Olympic Games, the true orgins

May 27, 2012

Tags: Olympics, Pelops, Pindar

The impending arrival of the Olympic Games to Britain has produced fevered comments on their relationship to Zeus (London Tmes, Telegraph et al.)

They were in fact instituted to honor Pelops in 776 BCE. He was the son of Tantalus and grandfather of Agamemnon who was to lead the Greeks into war with the Trojans.That war would in time lead to the demise of the primacy of the Egyptians and Hittites and lead to the hegemony of the Mediterranean states.

The especial significance of the Games was that it was a new human in(ter)vention in which the race winners took on the mantle of Zeus. And let us remember that even before the historical Games, there had been the Women`s Games, the race of virgins in which Hera took on Zeus.

Some 3 centuries later Pindar celebrated the Games in his poetry. His myth portrays a contest between Pelops and Oinomaos, the young and old king. Oinomaos was both King and weather-magician upon whose vigor the fertility of the New Year depended. Single combat had to renew the power of the king; there was at this stage no divine right. The great classical scholar Francis Cornford, wrote: "The tenant of office was not necessarily limited to the holder`s natural strength, but to the annual or seasonal cycle. The tenant of office represented the year; the Eniautos-Daimon, of the fertility-spirit of the particular year."
And further :
"Pindar`s Odes on the subject of the Olympic Games do not celebrate the personality of the present victor but the deeds of the victor`s ancestor, those earlier manifestations of the `genius` of the house who is reincarnated in each successive generation."

Francis Cornford was father of the young poet, John Cornford, who sacrificed himself in the fight against Franco, Hitler and Mussolini in the Spanish Civil War,and whose work I published when I ran Borderline Press from Dunfermline, Scotland, in the 1970s.

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