Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The sight of Chinese thugs invading the streets of our capital in the name of the Olympic Holy Flame Protection Unit (OHFPU -- most people's thoughts exactly) should banish once and for all the idea that the Olympic Games are not 'political'. Since the Olympic Games do not do God either, the idea that the flame is 'holy' is also rather rich, especially coming from China.

The ancient Greeks did do god in a big way at the Olympic Games, since the Games were held in honour of Zeus, god of Olympus (not that Mount Olympus was anywhere near the site). Zeus, having come to power by destroying all his rivals (including his father Cronus), was thought of as being especially keen on humans doing the same in the 'purest' of all arenas.

The image of Zeus in Olympia, we are told, thunderbolt in each hand, terrified the participants into keeping it clean.

Tessa Jowell is unlikely to have the same effect.

The ancient Olympic Games were not 'political' for two reasons. First, cities did not compete to stage them in an effort to showcase what wonderful, go-ahead investment opportunities they offered. The Games were held at the same place every four years, the site of the far-away sanctuary to Zeus Olumpios in the northwest Peloponnese, where basically nothing else happened. …

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