Olympic History  

by Kenneth M. Hoeck for T.O.T.W. Ministries

Olympic Games (noun plural): First appeared circa 1610- 1 : an ancient Panhellenic festival held every fourth year and made up of contests of sports, music, and literature with the victor's prize a crown of wild olive 2 : a modified revival of the ancient Olympic Games consisting of international athletic contests that are held at separate winter and summer gatherings at four year intervals -- called also Olympics. Olym*pus (noun) [Latin, from Greek Olympos] First appeared 1580: a mountain in Thessaly that in Greek mythology is the abode of the gods.

"The origin of athletic games lies in the ancient world, where they were treated as a ritual festival," (Chronicle of the Olympics, 1896-1996; DK Publishing, p. 9). Modern historians have the games beginning in 776 B.C. or earlier.

"The earliest [games] of which any record remains were funeral games, [such as] the games at Patroclus' funeral in the Iliad of Homer, book 23. Hence attempts have been made to deduce all Greek agones [games] from funerals or other commemorations of the dead." ... "most [games] of any importance were held in honour not of underworld gods but of celestial gods such as Zeus, or Poseidon" (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 ed., Vol. 9, p. 1119).

"Olympia, the town where [the Olympic Games] were held, was devoted to the worship of Zeus," who was "the sky- and weather-god of the ancient Greeks, whose name and functions correspond to those of the Latin Jupiter and of the Sanskrit Dyaus (pitar)." "The temple of Zeus at Olympia was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It contained a gold and ivory statue of the god that was more than 40 feet high" (The Olympic Spirit..., p. 11. Britannica, Vol. 23, p. 962).

"The Olympic Games were founded (according to tradition) in 776 BCE and held every four years in honor of Zeus. In the early years the games took place on just one day, as there were only two events, wrestling and the footrace. By 471 BCE there where more competitions also religious sacrifices, and feasting. The classical period saw all the famous events taking place such as boxing, pankration and the pentathlon." ~ Olympia, Encyclopedia Mythica

In the beginning, the games were few, and were held in less than a day. However, by the sixth century B.C. there were 13 events, and the contests lasted several days. "The first day was devoted to worship and preparation....On the second day the contests began.... Day three of the Olympics began with religious rites. A parade of judges, priests, athletes, and trainers marched to the sacred altar of Zeus. There, 100 oxen were sacrificed to the god. Their thighs were burned and their ashes added to those that had piled up over the centuries. The rest of the animals' flesh was eaten at a banquet after the games" (The Olympic Spirit..., pp. 11-12).

Thus the Olympic Games were pagan festivals for believers in the polytheistic Greek pantheon. "By the fifth century B.C., Olympia was the holiest place of ancient Greece," because so much religious ritual was tied to the games. "When an athlete won an event he was supposed to give public thanks to the deities" (Pursuit of Excellence, The Olympic Story, p. 24, 1979, published by Grolier Enterprises, Inc.).

"according to the Arbatel, a magic ritual published in the 16th century, [Olympian] spirits 1/4 dwell in the air and in interplanetary space, each governing a certain number of the 196 Olympic Provinces into which the universe is divided.... [These spirits were] also referred to as Stewards of Heaven" (Frank Gaynor, ed., Dictionary of Mysticism, p. 129).

"They lasted well over 1,000 years, until A.D. 394." (The Olympic Spirit: History of the Games and Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, "Olympic Day in the Schools,")

Early in the fourth century, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. In 394, Roman emperor Theodosius I forbade all pagan worship. Saying they went against the spirit of Christianity, he included the Olympic games in his prohibition (Curriculum Guide, ACOG, Vol. 1, 1992-3, p. 10).

"The games remained a prestigious festival, even in the Roman era, but were disbanded in 393-4 CE by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius 1st as he prohibited all pagan festivals." ~ Olympia, Encyclopedia Mythica

Most of us know the pagan origins of the Olympic games. We know of the 'gods of Mount Olympus', the vestal virgins(keepers of the Eternal Flame) in the ancient altar to Hera, and the symbols associated with the games. Physical exercise and prowess were also held in high-esteem and their practioners were kin to pagan 'heroes' of old such as Hercules.

The Jesuit-schooled Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the reviver of the Olympic Games and founder of the International Olympic Committee. According to Coubertin every one of the five rings symbolised one of the five continents. The conjunction of the five rings symbolised the conjunction of the continents during the athletic events and represents the ideal of peace and brotherhood of the whole planet. The flame symbolises the purity which embodies the eternal youth of the Olympic philosophy. The universal symbol of the flame would lead all competitors to understand that it is necessary to work towards the lasting unity of mankind.

Baron de Coubertin so loved the religion of the games that his heart was buried in the temple of Apollo in Olympia. To Coubertin, the Olympian athlete was himself a god. In an 1892 proposal of the revival of the games, Coubertin said, "The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion. It represents, above and outside the Churches, humanity's superior religion." Today, more revival of the 'spirit' of the games is being promulgated by many.

The opening ceremonies of the modern Olympic games usually come amidst extravagant pomp and pageantry and nearly always one can see the historical pagan religious connection unfolded in music, dance, chanting, song, and ritual. The winners become tomorrow's idols for the youth. The sports/competitions themselves can be exciting as many popular past-times but all these amusements really do is take people's minds off of reality ... off the Creator. If mankind would lay down their amusements, (sports, movies, television, hobbies, etcetera) then they may have the time to discover who God is and find what they are really missing in their lives. God bless. ~ Ken

A nice resource for the Olympics history is at  Olympics Through Time:  The Olympic Festival in Antiquity  http://www.fhw.gr/Images/banners/popups/banner_en.html


©1998 Truth On The Web Ministries: All the articles originated by Kenneth Hoeck and/or Brian Hoeck may be freely distributed or mirrored as long as presented in their entirety (including this statement), attributed to Truth on The Web, and proper author credit given.