For today’s look at the contribution the lgbt community has made to the Olympics we go back to its origins in Ancient Greece and Olympia.
There are so many lgbt associations with Olympia that it is perhaps best to adapt one of my other mini-series themes and present a “City Pride” guide to the site. In this way it may help any of you who visit the site to appreciate its same-sex heritage better.
One thing to keep in mind, as I’ve said before, is that our modern interpretation of homosexuality is different to the same-sex activity that was part of Ancient Greek culture. Although many men engaged in sex with younger men and boys they would never define themselves by our term of “gay”.
Every athlete was expected to have sex with another man or boy, and that includes all the Olympic champions. As such the ancient Olympics was full of same-sex practices.
The ancient site of Olympia is familiar to us today through the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame which has signalled the start of the torch relay since 1936, making the torch relay 80 years old this year (more will be said about this on the actual 80th anniversary).
The map below isn’t a true representation of what exists in physical form at the Olympia site but indicates the location of ruins of buildings. Ancient Olympia didn’t have a flag and the one shown is of the former municipality to which Ancient Olympia belonged prior to 2011. It isn’t known if the present municipality has its own flag.
1) The Gymnasium : The training area for the athletes of the running and throwing events during the games.
2) The Palaistra : The training area for the fighting and jumping events during the games.
3) The Prytaneion : The base of the officials responsible for the ritual sacrifices on site. The victory feasts for the Olympic champions were held here.
4) The Philippeion : Built by King Philip II of Macedonia after his victory at the Battle of Chaeronea over the Sacred Band of Thebes, an army made up of entirely of same-sex partners. The building was complete by Philip’s son Alexander the Great.
5) The Temple of Hera : In little niches in the main columns were painted the portraits of the champions of the Heraia, the local version of the Olympics held just before the main games. Here was housed the disc of Iphitos one which was inscribed the Olympic truce. On a gold and ivory table laid the olive wreaths which were to be awarded to the Olympic champions.
6) The Nymphaion : The water supply built by Herodes Atticus and his wife Regilla in 160 AD. The semi-circular walls contained statues of Herodes and his family.
7) This is where the modern Olympic flame is kindled from the rays of the Sun. From here the priestesses parade to the stadium (no. 8).
8) The Zanes : Here was a line of bronze statues of athletes. They weren’t there because of the athlete’s prowess but because they were found guilty of cheating, cowardice or bribing the judges. Corruption in sport isn’t new!
9) The Stadium : The athletic track where the ancient games took place, and where the modern Olympic flame is use to light the first torch in the Greek stage of the relay.
10) The Theekoloen : This is probably where I would be working if I was living all those centuries ago. It was the home of the priests, but also of “tour guides” who showed visitors, dignitaries and pilgrims around the site during the games.
11) Phidias’s workshop : The most celebrated sculptor of his day, Phidias created the statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, here. On the little finger of Zeus’s hand he carved “Pantarkes is gorgeous” in celebration of his lover who was an Olympic wrestler.
12) The Temple of Zeus : The most sacred and venerated site at Olympia. The Olympic champions were crowned with the olive wreaths from the Temple of Hera in here. Phidias’s statue of Zeus dominated the interior.
13) The Bouleuterion : The base of the “organising committee” of the ancient Olympics and where judging disputes were examined.
14) The Villa of Nero : Built specially for the Emperor Nero when he competed at the Olympics.
Finally, there was also an Olympic Village in ancient times. Athletes had to arrive at Elis near Olympia one month before the games to compete in a kind of Olympic trials event. The organisers chose the best athletes to compete at the real Olympics. Athletes who were not selected were regarded as great as the selected athletes, while selected athletes who pulled out of the Olympics during competition were humiliated. One story about these “Olympic trials” I really like is of a huuuuuuuuuuge wrestler turning up. As soon as he took his clothes off to train all the other wrestling entrants pulled out of the competition!