Olympics Games: Should It Not Be Olympics Festivals?

What we know about the ancient Greek history today “survived either by pure chance or for literally reasons unconnected with their historical significance” (Crawford and Whitehead ix). Among the interesting activities in the contemporary society that interest me is claim that Olympic Games have its origins in Greek ancient history.

But does it really? Well, olympiakoi agones is the exact world that supposedly translate to ‘Olympic Games’ (Young 4). However, on more investigation, I am led to believe that while Olympic is actually an exact translation from olympiakoi, the term ‘games’ is not an exact translation from the Greek word agones.

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In fact, (Young 4) observes that agones is better translated as “struggles”, “pains” or “contests”. Following the revelations about the not-so-accurate translation of the term olympiakoi agones, it could then be that the claim that Olympic Games has its genesis in Southwest Greece more than 2,700 years ago, is more of an association of activities rather than a reality.

I say this because olympiakoi agon was a religious festival, which was to say the least, not associated with sports, or games for that matter. If anything, it appears that the festival was a struggle, or a contest that would involve play at some point in honor of Zeus (Young 4).

Olympic Games as we know them today, involves struggles, contents and even some pains, which are often seen as means to the Olympic medals. Digressing to the definition of the word ‘games’, it appears that activities that qualify as games are not strictly meant to be competitive, and neither are they even meant to be painful or involving struggle (Wittgenstein 33e). At the very basics, games are a way of passing time and enjoying one self, but them again, there is no an accepted definition of the world games and so I could be wrong.

Consider the philosophical thoughts of (Wittgenstein 33e) who argues that explaining what a game is to someone who has no idea is a hard task because “we do not know the boundaries because none has been drawn”. In other words, no boundaries of description has been drawn to the definition of the word games; as such, activities as diverse as playing cards, playing with words, or playing with balls can be described as card games, word games or ball games respectively.

Following this line of thinking, I therefore suppose that the fact that Olympic festivals involved different forms of play is what led historians to relate it with the games as we know them today, and even associate the games’ history to ancient Greece, and hence Olympics.

Considering the above arguments, I am convinced that the only thing that the Olympic festivals in ancient Greece and the contemporary Olympic games share in common is the frequency of being held every four years, and perhaps the name Olympic. I draw the notion that the frequency of the Olympic festivals and the Olympic Games is alike from the understanding that Greeks’ calculate time intervals inclusively.

Beyond that, neither the intent nor the activities in both set of Olympics are similar. Even the inclusion of athletics in olympiakoi agones is contested by (Young 8) who observes that Homer- one of the historians who has written about athletic scenes in the ancient Greece- cannot be taken as an authentic memory of the same, because “rather than preserving a memory of athletics centuries earlier, he represents athletics in his own time” (Young 8).

Yet, it is from Homer’s writing that the contests and games associated with the Olympics (both the festivals and the contemporary games) are drawn. For example, it is observed that Homer’s poems paint the aristocratic warriors as “channeling their aggression and mutual rivalry into games and contests” whenever “they were not on the battlefield” (Crawford and David 46).

This then means that if Homer cannot be taken as an authority in telling us about the Olympic athletics, even less should we believe any texts that generally take his writings as absolute truth.

I also agree with Glass (155-156 cited by Young 19) who argues that a significant number of texts are unreliable despite modern authors believing in them. The generalizations that link the contemporary Olympic Games to the ancient Olympic festivals seem to have been taken from such ancient texts. In my view, the generalizations are not only anachronistic, but also wrong. But again, I too could be wrong.

Overall, I hold the opinion that the olympiakoi agones (if it indeed happened) must have provided the participants and onlookers with a chance to compete and contest for whatever rewards there were (including olive tree crowns) as indicated by (Crawford and Whitehead 48).

However, the activities that people in ancient Greece participated in during the festivals may never be absolutely known by the contemporary scholars because there is a possibility that much of the knowledge passed down the generations has been people’s inventions rather than factual. As such, the claim that the Olympics Games tradition goes back to the ancient Greece history is in my opinion, overstretching the truth.

Works Cited

Crawford, David, and David Whitehead. Archaic and Classical Greece: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983. Print.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. GEM Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958.

Young, David. A Brief History of the Olympic Games. London: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. Print.


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