“How vainly men themselves amaze/To win the palm, the oak, or bays,…

…And their uncessant labours see
Crown’d from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flow’rs and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.”

First stanza of The Garden (1681), by ANDREW MARVELL

From: The Changing Scene (1937), by Arthur Calder-Marshall:

“…To many people working under capitalism it seems impossible (and for some reason infantile) that men should compete in their work, not for higher wages, but for honour. Yet, peculiarly enough, these same people look back to the old Olympic Games, where the reward was just a crown of bays, not with amused contempt, but with nostalgic admiration…”

From Wikipedia:

“The creation of the modern Olympic Games or Olympics (French: Jeux olympiques) was inspired by the ancient Olympic Games (Ancient Greek: Ὀλυμπιακοί Ἀγῶνες), held in Olympia, Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894, leading to the first modern Games in Athens in 1896.”

“”Panhellenic Games” is the collective term for four separate sports festivals held in ancient Greece.

The Olympiad was one of the ways the Greeks measured time. The Olympic Games were used as a starting point, year one of the cycle; the Nemean and Isthmian Games were both held (in different months) in year two, followed by the Pythian Games in year three, and then the Nemean and Isthmian Games again in year four. The cycle then repeated itself with the Olympic Games. They were structured this way so that individual athletes could participate in all of the games. (Note that the dial on the Antikythera mechanism seems to show that the Nemean and Isthmian Games did not occur in the same years.)

Participants could come from all over the Greek world, including the various Greek coloniesfrom Asia Minor to Iberia. However, participants probably had to be fairly wealthy in order to pay for training, transportation, lodging, and other expenses. Neither women nor non-Greeks were allowed to participate, except for very occasional later exceptions, such as the Roman emperor Nero.

The main events at each of the games were chariot racing, wrestling, boxing, pankration, stadion and various other foot races, and the pentathlon (made up of wrestling, stadion, long jump, javelin throw, and discus throw). Except for the chariot race, all the events were performed nude.

The Olympic Games were the oldest of the four, said to have begun in 776 BC. It is more likely though that they were founded sometime in the late 7th century BC. They lasted until the Roman Emperor Theodosius, a Christian, abolished them as heathen in AD 393. The Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games most likely began sometime in the first or second quarter of the 6th century BC. The Isthmian games were held at the temple to Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth.

The games are also known as the stephanitic games, because winners received only a garland for victory. (Stephanitic derives from stephanos the Attic Greek word for crown.) No financial or material prizes were awarded, unlike at other ancient Greek athletic or artistic contests, such as the Panathenaic Games, at which winners were awarded many amphorae of first-class Athenian olive-oil. The Olympic games awarded a garland of olive leaves; the Pythian games, a garland of laurel leaves; the Nemean games, a crown of wild celery, and the Isthmian games, a garland of pine leaves in the archaic period, one of dried celery in the Classical and Hellenisticperiods, and again one of pine from then on. Though victors received no material awards at the games, they were often showered with gifts and honours on returning to their polis.”

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