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Olympic games, 776 BCE and beyond Click here for a tour of the history of the games. Homer Iliad 23.255-271: Games of Patroclus.

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Olympic games 776 bce and beyond click here for a tour of the history of the games
Olympic games, 776 BCE and beyondClick here for a tour of the history of the games


Homer iliad 23 255 271 games of patroclus
Homer Iliad 23.255-271: Games of Patroclus

  • But Achilles stayed the men even where they were, and made them sit in a wide gathering; and from his ships brought forth prizes; cauldrons and tripods [260] and horses and mules and strong oxen and fair-girdled women and grey iron. For swift charioteers first he set forth fine prizes, a woman to lead away, one skilled in handsome handiwork, and an eared tripod of twenty-two measures [265] for the victor; and for second-place he appointed a six-year-old unbroken mare, pregnant with a mule foal; and for third-place he set forth a cauldron untouched by fire, a fair cauldron that held four measures, white even as the first; and for fourth-place he appointed two talents of gold; [270] and for fifth-place a two-handled urn, not yet touched by fire.


Tripods: frieze from SiphnianTreasury, Delphi (550); Olympia tripod leg, 8th c.; 8thc. bronze tripod, Cyprus; 5th c. vase. What do we learn?



Olympia altis model reconstruction
Olympia, altis (model reconstruction)



Olympia stadion and starting line 5 th c bce
Olympia, stadion and starting line, 5th c. BCE


Philadelphia ms739 runners judge

Olympic games: athletics & music, 776 BCEand beyond

Philadelphia MS739Runners, judge


Lucian on slander 12 2 nd ce stadion diaulos dolichos
Lucian On Slander 12 (2nd CE):stadion, diaulos, dolichos

  • “[In the races,] once the husplex goes down, the good runner puts his mind only on going forward, and concentraing on the finish, puts his hope of victory in his legs. He does not foul the man next to him nor does he waste time thinking up tricks against his opponents. He immoral, unskilled athlete, however, turns his hope of success … to unsportsmanlike conduct, and … how to hold his opponent or check him by tripping ….”


Harvard 1972.39Side B: hoplitodromos


Pausanias 5 12 8 2 nd ce
Pausanias 5.12.8 (2nd CE)

  • “There [in the temple at Olympia] are kept the 25 bronze shields, which are carried by the competitors in the hoplite race.”


Aristotle rhetoric 1 5 1361b 4 th bce pentathlon
Aristotle Rhetoric 1.5 1361b (4th BCE): pentathlon

  • “The pentathletes have the most beautiful bodies, because they are constructed for strength and speed together.”

    Scholiast on Aristeides 3.339 (2nd CE)

  • “Pentathlete is used instead of “those competing in the five events” or “those winning in the five events,” because not all the pentathletes win all five events. For three of the five events are sufficient for them to win.”


Boston 01 8020 tondo discus thrower
Boston 01.8020Tondo: discus thrower


Pindar olympian odes 10 72 5 th bce diskos
Pindar Olympian Odes 10.72 (5th BCE): diskos

  • “And Nikeus, whirling around, threw the stone with his arm farther than all the others.”

    Cicero On the Orator 2.5.21 (1st BCE)

  • “The students of teachers in the Greek gymnasia prefer to hear the diskos than to hear the professor.”


Toledo 1961 26 attic red figure kylix side b javelin throwers
Toledo 1961.26, Attic red figure kylixSide B: javelin throwers


Pindar pythian odes 1 44 45 5 th bce javelin
Pindar Pythian Odes 1.44-45 (5th BCE): javelin

  • “As for this bronze-pointed javelin which I am shaking in my hand, I hope I will not … throw it out of bounds but rather hurl it a long distance, so as to surpass my competitors.”

    Scholiast on Euripides Andromache 1133 (5th BCE)

  • “A mesagkylon is a kind of javelin with a cord wrapped around the middle, which the athletes hold on to as they throw.”


Boston 01 8020 side a jumper
Boston 01.8020Side A: jumper


Philostratos on athletics 55 3 rd ce long jump
Philostratos On Athletics 55 (3rd CE): long jump

  • “The halteres are an invention of the pentathletes and were invented for jumping [halma, in Greek], from which they take their name. Considering the jump to be one of the most difficult events in competition, the rules permit encouragement of the jumper by means of a flute and also assist him even more with the halteres. For then guidance of the hands is unfailing and brings the feet to the ground without wavering and in good form. The rules show how important this is, for they refuse to have the jump measured if the mark is not correct.”


Toledo 1961.24Side B: pankration


Philostratos pictures 2 6 3 rd ce pankration
Philostratos Pictures 2.6(3rd CE): pankration

  • “The pankratiasts … engage in a dangerous kind of wrestling. For they have to take blows in the face, which are considered too dangerous for a regular wrestler, and they take holds where it is necessary to fall in order to win …. A pankratiast may simultaneously grab his opponent’s ankle and wrench his arm in addition to hitting and jumping on him. For these moves are permitted …, but not biting or poking.”


Philadelphia ms2444 side a trainer watching wrestlers
Philadelphia MS2444Side A: trainer watching wrestlers


Anonymous greek anthology 5 th bce 5 th ce wrestling
Anonymous, Greek Anthology (5th BCE – 5th CE): wrestling

  • “Milo of Kroton was once the only wrestler to show up at the sacred games. The official in charge at once called him forward to receive the crown. As he approached he slipped and fell on his hip. The spectators shouted that he should not be crowned since he fell when he was all alone. Standing up in the middle, Milo shouted in reply, “That is not three falls. I fell only once; let someone give me the other two falls.”

    Semonides, fragment 153D (7th BCE)

  • “This is the glorious statue of glorious Milo, who in fighting seven times at Olympia never fell to his knees.”


Pausanias 6 14 5 8 2 nd ce milo of croton
Pausanias 6.14.5-8 (2nd CE): Milo of Croton

  • “The statue of Milo the son of Diotimus was made by Dameas, also a native of Crotona. Milo won six victories for wrestling at Olympia, one of them among the boys; at Pytho he won six among the men and one among the boys. He came to Olympia to wrestle for the seventh time, but did not succeed in mastering Timasitheus, a fellow-citizen who was also a young man, and who refused, moreover, to come to close quarters with him. It is further stated that Milo carried his own statue into the Altis. His feats with the pomegranate and the diskos are also remembered by tradition. He would grasp a pomegranate so firmly that nobody could wrest it from him by force, yet he did not damage it by pressure. He would stand upon a greased diskos, and make fools of those who charged him and tried to push him from the diskos. He used to perform also the following exhibition feats.”


Pausanias 6 14 5 8 2 nd ce milo of croton1
Pausanias 6.14.5-8 (2nd CE): Milo of Croton

  • “[7] He would tie a cord round his forehead as though it were a ribbon or a crown. Holding his breath and filling with blood the veins on his head, he would break the cord by the strength of these veins. It is said that he would let down by his side his right arm from the shoulder to the elbow, and stretch out straight the arm below the elbow, turning the thumb upwards, while the other fingers lay in a row. In this position, then, the little finger was lowest, but nobody could bend it back by pressure. They say that he was killed by wild beasts. The story has it that he came across in the land of Crotona a tree-trunk that was drying up; wedges were inserted to keep the trunk apart. Milo in his pride thrust his hands into the trunk, the wedges slipped, and Milo was held fast by the trunk until the wolves--a beast that roves in vast packs in the land of Crotona--made him their prey.”


Toledo 1961 26 attic red figure kylix side a boxer on near right
Toledo 1961.26, Attic red figure kylixSide A: boxer on near right


Eustathius 1324 18 12 th ce boxing
Eustathius 1324.18 (12th CE): boxing

  • “Boxers’ himantes of leather were wrapped around their hands to make them better for striking and to hold the fingers together, binding them stiffly into a round shape, like some sort of club.”

    Anonymous Greek Anthology (5th BCE – 5th CE)

  • “This statue of the boxer Apis was set up in gratitude by his competitors. For he never injured any of them.”


Tampa 86 35 shoulder chariot race
Tampa 86.35Shoulder: chariot race


Isokrates team of horses 32 34 4 th bce chariot racing
Isokrates Team of Horses 32-34 (4th BCE): chariot-racing

  • “[My father] turned his attention to raising horses, which is the activity of the most wealthy and not one which a poor man should attempt, and he surpassed not only his rivals but also all the earlier victors. For he entered chariots in a larger number than the largest cities could match and of such quality that he came in first and second and third.”


Anonymous greek anthology 13 16 5 th bce 5 th ce chariot racing and women
Anonymous Greek Anthology 13.16 (5th BCE – 5th CE): chariot-racing and women

  • “My ancestors and my brothers were kings of Sparta; I, Kyniska, won the chariot race with my swift-footed horses and erected this statue. I claim that of all Greeks I am the only woman to have won this crown.”


Pausanias 5 16 2 3 2 nd ce women and the heraia
Pausanias 5.16.2-3 (2nd CE): women and the Heraia

  • “Every four years <at Olympia> 16 women weave a robe for Hera, and they also put on the Heraia. This contest is a running event for unmarried girls. They are not all the same age, but the first to run are the youngest, after them the next older, and the last to run are the oldest of the girls. Here is their method of running. They let down their hair, let the tunic hang down a little above the knee, and uncover the right shoulder as far as the breast. They use the stadium for this event, although the length of the track is reduced by a sixth …. The victors may set up statues with their names inscribed.”


Toledo 1963 26 attic black figure calyx krater side b athletes and trainers
Toledo 1963.26, Attic black figure calyx kraterSide B: Athletes and trainers


Philostratos on athletics 20 3 rd ce trainers
PhilostratosOn Athletics 20 (3rd CE): trainers

  • “The different psychological approaches which the gymnastes have on their athletes, whether encouraging them or scolding them or through threats or trickery [include this story]: when Glaukos from Karystos was being forced back by his opponent in boxing at Olympia, Tisias, his gymnastes, brought him through to a win by shouting, “Hit him like you did the plow!” For Glaukos’ right-handed punch was so strong that back [home] he once straightened a bent plowshare by using his right hand as a hammer.”


PhilostratosOn Athletics 48 (3rd CE): diet

  • “You can recognize an athlete who overeats by his thick eyebrows, gasping breath, and prominent collarbones, as well as rolls of fat around his waist. Those who drink too much wine have an excessive paunch …. Many signs point to the athletes who indulge in sex. Their strength has been weakened; they are short of breath and no longer display initiative on offense …. When they strip, their collarbones are hollow, their hips do not fit properly, their ribs stick out, and their blood is cold …..”


Philostratos on athletics 48 3 rd ce diet continued
PhilostratosOn Athletics 48 (3rd CE): diet (continued)

  • “If you should get involved in training an athlete like that, he would never win a crown for you. Athletes like this have flabby cheeks, weak pulse, insufficient perspiration, restless sleep when they are digesting their food; their gaze wanders and indicates their preoccupation with sex.”


Philadelphia ms2445 attic red figure kylix side a lyre player in center singing
Philadelphia MS2445, Attic red figure kylixSide A: lyre player in center, singing


Homer iliad 9 186 189 8 th bce music
Homer Iliad 9.186-189 (8th BCE): music

  • “They found him delighting his heart with his handsome clear-toned lyre, beautiful and carefully wrought, and the crosspiece was made of silver. He had taken this from the spoils when the Greeks destroyed the city of Eetion. With this he was pleasing his spirit, and he was singing of the fair deeds of men.”


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