Olympic Athletes

Olympic Athletes

Thanks to thefor posting this fascinating article about the origin of the Olympics.  The most common myths report that Zeus (Jupiter) started the Olympics to celebrate his victory in a battle over Kronos (Saturn), but Valerie Vaughan discusses a lesser-known myth in which a man named Pelops competed to win the hand of a maiden in a dangerous chariot race established by the father of the young maid.  Twelve young men had already lost their lives in this contest, and Pelops was the thirteenth to try. Vaughan writes:

This story is more than a description of a sporting event. Three important features tell us otherwise. First, it is a contest between an old and young king, ending in the death of the elder and the succession of the younger to the kingdom. Second, there is a carrying off of the bride, for at the end of the story, Pelops and Hippodamia drive off in the same chariot. Even though Hippodamia loves Pelops, this is a “marriage by capture,” a theme that appears in many myths. Third, there are some very suggestive numbers mentioned, namely 12 and 13, which relate to the lunar cycle. What this story reveals is a transition in calendar systems, from the old Moon-based calendar to one based on the motion of the Sun. When the ancients began to adjust their calendar to the solar cycle, they did not wish to simply abandon the old lunar calendar completely. The great calendar problem of antiquity was how to fit together the old Moon “year” with the new Sun year.. . .

The Olympics originated as a reenactment of an astronomical myth which described a calendar. The triumph of Pelops and his marriage with Hippodamia was the story of the race of the Sun and the Moon. It was not a race to compete but to meet. The Sun and Moon had to meet (syn-hodos) somewhere between 12 and 13 lunar cycles.

Much of what we call “history” has been rewritten beyond recognition, and the ancient truths are to be found, as Vaughan suggests, in the ancient texts themselves rather than the oral history that has passed down through the millenia.

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