|Sacred Groves: Ancient Greek Athletic Sites of Olympia, Isthmia, Delphi and Nemea
Ancient Greek Archaeology has fascinated me for many years. I have photographed at many archaeological sites and found that most ancient sites are in special places, usually located in interesting or difficult terrain. Ancient Greece has been the focus and inspiration for the Western world. Much of the current Western philosophy and science originated in these places. Greek contribution to our intellectual and aesthetic world has been and important area of inquiry for me as an artist. In Athens, Summer/ 2004 the Olympic Games will return to its homeland. In order to celebrate the Greek Spirit, I photographed at the sites where the Panhellenic Games originated. Beginning around 776BC, Greek athletes gathered at Olympia in the Peloponnesus to compete passionately for the most coveted prize in the Greek world, a wreath of wild olive. The prize was the honor of victory. The games were so popular that rival cities laid down their weapons as a sacred truce during the period the games were held. Young men competed in the nude cheered on by enthusiastic crowds. The games were religious and patriotic festivals attracting people from all over Greece. In athletics the Ancient Greeks expressed one of their defining attributes: the pursuit of excellence through public competition. There are four major archaeological sites that are considered for this project. The most important and extensive one is the site at Olympia. Others are located at Nemea, Isthmia, and Delphi. Aspects in these sites that relate to the athletes in terms of training and then participating in the games directly are the stadium, gymnasium, palaistra and hippodrome all of which is the focus of my photographic project. There are however, many other elements at the sites that provide insight into the religious elements of the games such as the Great Altar of Zeus at Olympia, the Sacred Grove at Nemea and the Temples of Zeus at Isthmia and Nemea. Each site is unique due to the natural landscape and location. My intention was to try and capture the beauty and splendor of each site as it relates to its history and location. Process used to create the artwork: Singer Editions located in Boston MA printed these images directly from my 2 ¼ black and white negatives. The studio uses special modified Iris inkjet printers and the photographs are created using a four-color process with Pinnacle Gold Inks. The images are printed at two sizes on 34” x 40”* and 29” x 29”** Somerset Velvet 500g.art paper. They are toned to give them an ancient feel. Each photograph is a limited edition of twenty five images. They have been mounted onto heavy aluminum for exhibition. * Priced @ $1800 Mounted on heavy aluminum (unframed $1400) ** Priced @ $1300 Mounted on heavy aluminum (unframed $1000) Please Note: Prices apply to numbers 1-6 in the edition of twenty five and will increase as the edition sells.
Historical introduction to the Ancient Greek Games
Beginning around 776 BC, young Greek male athletes gathered at Olympia to compete passionately for the most coveted prize in the Greek world, a wreath of wild olive. The prize was the honor of victory. The games were so popular that rival cities laid down their weapons as a sacred truce during the period the games were held. Young men competed in the nude cheered on by enthusiastic crowds. The games were religious and patriotic festivals attracting people from all over Greece. In athletics the Ancient Greeks expressed one of their defining attributes: the pursuit of excellence through public competition. The preparation for the Games began in the spring when three heralds were sent out to spread word of the games and to announce the “sacred truce”. The purpose of this truce was primarily to prevent any hindrance to the holding of the games. The terms of the truce ensured the safe travel of athletes through enemy territory and prohibited any army from entering Elis during the period of the games. Those traveling under the auspices of this truce were considered under the protection of Zeus, but the common interest in the games and the comparative insignificance of Elis also were factors in preventing hostility. The truce, however, was not intended to prevent war outright, only to protect the games from disruption. The athletes were required to arrive at least one month before the games began and to train according to the judges’ rules until the beginning of the festival. In the Greek world, competition was intimately tied in with religion because worship of the gods was also a pervasive element in Greek life. The games were religious festivals overseen by the gods. The Greeks believed the gods were responsible for both victory and justice. Athletes had to appeal to the gods for their patronage if they hoped to achieve victory and that the gods would punish them if they broke any of the rules the founders of the games had decreed. The games also served a religious purpose. The Greeks believed that through competition they distinguished themselves from the animals by developing the mental and physical skills endowed upon them by the gods. This belief demonstrates the connection between physical exercise and education, both of which took place in the gymnasia. Two days before the beginning of the festival, the participants processed down the Sacred Way from Elis to Olympia, stopping at the spring of Piera to make sacrifices and be purified. On the first day of the festival, the athletes were registered and swore their oaths of fair-play in front of the state of Zeus Horkios (of the Oath). Over the next three days, all the contests were held. There were running contests of different lengths, contests in combat (wrestling, boxing, and the pankration), the pentathlon, and the equestrian contests. The morning of the fourth day was reserved for sacrifices from Elis and the other city-states. On the final day of the festival, the victors were crowned and performed sacrifices and thank-offerings at the temple of Zeus and the evening brought feasts and celebration. Athletes gained the most glory for victory in the Circuit Games or periodos, which were the games at the four major Panhellenic sanctuaries: Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia, and Nemea. By the mid-6th century, this circuit was firmly established and arranged so that at least one of the festivals was held each year. These games were all “sacred” games instead of “prize”games, at which the victors were awarded monetary rewards. At the sacred games, the only prize was a crown of different leaves at each festival.