Dec 16, 2011 1
In anticipation of the release of our new title Power Games : Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics we spoke to author, playwright and classicist David Stuttard about Ancient Greece, London 2012 and which historical figure he most identifies with.
What did you find most exciting about embarking on Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics?
There have been lots of books written about the Ancient Olympics, but what I was really excited about doing was trying to capture what the atmosphere might have been like at one particular Games. To do this, I had to know not only exactly what was going on at the time I’d chosen (416 bc) but also precisely what the actual site at Olympia looked like in that year. I wanted to be able to take the reader on a journey through Olympia with all its temples and statues and administrative buildings, so I needed to be able to build my own 3-D map of the site (albeit in my head). That meant reading ancient accounts and getting to know as much as I possibly could about the physical geography – and revisiting the archaeological remains at Olympia, too, which (although I’d been several times before) came as something of a shock. I’d created a really vivid mental picture of the site as it existed in all its glory in 416 bc and today, of course, it’s in ruins.
The first recorded Olympic Games took place in 776BC; can you tell us why you chose the events of 416BC as the focus for Power Games?
416 bc was a pivotal year for the ancient Olympics. For one thing, it came at the end of a few years of phoney peace in the middle of a war (the Peloponnesian War) which involved pretty much the entire Greek world, stretching from modern Turkey to Sicily, as well as the Aegean islands and the Greek mainland itself. For another, it involved big personalities, and the biggest of them all was Alkibiades. In the 416 bc Games he entered a staggering seven teams in the chariot race, so that he came first, second and (depending on who you believe) either third or fourth. He was, in fact, using the Games as a vehicle for propaganda – not only for himself but for his city, Athens. We know that other important politicians from all over the Greek world were at the Games, too, using the occasion as an opportunity to hold talks and broker deals, so, given the fact that the book explores not just the athletic side of the Festival but the political and religious aspects too, it really did seem that 416 was the ideal year to focus on. And it was. I didn’t once regret the choice.