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Olympic Myths

The ancient Olympics, which has inspired the modern games, is believed to have been initiated around 776 BC. However, over the years, a number of myths have cropped up regarding the ancient games.

Myth of Pelops

One of these concerns Pelops, who was a prince from Lydia. As the legend goes, Pelops sought the hand of Hippodamia, the daughter of King Oinomaos of Pisa. But asking for Hippodamia's hand was not without peril. Oinomaos had declared that his daughter's suitors should compete with him in a chariot race. If the suitor wins he gets to marry Hippodamia. but if he loses, he would be beheaded.

Determined to marry Hippodamia, Pelops devised a clever strategy. The young prince, along with his charioteer Myrtilos, secretly replaced the bronze linchpins of the King's chariot with wax linchpins. During the race, the wax melted and Oinomaos was thrown from his chariot and died. Pelops and Hippodamia got married and Pelops celebrated his victory with the Olympic Games.

Myth of Greek hero Herakles

Another myth that is widely in circulation is the one regarding the Greek hero Herakles. Poet Pindar, in his Olympian Ode, tells the tale of how King Augeas of Elis reneged on his promise to reward Herakles for cleaning his stables. An infuriated Herakles attacked and sacked Elis and started the Olympic Games in honor of his father Zeus.

Common Misconceptions about Ancient Olympics

Here are some misconceptions regarding the ancient games:
  • The ancient Olympics was devoid of any form of commercialism. Though billions of dollars in print and TV advertising, corporate sponsorships and endorsements may have become an integral part of the modern games, especially in the late 20th and the 21st century, commercialism was prevalent back then also.
  • The licensed merchants ran their own food and drink stands at the games. They also sold souvenirs to people. But merchants selling inferior goods or overpricing their goods could be fined on the spot by the organizers of the games. Moreover, the winners had their images on coins as well as statues that were commissioned by the government.


Last updated on April 26, 2016