Monday 15 August 2011

Running up to the Gayest Games

If you’re already getting excited about next year’s Olympics and can’t wait that long then this is for you!

The Ancient Greeks had many sport festivals other than the Olympics. People often think the Olympics were held in Athens, perhaps picturing the modern fake versions that were held in Athens in 1896 and 2004. They weren’t. They were held at Olympia – that’s why they were called the Olympics!

Ancient Athens had its own games which were a LOT more interesting from a gay point of view, apart from all the athletes being male and naked. So, for the next few days, as we enter the week in which the Athens games would have been held, I’ll give “reports” on what would you would have seen each day all those centuries ago, and you’ll realise why I call them “The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”.

The Greeks were well-known for their naked training camps. They trained their athletes to help them fight in battle. And because they were naked (“gymnos”, in Greek) they called their camp a gymnasium. They seem to have been invented by the Spartans, who were often laughed at at the Olympics because of their long, girly hair and open displays of affection between men.

Training was also a religious act. It was an attempt to become like the Greek gods by forming the body of a god. The ancient Greek statues you see of rippling muscles is what you actually saw in reality (it’s one of the few accurate parts of the film “300”). At the entrance to each gymnasium in Athens there was an altar and statue to the Greek god who looked after their training. Believe it or not he was EROS, the god of “intimate love” (as his name translates into English). Before they left for battle the athlete-soldiers would give offerings and prayers to Eros.

It was also expected of every athlete to take a younger trainee as a lover. The bond formed would last through their lives, through marriage to women, and to death. If you didn’t have a boyfriend there was something suspicious about you. The most famous brigade of lovers was the Sacred Band from the city-state of Thebes, a total of 300 soldiers specially chosen because they were all loving couples.

Tomorrow, before I begin to describe the Athenian games, I’ll tell you about their origin.

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