Ancient gods at these Olympics

Ancient gods at these Olympics

I suppose we are about half way through the London Olympics of 2012 – sad for some, radiant news for others. I suppose I will be accused of being a dry old stick (if not something much worse) but I used to enjoy the Olympic Games when in order to take part you had to be amateur. The moment the Committee plumped for professionals the Games gained a little glamour but lost all interest; for me anyway, and a few more like me. 

   And now the British Royal Mint makes gold coins to celebrate the Games. The coins’ designer explains that his inspiration was the first Games held ‘in ancient Greece, where athletes pledged their allegiance to the gods of Olympia’. Oh dear me no! There weren’t any ‘gods of Olympia’. 


There were rather a lot of them at Mount Olympus, which is one hundred and fifty miles away from the place chosen for the first Olympic Games, which remained there a thousand years from 776 BC. The site was called Olympia, in the Peleponnese. It had that name because it was dedicated to the one god, the father of all the gods, a fellow by the name of Zeus, thundering, stormy, possibly the father of Hercules, undoubted master of the universe. 

   The Royal Mint coins, which I am sure were not approved by Boris Johnson, mayor of London and classicist, feature persons like Jupiter who was actually a Roman god, not a Greek one. 

We have been told that all these Latin gods prayed to Zeus’ rather frightening wife, Hera, at the original Games. How difficult that would be. And the coins call her Juno too. Juno was Jupiter’s wife, and is apparently the goddess of pole-vaulting, while Jupiter is the god of diving… 

   Now what is the Royal Mint’s view? The Mint justifies this extraordinary nonsense because the Olympic motto happens to be in Latin. I see. Perhaps the fact that a motto in Latin is not Greek might have told someone that it had nothing to do with the original Olympics? Ah, no – I see again. In fact the Latin motto was thought of by a mate of the good Baron Coubertin who invented the modern Olympics in 1924. 

Of course it is on the cards that the Olympic Committee doesn’t give a damn about languages or culture. The Committee would be frightened to produce modern Games with the athletes male and naked. 

There must be ladies among the competitors or we would never have had the charming Nadia all those years ago. And naked gentlemen would find the sprinting uncomfortable without a jock. 

   Never mind folks; we can look forward to more ignorant high jinks in the future. Christmas cards dedicated to Allah? A new film of Achilles leading Roman soldiers to scale the walls of Troy? The prospect is enticing.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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