Leap of imagination

Monday 7th November 2011

LEAP: a befitting name for the year of the Olympics, which will reach the admirable age of 2,788 (or thereabouts) next summer. Several thousand people will convey a torch across the UK prior to the opening ceremony in late July.

With the aid of a parabolic mirror, the torch will be kindled by the rays of the sun, at the site of the original games in southern Greece. Wiki has an artist’s impression of what the place might have looked like in its heyday.

I am no athlete, having neither stamina nor physique. A lack of self-discipline doesn’t help.

So, way back then, I would have been one of those absorbed by the spectacle: the fountains of the Nymphaeum and statues of the Philippeion; the processions and performance poets; the faces and fashions of other city-states; the working groups discussing the economic system.

Then I’d attend yet another obligatory sacrifice to Zeus, before join the throng passing the Metroon and entering the Stadium for the day’s one track event: the foot race, the first (recorded) winner of which was a local baker called Coroebus, who competed naked, as all the athletes did. His prize was an olive branch.

(I guess it’s just possible that a sucker grew from the stump of that branch’s tree, which led to the propagation of many generations of other olive trees, one of which produced the drupes added to the loaf I bought the other day from a local baker…)

Later, I would sit on the slopes of Mount Kronos, there to observe the descent of Helios’ chariot beyond the Adriatic horizon: the same sun that lights the Olympic flame of today.

The Games have undergone many changes over the millennia, but I cannot quite bring myself to believe that a Greek from ancient Elis would fully appreciate the niceties of synchronised swimming. Nor would he be particularly impressed by the irreverent influence of the corporate sponsors.

Expect the odd rain-storm during the XXX Olympiad. That will be Zeus, expressing his displeasure at our worshipping other deities.

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