August 8 to August 24, more than 10,000 athletes from 205 nations will
convene in Beijing, China, to take part in the XXIX Olympiad. Athletes
will compete in a variety of sports ranging from archery, basketball,
and diving to rowing, soccer, and weightlifting.
Although the modern version of the Olympic Games has been around for
over 100 years since its revival at the 1896 games in Athens, the
Olympics have a rich and exciting history that goes back to ancient
Greece. A crucial aspect of Greek culture, the ancient Olympics
emphasized the ideas of heroism and honor established by Homer's epic
poetry. The games were meant to celebrate physical strength, speed, and
manhood. Most importantly, they embodied the spirit of competition
(agon) that defined ancient Greek life.
The games as they were played back then bear a striking contrast to the Olympics as we know them today:
Athletes originally represented their families and not their communities.
Women were not allowed to compete and only unmarried women could watch the games.
There were no team sports; rather, individual athletes competed against each other.
The games never moved to different locations; instead, they were always held in the city of Olympia in southern Greece.
Despite their differences, the ancient Olympics were as celebrated as
today's games. The first Olympics captured what it meant to be a
citizen of Greece. The Olympics of today capture what it means to be a
citizen of the world.
Ancient Origins of the Olympic Games is delivered by veteran Teaching
Company Professor Jeremy McInerney. Professor McInerney is the Davidson
Kennedy Associate Professor in the Department of Classical Studies and
Chair of the Graduate Group in Ancient History at the University of
Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California,