus is losing, prays to Pallas Athena who trips Aias into a dung heap nearing the race s end, and Odysseus won. Then came the armour, shield and sword contest. In this Aias (the wrestler and son of Telamon) has the fight stopped in favour of his opponent Diomedes, who wins a sword. Archery is next and Teucer unleashes an arrow without first praying to Apollo. He misses the dove (the target) tied to a ship s mast but severs the cord tying it. Suddenly Meriones grasps a bow, fits an arrow and brings down the flying bird thus receiving his first prize of ten double-bladed axes. Four contestants vie for throwing a lump of precious iron furthest. Polypoetes easily wins the contest and the missile, which is the award. And so to the final event - the spear throw which is not contested as, in deference to Agamemnon. Achilles gives him the prize and Meriones accepts, with grace, the consolation award. Note the power of the gods, their constant presence and how they are called upon in all phases of decision. Note also the spirit in the Games and the awarding of prizes to all. No-one wishes to upset the gods and goddesses, neither to disturb by discord the dead, yet they contest, which was a normal phase of life indulged in naturally and enjoyed. Feast Games In Homer s Odyssey 4 a graphic poetic interpretation of athletic events is given. Odysseus - of the seed of Zeus - had landed in the country of the Phaecians (wherever that was, some, today consider it to be the island of Corfu) and landed at the court of King Alcinous. After a feast and music the King said Let us go forth anon, and make trial of divers games, that the stranger may tell his friends, when home he returneth, how greatly we excel all men in boxing, and wrestling and leaping, and speed of foot. 5 First, there was sprinting, then wrestling, long jumping, weight throwing, and boxing. Then Odysseus was asked did he excel in sport, by Laodamas, Alcinous son. Noting a reluctance in Odysseus, Euryalus rebuked him, No, truly, stranger, nor do I think thee at all like one that is skilled in games... 6 Odysseus responded, in no uncertain terms: Yet, thou hast stirred my spirit in my breast, by speaking thus amiss, and... for all my affliction, I will essay the games, for thy word has bitten to the quick, and thou hast roused me with thy saying. 7 He then lifted a weight larger than any previously used in the contest and heaved it with one hand further than any other cast. Then he challenged any in boxing, in wrestling and even the foot race. He told them of his supremacy in archery and of his only defeat by Philoctetes of Troy and of his excellence with the javelin. 8 Only Alcinous answered changing the tense situation to one of pleasure again calling for the dance. Once again is seen the cathartic effect of human physical prowess and that no excuse was necessary for competition to reign. 260

3 Hesiod Hesiod, a poet, lived in an age innocent of philosophy. Mythology and mythological thinking pervaded his time and the people of that era were accustomed to think of the problems of the day and the process of life in mystically determined ways. He was born in Ascra, Boeotia. In his Works and Days 9 Hesiod writes that he belonged to the period immediately following the Trojan War ( ) yet most scholars date him after Homer (850 B.C.). Hesiod s work also allows man to take the centre of the stage but his approach is quite different to Homer s approach. Hesiod deals with man in his relationship to gods, to social order and to the necessities of life. Although not a philosopher he influenced both Greek philosophy and philosophers. He recounts how he competed at Chalcis at the funeral Games of Amphidamas and won a fair handled tripod which he dedicated to the Muses of Helicon. A later legend asserted that his beaten rival was non other than Homer. 10 Pindar This most illustrious of the Greek lyric poets was born in 518 B.C. Most of his works have perished although 45 of his odes are intact commemorating victories by strength, dexterity in running, speed of horses and mules, skill in music, in wrestling, boxing, and pentathlon. He wrote hymns, paeans in honour of gods, songs in praise of Apollo, dithyrambic verses to Dionysus, drinking songs, dirges and odes on Olympia 14, Nemean 11, lsthmian 8 and Pythian Games 12. Sometimes his hymns were said as at Olympia in the evening, by the moon s light after the termination of an event and at other times on the return of a victor to his native city when the protecting wall had been broken to allow his entrance. This would have been a sacred time, yet a joyous homecoming. The poet would have trained a chorus to recite the triumphal ode usually followed by a banquet. An explanation is necessary before reading Pindar s odes. Mythology, idealogy, commun- A philosopher (250 B.C.). 261

4 ity, social and family genealogical symbols were all enwrapped and enmeshed. His words were enhanced by flute or lyre music, cymbals, or solo and chorus chanting. His hymns were all commissioned, and were ceremonial, flitting between gods and men, infinite and finite and making assumptions difficult for us but no doubt commonplace to those who heard the original praises. As an example, Olympian VII, written for Diagoras of Rhodes may explain. The island of Rhodes, in Greek legend, derived its name from one of Aphrodite s daughters who married Helios the god of Sun who, when Zeus divided the earth between the gods, was absent. Helios was not angry for as he returned he had seen within the sea, an island about to rise, which he requested. This was Rhodes. Diagoras had been a successful local athlete as well as at the four major athletic centres in Greece. In Delphi he won but had been guilty of some inadvertent transgression yet had, in 464 BC won the boxing title at Olympia. Pindar s Ode is compared to a loving cup given to the bridegroom by the bride s father who is recognized by name. The cup serves two purposes, the pledge of wedlock and the poet s paean of fame. Zeus is asked for his blessing on ode and victor, that his clan be prosperous so that the State benefits ; the ode finishes listing Diagoras s victories. Here is an extract 11 from Olympian VII 7 p. 19.,.. and to both strains I keep company with Diagoras, singing the sea s child, daughter of Aphrodite and bride of Helios, Rhodes and give praise, spoil of his boxing, to the onslaught of a man gigantic, wreathed in victory beside Alpheos water and Kastalia ; and to Damagetos his father... In his Vlllth Olympian is a firm indication that a typical subject for enquiry at Olympia s oracle were the prospects of Olympic athletes : Olympia, Mother of contests for golden wreaths, Lady of truth, where men of prophecy divine the word of Zeus, white lightning s source, in 262 sacrificial fires and learn what plans he had for men The event was boys wrestling, Alcimedon of Aegina was the winner. Strabo (63 BC - 21 AD) About 400 years later than Pindar, Strabo 13, in his book Geography named Oxylus as the founder of the Olympic Games and that it was at the end of the 12th Century B.C. that any Olympic Games, as such, were established. His great work on geography, in 17 books, has been preserved in its entirety except for aspects of the seventh volume. The Loeb Edition ( ) has published the work in 8 volumes. Strabo was well educated, well travelled and adopted a stoical philosophy amply shown in the translation of his work. Here again is evidenced the influence of the Gods for, on the re-establishment of the Games is noted that "... a sworn agreement was promptly made by all, that Eleia should be sacred to Zeus. 14 It goes on to say that anyone who invaded that country would be under a curse, those who failed to defend the country would also be cursed and that those who later built the city did so without a protecting wall, for those who went through the area, with an army, were to surrender their arms to receive them again when leaving. It then suggests that lphitus celebrated the Olympic Games and the Eleians became sacred people. However, Farnell 15 deals with the founding of the Games very contemptuously and Rachel Robinson 16 also expresses her concern about both omissions and the tenor of Strabo s account, prior to Oxylus. Phlegon (about 138 A.D.) In his philosophical work Historical Introduction 17 Phlegon gives more evidence of the oracular power concerning Games : Zeus is angry at you for sacred rites which he revealed by oracles because you fail to honour the Olympic Games of all-ruling Zeus... Furthermore he also outlined events at Olympia before the 12th Century B.C. and

5 dwells about the length of time the Games were neglected up to the time of the recording of Coroebus victory (776 B.C) telling of their revival more than 100 years previously. Eusebius of Caesarea (about 260 AD to 340 AD) Philosopher, a man of many notebooks and, in 314 A.D. chosen Bishop of Caesarea. lived five generations after the great author Pausanias. Eusebius was a noted researcher and in his Chronology is recorded the Olympic Register of Victors from 776 B.C. to 217 A.D. 18 The chronology follows Phlegon s account concerning the matter of dating the renewal of the Games to the early ninth century B.C. It is now generally agreed that from the founding of the Elean Games by Herakles to the first officially recorded victory was years. According to the modern scholar Cleanthis Palaelogos 22, 10 generations elapsed until lphitus renewed the Games. lphetus was of Elis, and, wishing to stop national warring sent a deputation from the Peloponnesus to the Delphic Oracle. The god s reply to the Peloponnesians was : O, inhabitants of Peloponnesus go to the altar sacrifice and hearken to what the priests enjoin 21 The god then spoke to the Eleans : Citizens of Elis keep straight to the laws of your fathers, defend your own country and refrain from war. Leading the Greeks in impartial friendship whenever the genial year returns. 22 Eusebius continues : Because of this lphetus announced the truce... and ordained the Games. At this time the foot race was the only contest but later the other contests were added. 23 Herod the Great (born about 62 B.C. died 4 B.C) The first contact the people of Israel had with Hellenistic culture was in the time of the Macedonian, Alexander the Great who, conquering country after country arrived in Jerusalem. Herod had, in 25 B.C., built a stadium near Jerusalem and, in 12 B.C. Herod not only built the city of Caesarea but also had constructed another magnificent stadium in which he inaugurated a festival according to the Olympic Games programme. It was in this same year (the 193rd Olympiad) that he not only acted as President of the Quadrennial Festival, when he stopped at Elis on his way to Rome, but endowed them for all time with an income big enough to ensure that his presidency should never be forgotten. 24 Lucian ( A.D.) A contemporary of Pausanias was both philosopher and researcher who spent 20 years in Athens, although a Mesopotamian. He wrote ANACHARSIS 25 which is really a conversation about Greek athletics between Solon the Athenian lawgiver and the Scythian Anacharsis who came to Greece in his quest to find wisdom. The conversation took place in the Lyceum in Athens. From the discourse is learned much of athletic practices of the fifth century B.C. and proof that... they compete in throwing the javelin for distance, 26 and, when talking about discus throwing "... they throw that high into the air and also to a distance, vying to see who can go the farthest and throw beyond the rest. 27 Many authorities have suggested that the Greeks threw javelins and slung disci at a target; these assumptions have been based upon no references being found giving times or distances. Further evidence comes in the 8th Ode of Bacchylides wherein he celebrates the victory of Automedes of Phlius in the Nemean pentathlon. 28 Automedes won both javelin throw and discus as well as the last event, wrestling. He shone among the other pentathletes as the bright moon in the middle of the month dims the radiance of the stars ; even thus he showed his lovely body to the great ring of watching Greeks, as he threw the round discus and hurled the shaft of black-leaved elder from his grasp to the steep heights of heaven, and roused the cheers of the spectators by his lithe movements in the wrestling at the end

6 Again, it must be reflected upon the era in which these athletic contests were held and the lack of sophistication in organisation. It was necessary only to give a winner, except in funeral or feast games. What did the three great Philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, note in their analyses of Greek athletic practices? Socrates ( B.C.) No written word has come directly from Socrates. In MEMORABlLlA 30 I, II, and Ill are what Xenophon ( B.C.) nick-named the Attic Bee, has written in dialogue form, being the words of his noted teacher Socrates. Socrates meets a poorly developed youth and rebukes him for his underdeveloped body. Of course, I am not a professional replies the youth. Whereupon the philosopher gives him a lecture pointing out that no citizen has any right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training, that it is part of his profession of simply being a citizen to keep himself in excellent physical condition ready, at a moment s notice, to serve his State. He then berates the youth telling him that it is a disgrace for a man to grow old without ever having seen the beauty and strength of which his body is capable and to go, develop his beauty and his strength to the utmost because it is his duty to do so in this way only will the youth reach the Greek ideal. (To be continued) 4 Homer. The Odyssey of Homer. (New York, The Modern Library of the World s Best Books 1950) Translated by S. H. Butcher and A Lang. pp Ibid. p lbid p Ibid. p lbid p Hesiod. Works and Days, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press ; The Loeb Classical Library, 1914) Translated by Evelyn White, p Robinson. J. M. An introduction to Early Greek Philosophers, (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Coy, 1968) p Pindar. The Odes of Pindar, (Chicago, Phoenix Books, University of Chicago Press. 1947) Translated by Richard Lattimore. 7. p Parke, H. W. The Oracles of Zeus (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1967) p Strabo. The Geography of Strabo, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, Translated by H. L. Jones, VIII, 3, p Strabo. The Geography of Strabo, (H. G. Bohn, Bohn s Classical Library 1656) Translated by H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer, Vol II. p Farnell, L. R. Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality (Oxford, at the Clarendon Press,921). pp Robinson, Rachel S. Sources for the History of Greek Athletics. (Printed by the author, revised and renewed 1955) p bid. p Eusebius. Chronology (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1912) Translated by W Schoene. X. p Powell, John T. Ancient Greek Athletic Festivals, paper presented at the first session of the National Olympic Academy of the USA, University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, 20th June 1977, p Palaeologos, Development of the Olympic Games (Athens, in Report of the Second Session of the lnternational Olympic Academy, July 1962) p Eusebius, Chronology, (Cincinnati, translated by R. S. Robinson, 1955), printed in Sources for the History of Greek Athletics, COl. 192, p Ibid. COl Ibid. COI Yekutieli, Joseph Herod the King of Jerusalem, (Athens, in Report of the with session of the lnternatlonal Olympic Academy, August 1966) p Lucianus Samosatensi. Lucian, (London, William Heinemann Ltd, the Loeb Classical Library 1961) Anarchis, or Athletics, Book IV Translated by A. M. Harman, p Ibid. p Ibid. p Jebb, Richard C. Bacchylides, the Poems and Fragments (Georg Olms. Verlagsbuchandlung, Hildesheim, 1967) pp. 205 and Harris, H. A. Greek Athletes and Athletics, (London, Indiana University Press, 1964) p Xenophon, Memorabilia, (H. G. Bohn s Classical Library 1846). Translated by J. S. Watson, Book Ill, p. 13. REFERENCES 1 Homer. lliad, (New York Monarch Press. 1964) Translated by David Sider and David Konstan, Book XXIII. pp Homer. lliad, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press ; The Loeb Classical Library, 1960) Translated by A. T. Murray, Book VI. p Leaf, Walter. The lliad of Homer (London, MacMillan and Co., 1695) Vol. II, Book XXIII, p