previous next

Competition and Community

The competition of the Olympic Games originally centered on contests among aristocrats, who prided themselves on their innate distinctiveness from ordinary people, as the fifth-century B.C. poet Pindar made clear in praising a family of victors: “Hiding the nature you are born with is impossible. The seasons rich in their flowers have many times bestowed on you, sons of Aletes [of Corinth], the brightness that victory brings, when you achieved the heights of excellence in the sacred games.”1 The organization of the festival as an event for all of Greece nevertheless indicates a trend toward communal activity that was under way in Greek society and politics by the mid-eighth century B.C. First of all, the building of a special sanctuary2 for the worship of Zeus at Olympia provided an architectural center as a focus for public gatherings with a surrounding space for crowds to assemble. The social complement to the creation of this physical environment was the tradition that the Games of Zeus and Hera were panhellenic, that is, open to all Greeks. Moreover, an international truce3 of several weeks was declared so that competitors and spectators from all Greek communities could travel to and from Olympia in security even if wars were otherwise in progress along their way. In short, the arrangements for the Olympic Games demonstrate that in eighth century B.C. Greece the aristocratic values of individual activity and pursuit of excellence by one's self were beginning to be channeled into a new context appropriate for a changing society. This sort of assertion of the importance of communal interests was another important precondition for the creation of Greece's new political forms.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: