Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The First Woman Sports Fan

The first woman sports fan was Callipatira, a woman who broke every rule of her time in order to attend the Olympic Games. As historians report, the Games were protected by regulations, the strict enforcement of which helped maintain a very high level of competition. Athletes violating these rules were penalised by fines, exclusion from the games or whipping in public, depending on the degree of their violation.
The severity of the rules did not only apply to athletes, trainers and Hellanodikes. Spectators were also concerned: no slaves or persons guilty of sacrilege were admitted. As an exception, barbarians were allowed to watch the games.
Women were also banned from attending the games. However, views are divided on this matter. According to some, all women were prohibited from watching the games. Pausanias, on the other hand, reports that only married women were excluded, while virgins were freely admitted to any place they chose.


Any woman who violated the prohibition was condemned to be thrown from the cliff of the Typaio Mountain, located southeast of Olympia, beyond the Alpheios River. Yet, there is no historical evidence confirming that this grave penalty was ever applied.
The only woman allowed to watch the events was the high priestess of the goddess Demeter Chamyne, who was granted this honorary privilege by the people of Heleia every four years. The Heleians had once elected high priestess of Demeter Chamyne the wife of Herod who had bestowed upon Olympia the building of an aqueduct, so that she would be admitted to the stadium to watch the games.
On the other hand, there are reports that Phereniki, a woman from Rhodes, or, according to others, Callipatira, daughter of Diagoras of Rhodes, the great Olympic champion, and many times winner of the boxing event, and lauded by Pindar, was the first woman to break the prohibition. After losing her husband, Callipatira herself escorted her son Peisirhodos to Olympia to take part in the youth’s games. The ingenious woman from Rhodes disguised herself as a trainer and, by mingling with other trainers, managed to enter the stadium without being noticed to watch her son compete. Her son won, and his victory, of course, made her deliriously happy.

According to the historians of the time, she ran to Peisirhodos, but as she leapt inside the track, she was careless, and her robe got caught in the trainers’ fence, revealing her female body to everybody’s great surprise. She was immediately arrested and taken to the committee of the Hellanodikes to be tried and to face the consequences of the law. However, the Hellanodikes spared her life, in honour of her father, three brothers and son, who had all been Olympic champions. Nevertheless, after this incident, which probably took place in 396 BC, the Olympic Committee passed a law obliging trainers to enter the Stadium naked – just like the athletes. 

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