Thinking the Olympics: The Classical Tradition and the Modern Games

By Beck, Peter J. | The Historian, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Thinking the Olympics: The Classical Tradition and the Modern Games


Beck, Peter J., The Historian


Thinking the Olympics: The Classical Tradition and the Modern Games. Edited by Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson. (London, England: Bristol Classical Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 227. $40.00.)

Apart from accommodating themselves successfully to an ever-changing world, the modern Olympics have been represented also as reviving the games of ancient Greece, a point emphasized when Athens was selected to host the first modern Olympiad in 1896. Moreover, as recorded in Armand D'Angour's chapter in Thinking the Olympics, at the closing ceremony of the 1896 games, one British competitor, an Oxford student named George Robertson, reaffirmed the Olympic movement's link with the classical tradition by reciting a celebratory ode composed in ancient Greek. Modeled upon Pindar's Olympian odes, Robertson's recitation honored Pindar as the foremost lyric poet of ancient Greece. More recently, D'Angour, an Oxford academic, reinforced Olympism's classical dimension when accepting a commission to compose an "authentically Pindaric" ode for Athens 2004 (199).

What Barbara Goff, the coeditor, describes as the repeated "forcing of the modern into the ancient mould" defined by classical tradition proves the central theme of Thinking the Olympics, which developed out of a conference held in 2008 at the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London (9). Apart from one Greek-based academic, the other ten contributors are based equally in Britain and the United States. Collectively--to quote Goff--"the essays interrogate the notion of the games' classical tradition, investigating the active construction of it at different historical junctures, for varying audiences, and in relation to competing demands" (16). Moreover, contributors, undertaking this task in an authoritative and well-researched manner, approach the book's theme from varying disciplinary perspectives, including archaeology, art history, classics, comparative literature, cultural history, and politics. …

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