Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb. — Benjamin Franklin

Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

The Olympian Games

Greece was made up of many separate States, each independent of the other. But there were several bonds which united the States. They spoke the same language, they worshipped the same gods, they kept the same great festivals.

The festivals, held by a council called the Amphictyonic Council, were honoured by all the States. The council was made up of men chosen from twelve of the most ancient Greek tribes and met twice each year.

The temple of Apollo at Delphi was under the care of the Amphictyonic Council, and it was at Delphi that the spring-tide festival was held. Another great festival of the Amphictyonic Council was celebrated in the temple dedicated to Demeter at Thermopylae.

The Amphictyons, as the members of the council were called, did not govern Greece as a parliament governs a country. But they often talked of what could be done for the good of the States, and of how their interests could be united more closely.

Of more power to weld the States together than the council, were the national games, where members of all the different countries of Greece met together.

The chief of these games was the Olympian Games, which were believed to have begun far back in the shadowy past, and to have been revived by Lycurgus the lawgiver in 776 B.C.

Olympia, where the games were held, was in the country of Elis in Peloponnesus. The King of Elis helped Lycurgus to renew the interest of the Greeks in the ancient games.

It is said that when Apollo first saw the beautiful valley of Olympia he exclaimed, 'Here will I make me a fair temple to be an oracle for men.'

The ancient Stadium, or race-course, was erected in the valley, as well as a temple to Zeus, in which the victors of the games were given wreaths of wild olive. These wreaths were valued more than any other prize or distinction in Greece. Indeed at Olympia no other reward was given save the simple wild olive branches, which were plucked from the sacred grove in the Olympian plain, and twined into a wreath.

But when the victor returned to his own country, he was loaded with gifts and honours, for he had gained for his State and for his relations a glory which all longed to possess.

In the Olympian temple, in later days, there was a marvellous statue of Zeus in gold and ivory, wrought by the genius of Pheidias, the greatest sculptor of Greece.

The games were open to all, and spectators as well as competitors flocked to Olympia from every state in Greece. To the Greeks these games were part of their religion; they were rites pleasing, so they believed, to the gods.

Should there be war between any of the Greek States at the time of the games, all hostile acts were forbidden in Olympia. Until the festival was over, those who had been in arms, one against another, might meet in safety and in peace. Twice or thrice an armed force made its way into the sacred territory of Elis to interfere with the games. This to the Greeks was sacrilege.

In the earliest times the games lasted only for one day, and a simple foot-race was the only event. But soon the festival came to last five days, for there were now, not only foot-races, but wrestling, boxing, racing in armour, and above all else chariot races. In these races it was not the driver who, if successful, won the wreath of olive, but the owner of the chariot.

Foot race at Olympic games
In earliest times a simple foot-race was the only event

On the first day of the games, sacrifices were offered to the gods, on the following three days the races were held, while on the last day people marched in procession to the temple and again offered sacrifices and feasted.

At the end of every four years the games were celebrated; the time between the games being called an Olympiad. The year 776 B.C. was counted as the first Olympiad, the second began in 772 B.C. In ancient times the Greeks reckoned their dates by the Olympiads, thus an event was said to take place in a certain year of a certain Olympiad.

Games were held at many other places as well as at Olympia, but the three most important celebrations, after the Olympian, were the Isthmian, the Pythian and the Nemean.

To these festivals came the poets of Greece, prepared to celebrate in song the skill of the victors. During the intervals between the games, great numbers of the people assembled in a hall to listen to the poets while they recited their poems.

As the years passed the great Greek dramas or plays came to be acted also at these festivals. At first the stage was a simple wooden platform in the open air, but soon wooden buildings were erected. Plays were performed at Athens in a splendid theatre which was hewn out of the solid rock of the Acropolis or citadel of the city. Tier after tier was cut, until the theatre could hold thirty thousand spectators.


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple