Magazine article The American Conservative

A Laurel for the Old Olympics

Magazine article The American Conservative

A Laurel for the Old Olympics

Article excerpt

In the summer of 1992 BC (Before Clinton) I was cruising in Greece with William F. Buckley and his wife Pat onboard the boat I had just inherited from my father. It was a motor yacht, and Bill, a sailing enthusiast, was restless. A discussion the night before had become heated after a friend of mine had brought up the subject of neocons' using Bill's fame and gravitas to undermine true conservatism. Out of respect for Buckley I suggested we go and ask the Delphic oracle situated nearby. Everyone agreed with alacrity.

After a visit to a disappointingly insignificant cave, where the high priestess was supposed to inhale fumes and tell the future, I suggested we hop over to Olympia, the sight of the first Olympic games back in 776 BC (Before Christ). The day was very hot, but it was worth it. The stadium in Olympia is the size of a typical American high-school football field. If memory serves-and I had been there many times before-the running track that was 3,000 years old was about 150 yards. The marble stands held about one or two thousand people at most. The infield was commensurate to the track. I wanted to jog a bit on the sandy surface, but a guard warned me off. Still, almost 3,000 years later, we stood on the site where the first games ever took place and where winners were crowned with a simple olive leaf wreath on their heads. (Gold, silver, and bronze medals are a modern invention.)

Although the ancient games were more of a religious ceremony honoring Zeus than an athletic competition, they were limited to male Greek citizens. The events were based on martial arts, like boxing, wrestling, and a combination of both, the deadly Pankration- the first Pankration winner died as his opponent surrendered. There was also chariot racing, running in ftdl armor, and javelin throwing. (No synchronized swimming, no ping-pong, no handball.) Back in those good old days when the olive leaves were the reward-plus a statue back home and lifelong glory and honor-some Pankration winners were allowed higher monetary rewards, especially among Spartans, whose Pankration rules allowed eye gouging and biting. Even back then doctors cost money, hence the financial compensation.

The one thing I learned as a very young boy was that ancient wars stopped during the Olympics. …

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