I don’t know about you, but I’ve been off the Olympics ever since the 1990 IOC announcement that Atlanta was to host the 1996 Centenary Games. This is not only because these were, as sundry Greeks termed them, the “Coca Cola” Olympics, but also because, properly considered, these were not the centenary games.
We forget that the revival of the Modern Olympics were first proposed by poet Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem “Dialogue of the Dead”, in 1833. We also forget that the Modern Olympics were sponsored by Epirote benefactor Evangelos Zappas in 1859. Held in an Athens city square, with participation of athletes from Greece and the Ottoman Empire – and it is from this date that the Modern Olympic Games should be counted.
We also conveniently forget that the “Cotswold Olimpick Games”, an annual athletic event held near Chipping Campden, England, were first organised by the lawyer Robert Dover as far back as 1612, that in 1796 Revolutionary France staged an Olympic Festival known as L’Olympiade de la République, that in 1834, the Ramlosa Olympics were held in Sweden and that in 1850, William Penny Brookes founded what would go on to be the Wenlock Olympian Games. We do well to forget these because their existence takes the wind out of our sails when we cry cultural appropriation at the modern incarnation of the International Olympic Games, the ones Pierre de Coubertin founded, after attending the 1890 Wenlock Games.
That dastardly de Coubertin is an appropriator that should be cancelled, and his statues in Tokyo, Paris and Atlanta toppled, can be evidenced by the guilt trip he has embarked our people upon, to cite his reasons for wresting control of our cultural patrimony. For it was de Coubertin who propagated the falsehood that the Emperor Theodosius I outlawed the ancient Olympic Games, as one of his legislative measures to stamp out paganism. Indeed, de Coubertin triumphantly wrote of the Athens 1896 Olympic Games: “Fifteen hundred and two years before, the Emperor Theodosius had suppressed the Olympic Games, thinking, no doubt, that in abolishing this hated survival of paganism he was furthering the cause of progress; and here was a Christian monarch, amid the applause of an assemblage composed almost exclusively of Christians, announcing the formal annulment of the imperial decree; while a few feet away stood the archbishop of Athens, and Père Didon, the celebrated Dominican preacher, who, in his Easter sermon in the Catholic cathedral the day before, had paid an eloquent tribute to pagan Greece.”
That is right folks, having appropriated an event that was apparently discarded by those who didn’t appreciate it (an Elginesque justification if there ever was one), which makes it all right after all, de Coubertin even forced King George I of Greece (another westerner who appropriated an entire country) de Coubertin compelled the King of the Hellenes to legally rescind a decree made by a monarch whose legal successors were arguably the Ottoman Sultans across the Bosphorus.
Except that there is no evidence Theodosius’ decree ever existed. While Theodosius did ban pagan sacrifices, presumably on account of the magnitude of their carbon footprint, he did not, as has been commonly parroted ever since de Coubertin, ban the Olympic Games.
A recently discovered inscription listing victorious athletes suggests that the ancient games were still being held throughout the reign of their reputed abolisher. Furthermore, we have the verses of the court poet Claudian who refers to the games being held in 399, four years after the death of the Emperor. As if that were not enough, literary evidence exists from various contemporary commentators, to suggest that the ancient Olympic Games, rather than being banned per se, merely petered out due to poor facilities and lack of interest, like the Athens 2004 Olympic venues. In the Scholia of Lucianum, written as explanatory notes on difficult words in a classical text, in this case the word ‘Olympics,’ we learn:
“The Olympic games … existed for a long time until Theodosius the younger, who was the son of Arcadius. After the temple of Olympian Zeus had been burnt down, the festival of the Eleans and Olympic contest were abandoned.”
Theodosius, the younger, reigned until 450 AD, half a century after his first falsely accused namesake.
Even after the insurance claim was rejected amidst allegations of deliberate arson, games named after the Olympics continued to be held in various parts of the Empire, something that could not have been possible had there been specific laws enacted prohibiting them and prescribing such penalties to felons as compulsory exposure to Olympic host nation cultural critique by Bruce McAvaney for all eternity, or at least until such time as the Empire falls, whichever is the sooner. Thus, we know that Olympic games were held in Ephesus until at least 420 and in Antioch on the Orontes until the early 500s. Although clerics would fulminate against the dissolute and the profligate, it is recorded that Leontios, a Byzantine senator, intended to hold his own Olympics in Chalcedon, at least a century after the death of Theodosius.
In forcing the Greeks to abrogate a non-existent decree, de Coubertin was in effect holding up fabricated acts of Byzantium, considered in the West a (racially charged) by-word for corruption and intolerance, as the key rational as to why its modern day cultural, religious and/or ethnic descendants (at least according to the official ideology and de Coubertin’s own complex understanding of legal precedent) should not be entrusted with sole guardianship of the Olympic Games. Instead, it is the Christian West, embodied by the classically inclined Dominican preacher Didon, (whose name in Greek coincidentally means having given) that is the proper successor in title to the ancients.
Consequently, when I view the Greek Olympic team march into Olympic stadiums at the head of all other nations, rather than feel my chest swell with pride and my loins engorge, I experience a deep sense of disquiet and consternation at seeing my kin thus coerced to add legal verisimilitude to yet another act of Western cultural colonialism. I remember the tragically ironic photograph of foustanella-clad Greek 1896 Olympian Spyridon Louis handing Holocaust-perpetrator Hitler an olive branch at the 1936 Berlin Games. I also remember how incensed certain residents of Melbourne, the sporting capital were, when the City of Casey erected a statue to Spyridon Louis in Berwick in 2013, shouting: “We don’t want Spyridon’s statue in our region,” “Spyridon who?” “Spyridon go home.”
If I am to reconcile myself to these malign modern Games, which celebrate not the concept of friendly competition but rather the cult of ego, the cult of the market and the cult of the television rights, a good injection of old time ancient Olympic ethics would not go astray.
During the ancient Greek Olympics, athletes who cheated were publicly flogged. This is much more exciting than mere ejection from the Olympic Village after a wonky urine test and would do wonders for ticket sales. Further, in the Greek Games, statues of Zeus lined the athletes’ path to the stadium at Olympia, all paid for by hefty fines levied against cheating athletes, post-flogging. Considering Zeus’ treatment of women and young children, the statues could be made of unreinforced concrete, so that they could be destroyed by angry social activists after the conclusion of the Games, televised of course.
Also, athletes such as Judo competitor Ashley Mackenzie, who, eliminated after four minutes by his Azerbaijani opponent, bawled: “I just want to go home,” need to take a leaf out of six time ancient Greek Olympics winner Milo of Croton’s book, after whom the famous Australian milky beverage is named. A sort of precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger and reputed to have burst a band about his brow by simply inflating the veins of his temples, (Chuck Norris could do the same just by thinking of frowning) he would consume raw bull’s meat in front of his adversary and would drink raw bull’s blood for energy and vitality, because after all, raw bull gives us all wings.
Finally, on a point of attire. It is a little known but nonetheless highly significant fact that the ancient Greeks competed in the Olympics wearing the kynodesme, a term which literally means dog leash, this being a thin leather strap that was wound around the acroposthion (this you will be edified to know is the Greek term for the part of the foreskin which hangs past the head of the penis), which pulled the penis upward and was tied in a bow, tied around the waist, or secured by some other means. In the interests of the integrity of the Game, I move that this all-important athletic accoutrement be reinstated for all athletes of all genders. After all, you are either moved by what Greek national poet Kostis Palamas termed the Ancient Immortal Spirit when penning the Olympic Hymn, or you are not, and if you are, you might as well put your money where your mouth absolutely should not be.
Misogynistic Pierre de Coubertin may have seethed at the prospect of women competing in the Olympics as follows: “Impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and we are not afraid to add: incorrect, such would be in our opinion…”
Yet the sight of our svelte Women’s Swim Team definitely has sections of the Australian media straining at their kynodesmae, so much so in fact that they have granted them the rather unfortunate soubriquet of “Golden Dawn.” While this may be a back handed compliment to our own Golden Dawn boys who are surprisingly light on their feet when evading responsibility for their crimes, Yuk and Double Yuk. Mud-Wrestling, anyone?