Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Origin of the Olympics: Ancient Calendars and the Race Against Time

Highly recommended

By Valerie Vaughan

"Throughout the world, all ancient or primitive cultures have held a similar type of ceremony to celebrate the new year. In general, this ritual usually involved someone, who represented the old year, being driven out by someone representing the new year. The new year person usually led a procession of some kind, often made up of dancers or people who jumped and leaped. Such a procession is precisely what occurred during the earliest Olympic festivals in Greece.

"There are several myths which describe the origin of these Olympic festivals which were the inspiration for today's Olympic games. One story tells of a man named Pelops who wanted to marry Hippodamia, the daughter of King Oenomaus. Oenomaus was willing to offer his daughter's hand to any potential suitor who could compete with him and win in a chariot race. Each contestant would take Hippodamia in his chariot and try to beat her father, but Oenomaus would always win and then kill the losing suitor. Before Pelops came along, Oenomaus had so far killed twelve suitors and hung up their heads for display. Hippodamia loved Pelops, and she secretly fixed her father's chariot so it would fail. In the race, his chariot crashed and Oenomaus died, making him the 13th victim, so Pelops won. Pelops got the girl, became the new king, and according to Pindar (5th c. BC), the Olympics were started to commemorate the chariot race of Pelops.

"This story is more than a description of a sporting event. Three important features tell us otherwise. First, it is a contest between an old and young king, ending in the death of the elder and the succession of the younger to the kingdom. Second, there is a carrying off of the bride, for at the end of the story, Pelops and Hippodamia drive off in the same chariot. Even though Hippodamia loves Pelops, this is a 'marriage by capture,' a theme that appears in many myths. Third, there are some very suggestive numbers mentioned, namely 12 and 13, which relate to the lunar cycle. What this story reveals is a transition in calendar systems, from the old Moon-based calendar to one based on the motion of the Sun. When the ancients began to adjust their calendar to the solar cycle, they did not wish to simply abandon the old lunar calendar completely. The great calendar problem of antiquity was how to fit together the old Moon 'year' with the new Sun year ..."
The Origin of the Olympics: Ancient Calendars and the Race Against Time

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