Saturday, January 23, 2016

Olympics and religion

Religion pervaded the ancient Olympics. Zeus was thought to look down on the competitors, favouring some and denying victory to others. 'You could spur on a man with natural talent to strive towards great glory with the help of the gods', says Pindar in a victory-ode. If an athlete was fined for cheating or bribery (human nature stays much the same over a few millennia), the money exacted was used to make a cult statue of Zeus.


A grand sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to Zeus during the Games, and Zeus the apomuios, or 'averter of flies', was invoked to keep the sacrificial meat fly-free. Olympia was home to one of Greece's great oracles, an oracle to Zeus, with an altar to him consisting of the bonfire-heap created by burnt sacrificial offerings. As the offerings were burnt, they were examined by a priest, who pronounced an oracle - an enigmatic and often ambiguous prediction of the future - according to his interpretation of what he saw. Athletes consulted the oracle to learn what their chances in the Games were.

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