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Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics

Look up the sky tonight and you should see the August full moon: a lunar event that has resonated throughout history. Next year this mysterious night will fall right in the middle of  the London 2012 Olympic Games and we’ve asked David Stuttard, author of our forthcoming title Power Games, to explain why this is more than just coincidence.

Power Games

For over a millennium, the August full moon marked the focal point of the four-yearly Festival which included the Olympic Games. To many Ancient Greeks the moon was a goddess, so the full moon had especial power. Like our Easter, the timing of the Olympic Festival was closely linked to the movement of the heavenly bodies – and, although we do not know exactly how the date was calculated, it seems to have coincided with the second or third full moon after the summer solstice, thus associating it with important dates in both the lunar and solar calendars.

The Greeks’ days began at sunset, and the central ‘day’ of the Olympics, when the moon was full, was spent in evening banqueting, morning sacrifices, and a few races in the afternoon. For the ancient Olympics were not just about athletics. They were part of ancient religious observations, where ritual was just as important as the sport – perhaps even more so. In 2012 the Olympic full moon is on 2nd August – but, although contestants in beach volley-ball, table-tennis or cycling events might take encouragement from the auspicious date, of all that day’s contestants, only the boxers can boast a truly ancient Olympic pedigree.

Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Olympic Games will be publishing on 7 November 2011. ‘Read the rest of this entry’ for an extract from Chapter Four -  ‘the full moon chapter’

Moonlight. Throughout the Altis and across the plain, shrines and statues, tents and trees and temples were bathed in a sharp-edged glow of silver-blue, while, all around, the silhouettes of mountains rose up black against the star-flecked sky. Already from the tents, sometimes in fluid groups of two or three, sometimes in tight-knit knots of chisel-faced and humourless young men, the entourages of the great and good of Greece, people were flocking to the Altis and the poplar-fringed enclosure, the Pelopion. For it was here that the first of this central day’s two major ceremonies was shortly to begin: the sacred rites in memory of Pelops….

Category: Ancient History, Author Posts, Autumn 2011, History, News, Previews

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