The Ancient Olympics

The Ancient Olympics : War Minus the Shooting

3.52 (23 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

The word 'athletics' is derived from the Greek verb 'to struggle/suffer for a prize'. After reading this book, no one will see the Olympics as a graceful display of Greek beauty again, but as war by other means. Nigel Spivey paints a portrait of the Greek Olympics as they really were - fierce contests between bitter rivals, in which victors won kudos and rewards, and losers faced scorn and even assault. Victory was almost worth dying for, and a number of athletes did just that. The author explores what the events were, the rules for competitors, training and diet, the pervasiveness of cheating and bribery, the prizes on offer, the exclusion of 'barbarians', and protocols on pederasty. He also peels back the mythology surrounding the games today and investigates where our current conception of the Olympics has come from. Contested always bitterly and often bloodily, the ancient Olympics were not an idealistic celebration of unity, but a clash of military powers in an arena not far removed from the battlefield.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 296 pages
  • 132 x 196 x 22mm | 358.34g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • numerous halftones
  • 0192804332
  • 9780192804334

Review quote

A scholarly yet accessible text; history and myth intertwining. The Guardian Review Spivey gives a good survey of the Olympics, well informed and concise, but not unopinionated. New York Review of Books Spivey's prose is always full of flavour and The Ancient Olympics must rank as one of the most enjoyable and intelligent books about the ancient Greeks currently on the market. James Davidson, Daily Telegraph excellent...fascinating background reading for anyone planning to watch Athens 2004 Sunday Timesshow more

About Nigel Spivey

Nigel Spivey teaches the classics at Cambridge University. He is the author of Understanding Greek Sculpture: Ancient Meanings, Modern Readings, Greek Art, Etruscan Art, and Enduring Creation: Art, Pain, and Fortitude.show more

Review Text

The Olympic games in ancient Greece did not evolve purely as an entertainment for spectators, but to enable participating young male athletes to become effective warriors in the numerous skirmishes between Greek city-states such as Athens, Corinth, and Sparta. Discus-throwing strengthened shoulder muscles to bear heavy shields, and wrestling and boxing sharpened reflexes to equip a fighter in hand-to-hand combat. 'War minus the shooting' was the term coined by George Orwell to describe these ancient games, and Nigel Spivey has written this excellent book to not only detail the rigours and rituals of the games, but to quote Homer, Hesiod and Plato in order to place them in the context of ancient Greek society, philosophical thought, and religious belief. Related to the games was the development of gymnasia, and Nigel describes the attractions that the young male gymnasts held for older Greek pederasts, and he finally goes on to explain the decline of the games during the subsequent Roman and Christian influences until their resurrection in modern times. A most informative and entertaining book. (Kirkus UK)show more

Rating details

23 ratings
3.52 out of 5 stars
5 9% (2)
4 48% (11)
3 35% (8)
2 4% (1)
1 4% (1)
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