More Olympics Journal Articles

I guess the folks at Cambridge Journals liked the attention given to their freebies (I doubt we were alone in mentioning them) during the Olympics, and now that the Olympics are over, they’ve come out with a pile more, all from the Journal of Hellenic Studies. There is some overlap with the previous list, but there’s some good noggin fodder in general there (e.g. John Boardman’s note on strigils makes passing mention of strigils as prizes for athletic competition, which might have some application to that purported gladiatrix statue claim which we don’t buy into). Also definitely worth browsing through is Mark Golden’s intro to the collection. Check them out here:


Boris Johnson’s Original Oration of Armand D’Angour’s Ode at the Royal Opera House

Armand D’Angour has written to inform us that a somewhat shaky video of Boris Johnson’s original oration of Dr. D’Angour’s ode is available at his site. It’s rather dramatic (and funny) and is rather more formal than the plaque-ceremony repeat which we mentioned last week (Boris Johnson Orates Armand D’Angour’s Olympian Ode!!).  Here’s a direct link to the video (it takes a while to download). Dr. D’Angour’s page on the Ode and the events surrounding it is also definitely worth a visit: Ode for London Olympics 2012

Herod as Patron of the Olympics

Interesting Star Tribune column by Paul Flesher:

The London Olympics have provided a wonderful opportunity to enjoy outstanding competition by the world’s best athletes.

And in between the contests, we hear about how much more expensive these games are than any before them and learn about different sponsors — companies, taxpayers and governments — that have contributed money to pay the cost. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the Olympics limps from games to games trying to determine how to pay the bills.

Well, this is nothing new. More than 2,000 years ago, the Olympics were having the same problem. It was getting harder and harder to pay the bills, and the games were in decline. But then a financial savior appeared, in the unlikely form of Herod the Great, King of Judea.

The year was 14 B.C., and the citizens of Olympia, the city and religious shrine in Greece where the Olympic games were held, were worrying about paying for the next games. Hosting the gathering every four years was taking a toll on the city’s finances, for not only did they have to cover the housing and feeding of many athletes and spectators, they also had to pay for the sacrifices offered at that time. Olympia served as the central Greek shrine to the god Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. The Olympic games were held as a celebration in his honor. The first and last of the five days set aside for the games were devoted to offering animal sacrifices to Zeus and his consort, the goddess Hera. In recent years, the Olympic’s leaders noted, the money had been getting tighter and the lavish character of the games had become noticeably more shoddy.

King Herod of Judea heard about these troubles and decided to do something about it. Herod, at that time, was looking for a project in which to get involved. The previous year, he had finished rebuilding the central area of the Temple in Jerusalem, which had taken him 15 years. It was so magnificent that, six centuries later, the rabbis still said that anyone who had not seen Herod’s Temple had never seen true beauty. Herod also was finishing up his other building project, Caesarea Maritima, a new city built from the ground up. With the largest harbor on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, it was designed to encourage trade and travel.

So, needing a new project on which to lavish his money, Herod decided to pay for the Olympic games of 12 B.C. He journeyed to Olympia for the games that summer and presided over them. Of course, Herod’s gift ensured that the games would go on in style. But by granting Herod the role of president, the Olympians placed Herod in a position where everyone, especially the wealthy and the rulers, would meet Herod and thank him for his benefaction. Even Caesar Augustus probably thanked Herod for honoring Zeus, Caesar’s patron God, when Herod visited Rome later that summer. Since the ancient Olympic Games were not a secular event, as they are today, but a religious celebration devoted to Zeus, a good part of the money Herod the Jew donated must have gone to pay for the sacrifices to Zeus. Herod must have thus practiced the saying of the later Christian apostle Paul: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Apparently Herod enjoyed his Olympics so much that he gave additional funds afterwards to endow the festival in future years. For this further gift, the ancient historian Josephus records Herod had his name recorded as perpetual president of the Olympic Games.

We should note that Josephus also tells us of quinquennial games established by Herod in Jerusalem (AJ 15.270 ff) and Caesarea (16.135 ff) … I haven’t been able to find out how long these games continued to be celebrated.

Discussing the Discobolus

The Discobolus seems to be much in the news today because it is being featured at the Olympics, of course, but also because a Chinese sculptor has made a ‘companion piece’, to wit:

The BBC has a nice interview with Ian Jenkins about the BM’s version of the discobolus, and a bit of chat about this fellow hanging out with that Roman copy:

Mary Beard has a bit of commentary on all this as well:

Ancient and Modern Olympics Blog

It came to my attention this past week that Dr Jason Konig from St Andrews has started up an excellent blog devoted to the Ancient and Modern Olympics. It will be featured in our Blogosphere posts from this point on, but I did want you to get a sense of ‘what you’ve missed’: