2012 is significant in that it is a presidential election year, a leap year, and a summer Olympic year! The modern Olympics, of course, were inspired by the ancient Greek Olympics, a subject I’ve been researching for my work in progress. So in these months leading up to the 2012 London Games, I’ll be posting weekly tidbits about the original athletic festival that started it all.
Here’s this week’s fun fact:
The ancient Olympics were a religious event.
The modern Olympics are a secular affair, but the original Games were held in honor of the Greek god Zeus. Olympia itself was a holy shrine with temples to Zeus, Hera, and other gods, and a highlight of the Olympics was the sacrifice of a hundred oxen on the altar of Zeus. All competitors had to stand before a statue of Zeus and swear to compete fairly, and victory was deemed to come from the gods. Oftentimes, successful Olympic athletes would wind up deified themselves, and later generations of athletes would pray to them for victory.
The close connection between the Greek gods and the athletic festival was the reason behind its cessation around AD 400. By then, the Roman emperors had embraced Christianity, and because Zeus had fallen out of favor with Rome, she no longer glorified him with his own athletic festival.
Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!