Olympic Coins Silliness

I was trying to avoid commenting on the Olympic fanfare with all the silliness associated with lighting the torch (from the sun? What does Helios have to do with this?) and the biennial pointing out of its Nazi origins but I can’t let this one pass, which was actually spotted by number one son — and so the protoclassicist (heading your way QueensU) gets his first tip o’ the pileus  — from Yahoo:

The Royal Mint has already hit the headlines with its Olympics-themed coins, after a 50p piece explaining the offside rule caused debate over whether it had misunderstood the rule.

Now it seems to have done it again, after releasing a set of coins with what look like the wrong gods on them.

For the Royal Mint has struck a whole series of new coins celebrating London 2012, with the latest to be released made of gold.

The collection features the Olympic rings as well as events at the Games and classical gods representing the Olympic motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – Latin for “faster, higher, stronger”.

“When first faced with the task of designing a new and original set of coins for the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games it was difficult to know just where to begin,” said sculptor John Bergdahl, who designed the coins.

“My only option was to look to the past, to the first Olympic Games in ancient Greece, where the first athletes pledged their allegiance to the gods of Olympia; gods who governed all aspects of the ancient world.”

But which gods did the Mint choose to represent the Games?

Somewhat confusingly it chose Roman ones. For despite the Olympics being a Greek creation, which took place in Olympia and was held in honour of Zeus, the coins use Roman gods because “the Olympic motto is Latin” the Royal Mint told Yahoo! Finance.

And it’s not just the names that are a confusing choice, the gods the Mint has picked seem a little odd, too.

Vulcan, the god of fire, falls under the “stronger” category – despite his mythology showing he was a skilful and clever god rather than a powerful one and was lame in one leg. While this makes him a great ambassador for the Paralympics as a rare example of a disabled deity, he might not be the best choice as a representative of strength.

“Vulcan is the ancient god of fire in Roman mythology and was skilled in the art of metalwork,” the Royal Mint website states. “Bergdahl’s juxtaposition of god and athlete dramatically captures the strength and might of this popular sport.”

Minerva – goddess of wisdom – is also chosen in the “stronger” category with a picture of a javelin thrower. As a goddess she was most closely associated with wisdom, poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, crafts and magic – none of these obviously relating to strength or throwing things. The Greek equivalent, Athena, was far more warlike (being associated with victory and courage as well as just warfare), but these attributes were taken on by Juno among the Roman gods.

Juno herself had already been used in the “higher” series of gold Olympic coins which was released earlier. Quite why the patron goddess of Rome and protector of women should be associated with “higher” and – more specifically – the pole vault is not made clear on the Royal Mint site.

Of course, that’s not saying all of the gods are badly associated with sports. Neptune, god of the sea, is associated with sailing; Mercury – messenger of the gods with winged sandals – is associated with runners; and Mars, the god of war, is pictured with boxers.

Here’s the full breakdown of who has been chosen, what they’re representing and the sport in question.

Citius series (Faster)
Neptune – God of the sea – Sailing
Diana – Goddess of hunting – Cycling
Mercury – Messenger of the gods – Running

Altius series (Higher)
Jupiter – King of the gods – Diving
Apollo – God of the sun – Rhythmic gymnastics
Juno – Queen of the gods – Pole vaulting

Fortius series (Stronger)
Mars – God of war – Boxing
Minerva – Goddess of wisdom – Javelin
Vulcan – God of fire – Hammer

The original article has a slideshow of all the Olympic coins, but not these ones. You can poke around the Royal Mint’s page if you want … fwiw — besides the obvious culture clash —  I don’t get the connection of the various divinities of the Altius series with the sports they’re paired with … the Fortius series kind of makes sense, as does the Citius, save for Artemis: I guess it was too obvious to associate her with archery?

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