Ancient Olympians won or lost: no silver, bronze
February 24, 2010
FRISCO – The ancient Olympic competitors won or lost – there was no recognition for the athletes who got second or third.
But a win meant money, olive oil, wine and more.
“You could go home and be fed for the rest of your life at public expense. These guys were not amateurs,” said Daniel Taylor, professor emeritus of classics at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc.
Taylor presented the history of the Olympic Games to a room of more than 30 people at the Summit County Community and Senior Center on Tuesday night.
He said that when the Olympics were in ancient Greece, the rewards came from one’s home country. A prize in the games would be perhaps an olive wreath.
And though people were glorified by their homeland for winning, nationalism wasn’t such a factor as it is today.
“There is no official medals count,” Taylor said of the ancient games. “You go there as an individual athlete to win.”
It was a capital crime for married women to even attend the early Olympics, but unmarried women were welcome.
Many early games “ended with a total spoof,” with competitors trying to race on foot while encumbered with a heavy load of body armor.
Before competing, athletes would disrobe at a gymnasium; “gymnos” literally means “naked.”
Schools were often located near gymnasiums, and so “sometimes the name moved from gymnasium to academy. This happens quite a bit in the history of languages,” Taylor said.
Present day, gymnasium could be a school’s indoor athletic facility. It could also be a German, Scandinavian or Central European country’s school to prepare pupils for university entrance, according to Oxford American Dictionaries.
The naked men who competed in ancient Olympic events secured their private parts through a method that involved tying up their foreskin. There was also use of a muscle men can no longer contract after 1,000 years of wearing underpants, Taylor said.
The Olympics, similar to present day, occurred every four years. The countries would make a truce, folks on death row got a stay of execution and there were no binding legal agreements.
Alexander the Great was once fined because some of his soldiers were heckling people from another country.
The Olympics have grown to include many thousand athletes and millions of people in attendance. Taylor said about 6 billion people could be expected to observe the events.
“They’ll walk for days in Africa to see their favorite runner” on television, Taylor said. “There is no other holiday or time like this.”
The Olympics are the only event recognized worldwide – beyond even Christmas.
The Winter Olympics began in 1924.
Robert Allen can be contacted
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