Do you have Olympic fever? Do you have an insatiable desire to know as much as possible about the Olympic Games? If you are a hardcore Olympic fan then you might want to read some of the books on Olympic history reviewed in Jasper Griffin’s New York Review of Books essay, “The Myth of the Olympics.” I’ll bet you that Amy Bass has not even read these books!! Here is a taste:
…Greeks did not possess our accurate timepieces, and they had no idea of comparing the performance of this year’s winners with those of last year, or of any previous occasion. There was no conception of breaking records. There also were no silver and bronze medals for the athletes who came second and third. It was all or nothing. That is all the more striking, because in Homer’s description of the funeral games held for Patroclus there are indeed prizes, and quite generous ones, offered for the second and third. In the chariot race, indeed, prizes extend right down to the fifth to reach the finish. Number four, we see with some surprise, received two talents of gold; but the winner got “a woman, skilled in handiwork” (any erotic implication is left firmly unexpressed), and a fine large tripod with “ears,” ring-shaped handles. But in classical competitions the aim was simple: it was to win; nothing could be less true to the spirit of the ancient Games than the good Baron de Coubertin’s edifying notion that what was important was not winning but taking part. The victor was, in his moment of victory, supreme.