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This free course, The Ancient Olympics: Bridging past and present, highlights the similarities and differences between our modern Games and the Ancient Olympics and explores why today, as we prepare for future Olympics, we still look back at the Classical world for meaning and inspiration.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- show an awareness of the main similarities and differences between the modern Olympics and the Ancient Greek Games
- assess the ethical, philosophical and cultural importance of the Olympics to the Ancient Greek World
- understand the dual role of Olympia as a religious sanctuary and the location of the Ancient Olympic Games.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Historical influences
- 2 What are the Ancient Olympics?
- 3 The broader context: Other athletic festivals in Ancient Greece
- 4 Preparing for the games: Training body and mind
- 5 Day One: The opening ceremony (athletics and religion)
- 6 Day Two: The equestrian events and pentathlon
- 7 Day Three: Sacrifices (Hecatomb) and feast
- 8 Day Four: Running events and combat sports
- 9 Day Five: Honouring the victors
- 10 Conclusion
- 11. Quiz
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
The Ancient Olympics: Bridging past and present
Our modern Games and the Ancient Olympics are different in many respects – today’s Olympics are strictly secular, whilst the Ancient Olympics were steeped in religion; our modern Games have 42 disciplines, compared to the six of the Classical world; today, men and women of all nationalities are invited to compete, whilst, according to the Greek author Pausanias , any woman of marriageable age discovered at the Ancient Olympic festival supposedly risked being thrown off a cliff; today athletes wear light clothes (often emblazoned with their nation’s flag), whilst Ancient Greek athletes competed – and trained – completely naked.
Clearly things have changed in some respects, but a series of underlying principles and values inherited from Ancient Greece are still central to the modern Olympic spirit. For example, the London 2012 theme of ‘truce’echoed the Ancient Olympic tradition of ekecheiria (sacred peace); Classical ideals of equality and self-improvement still motivate athletes to compete fairly and push themselves to the limit; the Rio theme song, ‘The Gods of Olympus visit Rio de Janeiro’, includes references to Poseidon, Hermes, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Hercules, Artemis, Hephaestus and Zeus; and modern programmes such as the Rio 2016 Culture Festival remind us of Classical associations between sport, poetry, music, and prose composition.
This course highlights the similarities and differences between our modern Games and the Ancient Olympics and explores why today, as we prepare for Rio's 2016 Olympics, we still look back at the Classical world for meaning and inspiration.
Please note that within this course, animations of athletes contain scenes of nudity in order to give a more realistic representation of the Ancient Olympic games.
Find out more about studying with The Open University by visiting our online prospectus
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 1st July 2016
Last updated on: Friday, 1st July 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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