Origins


To the Greeks it was important to root the Olympic Games in mythology.[5] During the time of the ancient games their origins were attributed to the gods, and competing legends persisted as to who actually was responsible for the games' genesis.[6] These origin of traditions have become nearly impossible to untangle, yet a chronology and patterns have arisen that help people understand the story behind the games.[7] The earliest myths regarding the origin of the games are recounted by the Greek historian, Pausanias. According to the story, the dactyl Herakles (not to be confused with the son of Zeus) and four of his brothers, Paeonaeus, Epimedes, Iasius and Idas, raced at Olympia to entertain the newborn Zeus. He crowned the victor with an olive tree wreath, (which thus became a peace symbol) which also explains the four year interval, bringing the games around every fifth year (counting inclusively).[8][9] The other Olympian gods (so named because they lived permanently on Mount Olympus), would also engage in wrestling, jumping and running contests.[10] Another myth, this one occurring after the aforementioned myth, is attributed to Pindar. He claims the festival at Olympia involved Pelops, king of Olympia and eponymous hero of the Peloponnesus, and Herakles, the son of Zeus. The story goes that after completing his labors, Herakles established an athletic festival to honor his father. Pelops, using trickery, and the help of Poseidon, won a chariot race against a local king and claimed the king's, also attributed to Pausanias is dated by the historian at 776 BC.[11] For some reason the games of previous millennia were discontinued and then revived by Lycurgus of Sparta, Iphitos of Elis, and Cleoisthenes of Pisa at the behest of the Oracle of Delphi who c

aimed that the people had strayed from the gods, which had caused a plague and constant war. Restoration of the games would end the plague, usher in a time of peace, and signal a return to a more traditional lifestyle.[12] The patterns that emerge from these myths are that the Greeks believed the games had their roots in religion, that athletic competition was tied to worship of the gods, and the revival of the ancient games was intended to bring peace, harmony and a return to the origins of Greek life.[13] Since these myths were documented by historians like Pausanias, who lived during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the 160s AD, it is likely that these stories are more fable than fact.[14] The origins of many aspects of the Olympics date to funeral games of the Mycenean period and later.[15] Early examples are known such as those held for Patroclus by Achilles, described by Homer and in Book 5 of Virgil's Aeneid, in which Aeneas organizes athletic contests on the anniversary of his father's death. Pausanias ( /p?se?ni?s/; Ancient Greek: ? Pausanias) was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece (? ), a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical literature and modern archaeology. This is how Andrew Stewart assesses him:[1] A careful, pedestrian writer, he is interested not only in the grandiose or the exquisite but in unusual sights and obscure ritual. He is occasionally careless, or makes unwarranted inferences, and his guides or even his own notes sometimes mislead him; yet his honesty is unquestionable, and his value without par.