Monday, June 30, 2008

Ancient Olympiads Were More Like the Modern PGA Golf Circuit

The modern Olympic ideals differ dramatically from the way the games were actually played in ancient Greece, says a University of Maryland classicist who has heavily researched the Olympic past. The ancient games featured professionals with a “winning is everything” philosophy.

“Ancient Olympiads were more like the modern PGA golf circuit than the amateur ideal advanced for most of the 20th century,” says Hugh Ming Lee, a professor of classics at the University of Maryland. “The Greeks and Romans awarded honors to the most accomplished athletes and paid them for their efforts. These professionals traveled a competitive circuit. The Vince Lombardi notion of winning is much closer to the original Olympic spirit.”

Ancient athletes resorted to various “potions” to gain a competitive edge. “The dung of a wild boar was honored for the powers it conferred on charioteers,” Lee points out. “Even the emperor Nero tried it.”

Modern-day ‘Ultimate Fighting’ resembles the Greek’s pankration, where almost everything short of eye-gouging and biting was permitted. “If it weren’t for the nudity, the ancient games would have played well on modern TV,” Lee says.

The ancient Greeks played the games under a flag of truce to give athletes safe passage. The games offered a respite from war, according to Lee. The athletes ran the final race of the Olympiad in armor, perhaps to acknowledge the coming end of the truce.

[Via Science Daily]

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