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The genesis of the modern Olympic Games June 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics, Culture History Mythology.
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The first recorded Olympic Games were those of Antiquity initiated in 776BC and terminated in about 393AD when the Christian Emperor Theodosius, alleging that the Games were pagan rituals, issued a special decree for their elimination as well as for the destruction of the Olympic site.

The permanence of the games

Although the Ancient Games were discontinued in 393BC their prestige and that of Classical Greece never waned. Earthquakes have toppled the sacred temples of Olympia… and silt from the ancient.

Thus one oracular religion had given birth to the Games and a new religion sounded their death knell. Actually the Games had been deteriorating through corruption, mismanagement and nepotism, particularly during the Roman period when rivers covered the hallowed site, but the memories of the sacred rituals lingered on, mainly through the odes of the great poet Pindar; and the writing of the traveler in the Peloponese, Pausanius.

With the flowering of the Renaissance, Classical literature and mythology inspired the great literary scene of the period. In the 16th century, William Shakespeare refers to the “Olympian Games” in Henry VI; and the great poet John Milton speaks highly of them in “Paradise Lost”.

The interest of Classical Greece in the 17th and 18th centuries encouraged Captain Robert Dover of England to introduce the Costwalds Olympic Games in 1636. These were further enhanced with the introduction of classical poetry and Olympic rituals so much so that when the French thinker Voltaire was a “charmed spectator” in 1727 he felt “he had been transported to Olympia”.

Excavations in Olympia

In 1875 a group of German archaeologists and sports scholars began the systematic and eventually the excavations of Olympia in Greece kindling a new excitement about Ancient Greece throughout the Western World. Greek statues, architecture and art became the new style. In fact even tiny Malta could not escape this exuberance of the Neo-classical style – Bighi Hospital, Ball’s Monument in the Lower Barraca, the Mosta Rotunda, Main Guard etc. Throughout Europe, Greek and Latin became core subjects in schools; and no self-respecting gentleman could do without quoting from Homer’s Illiad or the Odyssey.

The Greco-mania spread all over Europe and all those interested in Classical Greece visited the excavations in Olympia in the 1890’s amongst them a Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Coubertin’s fascination with the Ancient Games and Greek philosophy became an important factor in the rebirth of the Olympic Games.

An education idea

It is not sufficiently realiSed that primarily the modern revival of the Olympic Games was educational. This emerged from Coubertin’s vain attempt to have physical activity in his country’s education system. His primary intention was to revitalize the Ancient Games and use them as a platform to promote the educational role of sport – the moral as well as the physical development of the athlete.

Furthermore, at a time when bitter memories of the French humiliation of the war against Prussia lingered on, De Coubertin was determined to devote his entire life to promote peace and international understanding through sport, the essential elements of the Olympic Movement. On 23 June, 1894, at a Congress in Paris to study the principles of amateurism, he quietly added an item on the agenda which fired the imagination of all those present at the prestigious hall of the Sorbonne “On the possibility of restoring the Olympic Games”.

Coubertin always believed that “the appetite for festivity is universal” and for this Sorbonne gathering he ensured that the stage was emotionally and artistically set for the launching of his supreme idea – the re-birth of the Ancient Olympic Games. There were poems, music and songs at the Sorbonne that day… and after the seventy-nine delegates from twelve countries had the haunting hymn to Apollo discovered in 1893 in mysterious Delphi set to music by well-known composer Gabirel Faure, the Assembly unanimously and be acclamation decided to restore the Olympic Games. Pierre de Coubertin worked incessantly to stir up interest in the Olympic Games which fittingly enough were awarded to Greece.

From their inception he insisted that the Games should offer a noble and imposing spectacle which would take the event beyond competition, creating an aura like the Ancient Games of Antiquity. Despite many difficulties, in April, 1896, Coubertin’s dream was finally realized when the 1st Olympic Games of the Modern Era took place in Athens, Greece the land of the Ancient Games.

As we eagerly await the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the world craves for the Olympic Truce during the greatest sports manifestation on earth. This universal acclaim and attraction stem from the fact that the Olympic Games, apart from the highest sports achievement, carry with them the rituals, symbolism, mythology and historical connotations of the Ancient Games.

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