The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Greeks - Helene Guerber




The Olympic Games

Northwest of Sparta, in the country called Elis and in the city of Olympia, rose a beautiful temple for the worship of Jupiter (or Zeus), the principal god of the Greeks. This temple was said to have been built by Hercules, the great hero from whom, as you remember, all the Heraclidę claimed to be descended.

According to the legends, Hercules was a son of the god Jupiter, and had ordered that a great festival should be held here every four years in honor of his divine father.

temple at Olympia
The Temple at Olympia.


For the purpose of attracting all the neighboring people to the temple at Olympia, Hercules founded many athletic games, such as wrestling, stone and spear throwing, foot, horse, and chariot races, boxing, swimming, and the like.

Hercules himself was present at the first of these festivals, and acted as umpire of the games, rewarding the victors by giving them crowns of wild olive leaves. This custom had been kept up ever since, and the Greek youths considered this simple crown the finest prize which could be given.

As the Spartans were great athletes, they soon took important parts in the Olympic games, won most of the prizes, and claimed the honor of defending the temple at Olympia in all times of danger.

All the people who went to Olympia to witness the games laid some precious offering before the shrines, so that the temple came to be noted for its beauty and wealth. Painters and sculptors, too, further adorned it with samples of their skill, and it soon contained numerous gems of art.

The most precious of all was a statue representing Jupiter, which was the work of the renowned sculptor Phidias. This statue was more than forty feet high; and, while the god himself was carved out of pure white ivory, his hair, beard, and garments were made of gold, and his eyes of the brightest jewels.

The temple and grove were further adorned with a great many statues representing the other gods and all the prize winners, for it was customary to place a life-sized statue of each of them in this beautiful place.

During the celebration of the Olympic games many sacrifices were offered up to the gods, and there were many religious processions in their honor. Poets and artists, as well as athletes, were in the habit of hastening thither on every occasion; for there were contests in poetry and song, and the people were anxious to hear and see all the new works.

Between the games, therefore, the poets recited their poems, the musicians sang their songs, the historians read their histories, and the story-tellers told their choicest tales, to amuse the vast crowd which had come there from all parts of Greece, and even from the shores of Italy and Asia Minor.

As the games were held every four years, the people eagerly looked forward to their coming, and soon began to reckon time by them. It was therefore usual to say that such and such a thing happened in the first, second, or third year of the fifth, tenth, or seventieth Olympiad, as the case might be.

Soon even the historians began to use this way of dating important events; and by counting four years for each Olympiad, as the time between the games was called, we can find out exactly when the chief events in Greek history took place.

Although the Olympic games were probably held many times before this system of counting was begun, and before any good record was kept, we can trace them back to 774 B.C.

For one thousand years after that, the name of each victor was carefully written down; and it was only about three centuries after Christ that the Olympic records ceased. Then the games came to an end, to the sorrow of all the Greeks.

Several attempts have since been made to revive these games; but all proved fruitless until the Greek king arranged to renew them in 1896. In that year a great festival was held, not at Olympia, but in the city of Athens.

Besides some of the old-fashioned Greek games, there were bicycle and hurdle races, shooting matches, and contests in jumping. People from all parts of the world went to see them in as large numbers as they went to Olympia in the olden times.

The victors in the games, who belonged to many different nations, received medals, and wreaths of wild olive and laurel leaves; but the people did not wear crowns of flowers as formerly, nor offer sacrifices to the old gods, for Greece is now a Christian country.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Inhabitants of Greece
The Deluge of Ogyges
Founding of Important Cities
Story of Deucalion
Daedalus and Icarus
The Adventures of Jason
Theseus Visits the Labyrinth
The Terrible Prophecy
The Sphinx's Riddle
Death of Oedipus
The Brothers' Quarrel
The Taking of Thebes
The Childhood of Paris
Muster of the Troops
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Wrath of Achilles
Death of Hector and Achilles
The Burning of Troy
Heroic Death of Codrus
The Blind Poet
The Rise of Sparta
The Spartan Training
The Brave Spartan Boy
Public Tables in Sparta
Laws of Lycurgus
The Messenian War
The Music of Tyrtaeus
Aristomenes' Escape
The Olympic Games
Milo of Croton
The Jealous Athlete
The Girls' Games
The Bloody Laws of Draco
The Laws of Solon
The First Plays
The Tyrant Pisistratus
The Tyrant's Insult
Death of the Conspirators
Hippias Driven out of Athens
The Great King
Hippias Visits Darius
Destruction of the Persian Host
Advance of the Second Host
The Battle of Marathon
Miltiades' Disgrace
Aristides the Just
Two Noble Spartan Youths
The Great Army
Preparations for Defense
Leonidas at Thermopylae
Death of Leonidas
The Burning of Athens
Battles of Salamis and Plataea
The Rebuilding of Athens
Death of Pausanias
Cimon Improves Athens
The Earthquake
The Age of Pericles
Teachings of Anaxagoras
Peloponnesian War Begins
Death of Pericles
The Philosopher Socrates
Socrates' Favorite Pupil
Youth of Alcibiades
Greek Colonies in Italy
Alcibiades in Disgrace
Death of Alcibiades
Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants
Accusation of Socrates
Death of Socrates
The Defeat of Cyrus
Retreat of the Ten Thousand
Agesilaus in Asia
A Strange Interview
The Peace of Antalcidas
The Theban Friends
Thebes Free Once More
The Battle of Leuctra
Death of Pelopidas
The Battle of Mantinea
The Tyrant of Syracuse
Damon and Pythias
The Sword of Damocles
Dion and Dionysius
Civil War in Syracuse
Death of Dion
Philip of Macedon
Philip Begins His Conquests
The Orator Demosthenes
Philip Masters Greece
Birth of Alexander
The Steed Bucephalus
Alexander as King
Alexander and Diogenes
Alexander's Beginning
The Gordian Knot
Alexander's Royal Captives
Alexander at Jerusalem
The African Desert
Death of Darius
Defeat of Porus
Return to Babylon
Death of Alexander
Division of the Realm
Death of Demosthenes
Last of the Athenians
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Battle of Ipsus
Demetrius and the Athenians
The Achaean League
Division in Sparta
Death of Agis
War of the Two Leagues
The Last of the Greeks
Greece a Roman Province