What would RTH do?

That is the question.

If I were in a highschool yearbook, they would vote me most likely to die of a lynch mob. That does not prevent me from opening my mouth and serving a warm hearty cup of STFU to people who deserve it. My dark scathing humor will leave no matter of existence untouched. My innocence will touch your soul.

Welcome to a warped world turned inside out and upside down. All sorts of discretion advised.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Olympic Spirit

The London Olympics concluded with a spectacular closing ceremony on Sunday, August 12th. Before the Olympic fever completely dissipates, I wanted to take time to mull on the Olympic Spirit that creates such a hue and cry today. Modern sports is embroiled in controversy, the Olympics even more so. Every year the scandals multiply exponentially and send the masses into an outrageous frenzy. Why my previous blog itself was dedicated to the drunker, stupider, hornier Olympics and I shook my head at some athletes. But was I right? Do we really follow an ancient, venerable and honorable tradition? Are the modern Olympics a social construct of model society, custom made by picking and choosing at the Greek Model? What does the Olympic spirit really mean? Why don't we dissect the Olympic Spirit - a la mode ancient Greece.

1) A gargantuan franchise

Competition sport getting to big?Wondering about the Olympics, Winter Olympics, the Parlympics etc. The Ancient Olympics was not a singular event. They were part of a larger sporting franchise known as the Panhellenic games.

These were
  • Olympic games hosted in Olympia
  • Pythian games hosted in Delphi
  • Nemean games hosted in Nemea
  • Isthimian games hosted in Corinth

2) Sponsored by Nike

Well you would not find the Nike Swoosh back in the day. Although some carvings of Nike do look like a big Swoosh. We are talking about the Greek Nike here - the Goddess of Victory. She is a winged goddess who comes from a pretty cool family. If she is Victory, her siblings are Strength, Force and Zeal. The ancient Olympics were all about victory. There was no "it is about the journey" or "the experience that counts" sympathetic crap for the non victors. It was purely and simply about winning (strength, force and zeal too). Of course the Greeks were quite honorable and had a lot of integrity, but victors were almost Gods. Being Gods, you bet they were swelling with pride, walking with panther like strides and acting like the world belonged to them. Usain Bolt would not be censured for cockiness but held on a pedestal as a God.

3) They did it for Kotinos

Speaking of victory, that brings us closer to the true Olympic spirit!

Here is a bit of a history lesson for you, about SPARTAAAAAAAAAAAA! And nothing really embodies the Olympic spirit like SPARTAAAAAAAAAAAA!

You might have always wondered why of an enormous nation only 300 men fought and died at the battle of Thermopylae.  Even though he crushed Leonidas and his 300, Xerxes was obviously very shaken. I mean what kind of nation really sends only 300 to defend it self, especially against a massive sea of Persians in a shark attack feeding frenzy. And considering he sweat so much to beat 300 Xerxes was worried. He asked the locals in Arcadia why so few fought there. To which they replied "Most men are competing in the Olympic games". Intrigued that this must be a pretty important event Xerxes was curious what sort of wealth and fancy trinkets the winners would be getting. In Persia they honor their winners with rich Persian carpets, Turkish delights, Baklava, and belly dancers in a lavish celebration you see. The Arcadians responded "With Kotinos (Olive Wreathes)". Hearing this one general Tigranes peed his pants exclaiming "what kind of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for possessions, but for honor." (On a side note the other Panhellenic games gave equally delightful winnings like Laurel wreaths, wild celery and pine cones)

What can we say the Persians were a pretty persistent bunch to try attacking Greece again after what was handed out to them at Marathon the last time. Either way, not only were these ancient Greek men crazy enough to battle Persians in alarmingly low numbers that ensured certain death - they competed for honor.The other major prize of the games was vats of Olive oil which was used not only to give the athletes that sexy shine but also rub the grime away. They literally had Olive Oil baths. 

No medals, no pedestals, just Olive wreaths. Although ancient athletes did get significant amounts of money from their home state, it really depended on the regent and the home states economy. The interesting thing was that the ancient Olympics were not played for medals, not for the nation, not for the people back home - but for themselves and the honor of being a winning athlete. That is why sometimes foreigners, slaves, and women tried to compete - not so that they could take a medal home, get freedom - but because they would be fighting for victory and honor. Can you imagine telling USA and China to ignore the medal count, ignore the tally and focus solely on honor? Even the very honorable Chinese can't do it.

Although the Olive wreaths did make a slick joke on the poverty of Zeus. "Why, Zeus is poor, and I will clearly prove it to you. In the Olympic games, which he founded, and to which he convokes the whole of Greece every four years, why does he only crown the victorious athletes with wild olive? If he were rich he would give them gold." Apt for modern Greece too.

4) Not a sporting event but a religious festival

Secularism takes center stage in our modern Olympics. We try to put away religious sentiments for the Olympic games lest we be politically incorrect. After all this is a sporting event, not a religious festival. That is why the Muslim month of Ramadan was a sideline. The ancient Olympics were first and foremost a religious festival. Held by the massive statue of Zeus in Olympia (a wonder of the world in its time), the Olympic games were about honoring the Gods. Sporting events were merely a means of worship. In fact despite being so religious, we could learn a thing or to about secularism from the Greeks. This religious festival in its own ironic way is the epitome of secular sentiment. The Greeks were a diverse group with multiple cultures honoring various Gods. Some Gods held grudges against Zeus and each other. Some people held grudges against some or all Gods. But despite that the Greeks as people got along, the battle of the Gods was not for people. In fact the Greeks had a very honorable system that whenever they traveled they would go honor the local Gods. Which is why the poor Philistines were so humble and respected the One true God of Israel but were not sure why the Israeli's still insisted on slaughtering them and cutting of their foreskins. The ancient Olympics died away when Christianity was being forced on the Greco-Romans as the state religion.

5) Libations and Orgies

Although the Greek were pretty religious, their religion did not confine them in shackles of temperance or abstinence of any sort. When all was said and done they indulged, and boy did the indulge. Blessed by the Gods Bacchus and Aphrodite who would not get drunk on the fine Mediterranean wines and then proceed to bang every man and woman west of the Hellespont. Athletes were no exception. They didn't have the pressure of being role models or model citizens outside the games. In fact their competition, their athletic bodies, their prowess and their victory was role model enough for the young. It was only fair that they deserved their fair share of celebration. No athlete would be sent back to Sparta for being found drunk like a skunk doing unspeakable things with some local beauties. Any reporter, coach, or passerby who witnessed it did not text, tweet, or FB the scandal but gleefully joined in. I bet Ryan Lochte wonders why he was born a few thousand years too late. Then he would not have to blush and clarify his mom's faux pas, but would say "Fuck yeah I attend orgies every night".

6) The Olympic Truce

One of the most misunderstood concepts is the Olympic truce. Unlike the modern day truce which is all about peace and doves, the ancient truce was more pragmatic. It would be impossible to host the games without a truce. Many of the athletes were also soldiers. Secondly, the athletes traveling from far and abroad needed safe passage to the games. Although, their intentions may not be as idealistic as we want our dream world to be the actions of the Greeks was honorable. The Olympic games were a religious festival, and they dare not dishonor their Gods by breaking sworn truces.

By truce we really mean truce, the whole hog. All troops would withdraw and cease fire. Any occupied but not captured or claimed territory would be evacuated. The city states and war lords went as far as to send their diplomats to the games to negotiate post game politics and truce as well. Permanent peace never lasted very long, but the Greeks still did their very best. Not much can be said about us these days.

If today's nations were Greeks - US would withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan so the local athletes could travel freely and safely to the games. The Islamic leaders would declare an end to the Muslim agitation against the west, forgive the kafirs and send officials to negotiate peace to the Olympics. Actually even Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev would cease their political agitations focus on honoring the victors and athletes and the Gods instead.

7) Athletic nudity

Need I say more. Imagine the NBC ratings if the Olympics were really authentic. Although NBC might stick sponsor logos on the junks, the trunks and the racks as their form of censorship. Unfortunately, that would mean that women except for the equestrian events. To be honest I would have loved to see Zara Phillips race the four horse chariot. Maybe Pippa, Kate and Zara could compete against each other in the four horse chariot races. It would be not as fortunate for the slaves, even the freed ones are not allowed to Compete. There goes Dream Team USA. Even if we don't revert to all the old ways, USA might be really keen to enforce athletic nudity. It is the only way to ensure that their uniforms will be all American with nothing from India, China, Philippines, South America etc. Unless of course (illegal) immigrant labor is acceptable, who else will make cheap uniforms in a sweat shop.

On a serious note in Ancient Greece the  human body was something to be displayed and celebrated. It was not vulgar or dirty, but beautiful, dignified and showed off hard work and honor. Today the human body is something shameful and unacceptable. Something that should be covered up and not displayed. It is reduced to a cheap thrill of watching men in speedos and scantily clad beach volleyball chicks.

Despite some of their backward ways and tendency towards barbarism the ancient Greeks had something going. Their society, morals, way of life was completely different from ours. The Olympic spirit took on a whole new meaning. While some aspects of it maybe unpalatable truth be told - the ideals of secularism, democracy, religious freedom, libertarianism is somewhat lost in our modern world. Even in their indulgent and arrogant emphasis on victory - there is nobility an d honor.

And it makes you wonder - what is the Olympic spirit - what is the history behind the Olympic games. And to be completely honest - I think every person, every culture will find their own history of the spirit. 

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