'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

28 November 2010

Male Love in China

Love Pleasure and Passion in China
In ancient China male love was known by many terms, one being 'the pleasures of the bitten peach' which dates back to the Zhou dynasty around 500 BCE. Duke Ling of Wei was offered a peach which his favourite Mizi Xia had bitten and found good. In the Han dynasty (260 BCE – 220 CE) Emperor Ai
and his favourite, Dong Xian, aroused another term 
'tuan hsiu - passions of the cut sleeve'. Dong Xian had fallen asleep on the Emperor’s sleeve so when the Emperor wanted to get up, he cut off the sleeve rather than wake his friend. The cut sleeve became a favoured court fashion statement. In later times male relationships were known among scholars and among the common people. Boy marriages were common in the province of Fujian where a man would pay  the parents, as for a bride, and take the boy to live with him until he was old enough to marry. In more recent times the older traditions were forgotten and such love was seen as a Western weakness and banned but the rotations begin again as laws once again are being eased in some quarters like Hong Kong.
For two centuries at the height of the Han, China was ruled by openly bisexual emperors. The names of their male favourites were recorded in the official histories  by Sima Qian and Ban Gu. The spellings and some dates differ from those above as do many lists I see and in books I have.
Ten Han Emperors and their favourites.

Emperor Gao 206-195BCE and Jiru
Emperor Hui 194-188
BCE and Hongru
Emperor Wen 179-141
BCE and Deng Tong, and Zhao Tan, and Beigong Bozi
Emperor Jing 156-141
BCE and Zho Ren
Emperor Wu 140-87
BCE and Han Yan, and Han Yue, and Li Yannian
Emperor Zhao 86-74
BCE and Jin Shang
Emperor Xuan 73-49
BCE and Zhang Pengzu
Emperor Yuan 48-33
BCE and Hong Gong, and Shi Xian
Emperor Cheng 32-7
BCE and Zhang Fang, and Chunyu Zhang
Emperor Ai 6
BCE-1CE and Dong Xian
The following emperors also are reported to have had open male relationships.

Pei Kai 237-291
Zhang Hanbian 265-420 and Zhou Xiaoshi
Yu Xin 513-581 and Wang Shao
Emperor Jianwen 550
Emperor Xizong 874-889 and Zhang Langgou
Emperor Wuzong 1506-1522
Emperor Shenzong 1573-1620
Emperor Xizong 1621-1628
Emperor Pu Yi - the last Qing (Manchu) Emperor

Some Chinese literature on male love

The Story of Pan Zhang
When Pan Zhang was young he had a beautiful appearance and bearing, and so people of that time were exceedingly fond of him. Wang Zhongxian of the state of Chu heard of his reputation and came to request his writings. Thereafter Wang Zhongxian wanted to study together with him. They fell in love at first sight and were as affectionate as husband and wife, sharing the same coverlet and pillow with unbounded intimacy for one another. Afterwards they died together and everyone mourned them. When they were buried together at Lofu Mountain, on the peak a tree with long branches and leafy twigs suddenly grew. All of these embraced one another! At the time people considered this a miracle. It was called the "Shared Pillow Tree."

The Story of Lord Long Yang
The King of Wei and Lord Long Yang shared a boat while fishing. Lord Long Yang began to cry, so the King asked why he wept. "Because I caught a fish." "But why does that make you cry?" the king asked. Lord Long Yang replied, "When I caught the fish, at first I was extremely pleased. But afterward I sought a larger fish, so I wanted to throw back the first fish I had caught. Because of this evil act I will be expelled from your bed!  "There are innumerable beauties in the world. Upon hearing of my receiving your favour, surely they will left up the hems of their robes so that they can hasten to you. I am also a previously caught fish! I will also be thrown back! How can I keep from crying?" Because of this incident the King of Wei announced to the world "Anyone who dares speak of other beauties will be executed along with his whole family".
Ruan Ji (210- 263CE), lover of Xi Kang, was one of the most famous Chinese poets to describe the love of another man.

In days of old there were many blossom boys --
An Ling and Long Yang.
Young peach and plum blossoms,
Dazzling with glorious brightness.
Joyful as nine springtimes;
Pliant as if bowed by autumn frost.
Roving glances gave rise to beautiful seductions;
Speech and laughter expelled fragrance.
Hand in hand they shared love's rapture,
Sharing coverlets and bedclothes.
Couples of birds in flight,
Paired wings soaring.
Cinnabar and green pigments record a vow:
"I'll never forget you for all eternity. "

24 November 2010

Naked Ballet and Opera

The Oracle - Paul White
In September 2010 I had an extraordinary experience watching a dance piece performed by Paul White. He hails from my state Queensland and having danced in Australia, London and Europe with such groups as DV8 Physical Theatre and winning the 2008 Helpmann Award for best Male Dancer in Australia he returned to give the most outstanding and energetic performance of 'The Oracle', choreographed by the legendary Meryl Tankard and designed by visual artist Regis Lansac. For this he won  the 2010 'Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer' award. The music after some sound-scape of jump in your seat explosions, religious song and other pieces launched into Stravinsky's Rite of Spring at enveloping and shattering volume. Mr White amazed with the energy, the style and the brilliance of his very physical dancing. It was evocative, it was sensuous, it was down right sexy. heads shifted from side to side so as not to miss an inch of the imagery he created. The last ten minutes or so of the ballet was performed completely naked and this beautiful man received cries of approval at the end of this dance that was exhausting on the audience as well. While sitting having a drink afterwards he emerged at the bar to join what may have been family and friends sitting at the table beside us. We were tempted to  thank him and shake his hand, but I felt I was not looking my best so we humbly decided to leave him in peace. I was just too shy.

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Several years ago I saw  a revival of Graeme Murphy's ballet 'Poppy' based on the life and art of Jean Cocteau. A famous highlight of that piece was the naked performance of a large band of male dancers modelled after the erotic and even hard core nude sailor sketches of Jean Cocteau.( I have a book of the collection of highly erotic drawings.) amongst several others on the extraordinary work, art and life of Cocteau.

 Several of the stars of the Sydney Dance Company performed including the beautiful Paul Mercurio. I had first met him in the green room of the Sydney Opera House in the early 80's while being back stage with a friend from home who had joined the company. I recall sitting on the arm of a chair chatting to the new  and extremely attractive rising star at the age of about 21seated beside me. He went on to film and later television and still is a most attractive man. Nudity was a normal part of several of the ballets of the Sydney Dance Company which is one of the best in the world.

Click photo to Enlarge
Vivaldi - Ercole Su'l Termodonte 
Occasionally I have seen extras naked in Opera productions like a Rigoletto from Covent Garden and  a Salome but seldom does one see the principle singers naked. However in this fabulous production from the 2006 Spoleto Festival of Vivaldi's "Ercole Su'l Termodonte" the leading character played by Zachary Stains was naked throughout much of the evening. It was not just a gimmick because he is also a beautiful singer and as appears rare in the opera world he has a body worth exposing. I bought the DVD which is available as I unfortunately have never been to Spoleto.
A 1min 46 sec taste to tempt you to purchase the DVD

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I recall a television opera "The Death of a Composer: Rosa, a Horse Drama" produced by Peter Greenaway in which the leading male and female singers were naked in a way so familiar in Greenaway films. (I collect Greenaway's movies as well) The lead tenor was the Australian opera star LyndonTerracini well known for his interest in contemporary works and also Australian soprano Marie Angel 
It was an adaptation of a 1993 opera entitled "Rosa," with a libretto by Greenaway and score by Louis Andriessen. "Rosa" was to be the first in a projected series of 10 operas, each dealing with the death of a famous composer - some real (Anton Webern, Jean-Baptiste Lully, John Lennon), others fictional. "Rosa" falls into the latter category; it tells the story of Juan Manuel de Rosa, a Brazilian who went to study music in America but spent most of his time in the cinema instead, becoming particularly entranced by Westerns. Now 32 years old and residing in an abandoned Uraguayan slaughterhouse, Rosa has become one of Hollywood's foremost composers, specializing in  Westerns. He also has a beautiful 19-year-old fiancee, Esmeralda, but he pays her little heed, instead lavishing his attentions on a black mare named Bola. One day, a group of men attired as cowboys arrive at the abattoir and kill both Rosa and Bola; an investigation is conducted, with particular suspicion!
I have searched for it for years. If it was filmed it must be available somewhere.
I did however find a 10 min extract on Dailymotion on this link below. Terracini is dead by this stage so does not get to sing.

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Watch more examples of naked performance art, ballet & opera.
This first clip may require logging in to Youtube.

The incomparable, the stunning, the great Roberto Bolle often called the hottest man on Earth and certainly the premier Male dancer of our time. His first naked performance.
This last video is not exactly naked, but the beautiful David Miller shows his pretty chest and bare legs. I once saw him in a performance of The Pearl Fishers and in that he also made an impression not only with his lovely voice, but also with his exposed torso. Another thrill that evening was Joan Sutherland sitting in the seat directly in front of me just 10 years after her retirement which I attended. He now sings as part of the group Il Divo

A sexy production of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk by Shostakovich on DVD in my collection. The cast of actors are lip synching the performance.

More such videos on this Blog
New Naked Operas
More Naked Performances
Naked Arts Bodies
and other pages

21 November 2010


'First Chaos came, and then broad-bosomed Earth, The everlasting seat of all that is, And Love.'

'First in the train of gods, he fashioned Love.'

'Thus numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge Love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover or to the lover than a beloved youth.'...Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, inasmuch as he is not even stable, because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable, and therefore when the bloom of youth which he was desiring is over, he takes wing and flies away, in spite of all his words and promises; whereas the love of the noble disposition is life-long, for it becomes one with the everlasting. The custom of our country would have both of them proven well and truly, and would have us yield to the one sort of lover and avoid the other, and therefore encourages some to pursue, and others to fly; testing both the lover and beloved in contests and trials, until they show to which of the two classes they respectively belong. And this is the reason why a hasty attachment is held to be dishonourable, because time is the true test of this as of most other things; and secondly there is a dishonour in being overcome by the love of money, or of wealth, or of political power, whether a man is frightened into surrender by the loss of them, or, having experienced the benefits of money and political corruption, is unable to rise above the seductions of them. For none of these things are of a permanent or lasting nature; not to mention that no generous friendship ever sprang from them. There remains, then, only one way of honourable attachment which custom allows in the beloved, and this is the way of virtue; for as we admitted that any service which the lover does to him is not to be accounted flattery or a dishonour to himself, so the beloved has one way only of voluntary service which is not dishonourable, and this is virtuous service.'...
'He who from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end. And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is.' Plato's Symposium
 Plato instructing his students.
'Thy bosom is endangered with all hearts,
Which I by lacking have supposed dead:
And there reigns love and all love’s loving parts
 And all those friends which I thought buried.
How many a holy and obsequious tear
How dear religious love stolen from mine eye,
As interest of the dead, which now appear
But things remov’d, that hidden in thee lie!
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give;
That due of many now is thine alone:
Their images I lov’d, I view in thee,
                           And thou (all they) hast all the all of me.'  William Shakespeare
'The Scorns of Young Menalcas, once my care,
Tho' he was black, and thou art Heav'nly fair.
Trust not too much to that enchanting Face;
Beauty's a Charm, but soon the Charm will pass:
White Lilies lie neglected on the Plain
       While dusky Hyacinths for use remain.'

'Like beautiful bodies of the dead who had not grown old
and they shut them, with tears, in a magnificent mausoleum,
with roses at the head and jasmine at the feet --
this is what desires resemble that have passed
without fulfilment; with none of them having achieved
 a night of sensual delight, or a bright morning.' 
Constantine P. Cavafy

"O sacred love! If there be any heaven on earth, 'tis love..."   Christopher Marlowe.
'Hear the four best things a man can ask for of life: Health unmarried lifelong, beauty of form and act, honest gain of wealth, and while one is still a boy, to come to brightest bloom among heroic lovers." Simonides 500BCE

"Some define it as a kind of likeness and say like people are friends, whence come the sayings 'like to like', 'birds of a feather flock together', and so on; others on the contrary say 'two of a trade never agree'. On this very question they inquire for deeper and more physical causes, Euripides saying that 'parched earth loves the rain, and stately heaven when filled with rain loves to fall to earth', and Heraclitus that 'it is what opposes that helps' and 'from different tones comes the fairest tune' and 'all things are produced through strife'; while Empedocles, as well as others, expresses the opposite view that like aims at like.... Let us examine those which are human and involve character and feeling, e.g. whether friendship can arise between any two people or people cannot be friends if they are wicked, and whether there is one species of friendship or more than one. Those who think there is only one because it admits of degrees have relied on an inadequate indication; for even things different in a species admit of degree." Aristotle

A travel memory from the diary.
1979, and I had stumbled out of the Louvre in Paris, with my mind spinning from Art overload. As I walked through the gardens I glanced up at a sandstone ramp and saw walking in the opposite direction a most beautiful vision. Our eyes locked on to each other as we passed and continued to remain so for the eternity it took to make the dozen or so steps before disappearing from each others sight for ever. That momentary romance, and the clear memory of the feeling if not the face will remain with me for the rest of my life.
"But he whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees any one having a godlike face or form, which is the expression of divine beauty; and at first a shudder runs through him, and again the old awe steals over him; then looking upon the face of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if he were not afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god; then while he gazes on him there is a sort of reaction, and the shudder passes into an unusual heat and perspiration; for, as he receives the effluence of beauty through the eyes, the wing moistens and he warms. And as he warms, the parts out of which the wing grew, and which had been hitherto closed and rigid, and had prevented the wing from shooting forth, are melted, and as nourishment streams upon him, the lower end of the wings begins to swell and grow from the root upwards; and the growth extends under the whole soul-for once the whole was winged............
Is love the greatest of human emotions or the greatest of dangers in the hearts of we who need? When there is an object for personal desire, love is 'obviously' the great gift we have been given and the greatest of gifts we have to bestow. When disappointment falls upon us, love is pain and then how fickle are out beliefs in this attachment we have felt and lost. Love is so many things to us and it's definition alters throughout the passing of time and emotions. Love can be lust, unrequited, generous, selfless, obsession, noble, everlasting, transitory, uncertain and as many things as there are people on the earth and hours in the day. Aristotle has defined great love, poets have extolled love's virtues and agonies, but little of that matters to us when we think we have discovered what love is. Each love we have differs. The love for a partner, or our children or our friends or people in general and even love of ourselves is fragile and can change according to how we perceive success. A hurt can stubbornly strengthen our belief in love or eradicate it, submerge it. Science can explain it as a need to genetically improve the species, a chemical stimulation or many a physical and psychological variation. Definition does not explain away, it only gives words to elements of the complexity of our being. Some love greatly and others selfishly, but which of us can know the mind or feelings of another. We can assume, but are we correct? Do we know if someone is but using another and is this bad or just a part which appears out of balance and then, is it really out of balance or do we just perceive it to be because of our own altered preconceptions? Do we believe in the love of others as compared to that our own? Some say it is want, or need as if this of necessity invalidates the experience. Does it? Can we define it or should we just experience it.? What is love? Is there such a thing?  I hope so.

20 November 2010

Ancient Sports

In societies that engaged in constant waring, health and strength were of the utmost importance for the young men and as the warm temperature in certain societies often dictated the wearing of a minimum of clothing, the beauty of such a body could also be of relevance, both as an aesthetic value and in imitation of the perfection of the gods. The Egyptians engaged in many sports and revered the perfect body. To the north there is evidence of sports like bull-leaping, acrobatics, wrestling, and boxing, found on relief vases,  wall frescoes, seals, and in figurines in Minoan Crete . The "Boxer Vase" (right), from sixteenth century BCE Hagia Triada in Crete, has several bands of relief depicting wrestling, bull-leaping, and boxing. Leaping and somersaulting over bulls had appeared as early as 2000 BCE. Boxing also appears and the figures show a clenched fist, and sometimes wear hand-coverings or ancient boxing gloves. The four major Minoan Palaces of Knossos, Phaestos, Mallia, and Zakro contained L shaped theatres that could hold up to 500 spectators and central courts ideal for bull-leaping. The Minoans had extensive trading contact with the Egyptians and the sporting influence from Egypt may have passed to the Minoans and then to Greece. A subsequent invasion of the aggressive Dorians from the North may have eventually added the competitive spirit to the games we know of in Greece. The art of wrestling imbued with ritual and spiritualism has a tradition going back three thousand years in India and Persia. Also from India and exported into China and beyond were the martial arts. South America was rich in sporting activities, but the deadliness of certain ball games appears to be a deterrent to reviving such cultural antiquities. Ball games from the Norse civilisation is also recorded. As mentioned, Egyptian culture may have influenced the development of Greek games in terms of an appreciation for the athletic human body and the value of games as performance. The festival Games in Ancient times were conducted with the athletes being naked. No doubt it was an obvious choice as the body was honoured in those times and wrestling or running for example would be much easier without restricting clothes. Perhaps there was a spiritual significance to this as the games were often held in honour of the gods and as an element of victory celebrations or funeral ceremonies. Alexander the Great often mounted Games to rejuvenate his army, after successful and hard won battles, or to mark events such as the death of his lover Hyphastion.  Also amongst the sports in many cultures, were included singing and dancing competitions. Generally such achievement was to display the divine perfection to which they aspired, which itself honoured that which was the central focus of the festival. Many still were known to simply admire the youthful beauty which could be found at the Gymnasium or in the athletic arena, so we must not get carried away by the idea that there was no sexual element or ego involved in such exhibitionism. One was expected to be admired and therefore there must be those who provide the admiration.

The most commonly admired representation of human achievement through many periods of history, including our own, is the image of the athlete. The word itself originating from 'athlos', meaning - contest. In Greece a ten member panel examined and assessed the athlete on their parentage, character and physical endowments. There are two major facets of competition in human society, one being battle and the other being the peaceful form of war i.e. sport. We may respect wisdom, scientific, musical or literary achievement, but what we most often admire is someone being physically better then someone else. We love and honour a winner, be it a decorated soldier or a medal covered athlete. However, sport has taken many turns throughout history. The Greeks participated in athletics such as running wrestling discus etc. and they also included chariot racing. The original religious significance had been lost by the fifth century BCE  and it was seen as good training for warfare and also bringing prestige to the family and eventually the state. The winners were seen to possess a little of the divine in their superiority, and the statues erected to them would sometimes be considered to have miraculous capabilities. Often the sports could be very bloody as well. In the Roman times, the chariot and the gladiator appear to have provided the principal form of entertainment competition. Not until the middle ages did jousting appear, but it was the nineteenth century that saw a return to the less aggressive forms, as we once again returned to the idealised athletic struggle.
Ancient Greece
As we know the gymnasia took it's name from the Greek word 'gymnos' meaning naked. This was a state run centre for training where men and boys met and practiced athletics and the youth also followed intellectual training. Three gymnasia in Athens - the Lyceum, the Academy and the Cynosarges became great schools of philosophy. The physical training was in preparation for war. The complex consisted of an open courtyard for wrestling and the like, a running track, a grand colonnade (the stoa), which could also be used for training during inclement weather and an assortment of  cloak rooms, oiling rooms, baths and lecture rooms. The practice of being totally naked was peculiar to Greece and does not appear to be followed elsewhere. Training was done to the accompaniment of rhythmical music and as a high emphasis was placed on both physical strength and aesthetics, a student could be eliminated for lacking in either strength or beauty of appearance. It is known that there existed special diets to compliment the physical needs of different sports.
This was a much simpler and privately owned school for wrestling and gymnastics and consisted of a sand covered courtyard surrounded by changing rooms.
Used as training in preparation for war, athletics date back to the time of Homer. Much prized in Greece and always totally nude, but less popular in Rome although the more educated classes did practice the Greek sports for leisure and relaxation. The Etruscans also followed the Greek games, but were clothed. The main forms were:-

Wrestling:-  individuals challenged according to age not weight. It was the most popular sport. The contestants oiled themselves and some dusted themselves for better grip. Three falls of the shoulder or knees touching the ground designated the winner. Biting and genital holds were illegal, but breaking your opponent's fingers was permitted. It is known that Aristotle, Plato and Hypocrites were capable wrestlers.

Pancration:- a more violent form of wrestling where the opponent gave in at the point of strangulation or having a bone broken. Only biting and gouging an opponent's eyes, nose, or mouth with fingernails were banned. There were both men's and boys divisions of this sport which eventually became a highly admired.

Boxing:- A continuos match which ended in a knock-out or a raised hand of submission. They wore soft leather around the fist and knuckles and even ear guards during training, but these could inflict great damage to the opponent. A referee was armed with a stick for disciplining any offence. In gladiatorial Rome the gloves were weighted with metal or spikes. There were no weight classes within the mens' and boys' divisions, and opponents were chosen randomly.

Running:- approximately 200 metre long rectangular track with starting lines, where the competitors traversed it once for a single foot race (stade), turned and ran back for a double foot race (diaulos), or completed twelve circuits for the long distance. There was also a two to four-stadion (384 m. to 768 m.) race in armour. ( the standard hoplite armour of helmet, shield, and greaves weighed about 50-60 lbs. In the 5th century BC there were even mechanical starting gates. The actual length of the stadion was said to be stepped out by Heracles who measured the 600 lengths of his rather large foot. Some festivals included a relay race where the runners ran through the streets and passed a lighted torch. Originally the goal of the race was the great altar of Zeus.

Long Jump:- a sport which is relatively unknown and which saw the contestant carrying weights (halteres). It may also have been from a standing position.

Discus:- Much like the modern equivalent. A lead, bronze, iron or stone circular plate thrown from an upward swing of a straight arm. they weighed around 7kilos but varied for men and boys. The longest throw won.

Javelin:- Also judged on distance thrown in the best of five but it had to hit the ground with it's point. They used a thong attached to fingers and the Javelin (a mans height) which added distance and spin.

Pentathlon:- Contestants entered five events - long jump, foot race, discus throwing, javelin and wrestling.

Chariot Race:- There were two and four horse chariot races, with separate races for chariots drawn by foals. Another race was between carts drawn by two mules. The course was twelve laps around the stadium track (nine miles) or hippodrome. The Chariot race was said to have been started by King Pelops whom myth said was buried near the Temple of Zeus.

Riding:- The course was six laps with separate races for full-grown horses and foals. Riders rode naked and without stirrups. As the training, equipment, and feed of both the jockey and the horses was so expensive, the owner received the olive wreath of victory instead of the rider.

Physical development was much prized in the ancient world and apart from the training in the gymnasia there were also ball games that the youth participated in and in Roman times special ball courts were built. Equestrian and boat races were popular as individual events, but the great Festival Games were by far the most popular. It may be more than coincidence that this happened along with religious events as the large crowds attracted to a religious festival provided the spectators for the athletic competitions. Any city with enough prize-money could and did mount games, where champions were given substantial monetary rewards, but at the religious festivals the prize was generally a simple wreath. One legend traces this to the Elean King Iphitos who was told by the Delphic Oracle to plant an Olive Tree from which the victors' wreaths for the Olympic Games were cut. Alternately Pindar records that it was Heracles who brought the wild olive from the Hyperborean countries. However apart from the official honour the home town of a winner would often shower him with gifts as it had brought them such prestige. Olympic winners paid no tax, were fed free for life and much was to be gained from becoming a hero.

    The main circuit of panhellenic festivals were:-    
The Olympian games in honour of Zeus in Olympia began in 776BC at which the only event may have been the stadion foot race. They continued until around 256AD but were officially banned in 391AD by the Christian Emperor Theodosius. They were held every four years, which became a dating system and lasted for five days with a truce being initiated for a period both before and after the contest. The athletic events were held in the stadium, except wrestling which may have been contested around the altar of Zeus. The straight track of the stadium was surrounded on three sides by a grass mound on which up to 45,000 spectators could sit or stand. The hippodrome was where the various horse, colt, donkey cart and chariot races were held as each came to or fell from favour. The prize was a wreath from a sacred olive tree believed to have been planted by Heracles.

The Pythian games were held at Delphi in honour of Apollo in conjunction with a musical contest in honour of the god. These were held in the third Olympic year. The prize was a laurel wreath cut from the valley of Tempe.

The Isthmian games on the Isthmus of Corinth in honour of Poseidon were celebrated during the first and third Olympic year. The prize was a wreath of dry wild celery or pine branches. Some say they were founded by Theseus but the came into existence around 580.

The Nemean games were held in the sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea and were said to have been founded by Heracles or the Seven against Thebes. Begun around 573 and held in the second and fourth Olympic year. The prize was a crown of fresh wild celery.

The Greek states and others were in a constant state of war over even the most minor causes, but for the Olympic festival, held every four years, a truce or 'ekecheiria', which means 'holding of hands' was announced before and during the games. Messengers were sent out as far away  as France and to the Baltic Sea. This armistice (eventually deified) allowed visitors and competitors to travel safely to Olympia. A bronze inscription describing the truce was displayed at Olympia. Wars were suspended, armies were prohibited from entering Elis or threatening the Games, and legal disputes and the carrying out of death penalties were forbidden. Elis had restarted the Games after a visit to the oracle at Delphi, and the city itself, just north of Olympia acted as the Olympic village prior to the Games, but for the competition itself all travelled to the sanctuary of Olympia which contained the great temple of Zeus and also a temple to his wife Hera. (The athletes entrance to the stadium at left and the stadium itself at right with the starting block visible.) Here the elite were housed in a huge Guest House while most slept out in the open. The athletes themselves were more often than not soldiers and even though we are used to thinking of the games in our terms as a time of idealism and peace, some events like the pancration and boxing could end in death. Violent as these two events were there were strict rules which forbad cheating as well as bringing hatred to the competition. The most common myth surrounding the origin of the Olympic Games was that of Pelops, a prince from Lydia in Asia Minor who wished to marry the daughter of King Oinomaos.  To do so any suitor must compete against the King in a Chariot race and if he lost he would be beheaded. Pelops replaced a pin with wax in the chariot of the King who was then killed. Pelops married Hippodamia and founded the Olympic games to celebrate his victory. A different version says they were funeral games in the memory of Oinomaos. The Delphi Charioteer (right and click to enlarge) and if you ever get the chance to see it up close as I did you will be stunned to see the fine eyelashes on the statue. Another myth comes from the Tenth Olympian Ode (one of may variations) of the poet Pindar who tells how in his fifth labour, Herakles had to clean the stables of King Augeas of Elis. After disagreements, broken promises etc. Herakles sacked the city of Elis and instituted the Olympic Games in honour of his father, Zeus. He is said to have taught men how to wrestle and measured or stepped out the stade (originally 192 metres), or the length of the stadium and the first footrace which he is said to have run in a single breath.

The Olympic Games
The Strong son of Zeus' drove the whole of his host
And all his booty to Pisa,
And measured a holy place
For his mighty Father.
He fenced the Altis and marked it off
In a clean space, and the ground encircling it
He set for rest at supper
In honour of the ford of Alpheos
And the twelve Kings of the Gods.
To Kronos' Hill he gave a name: for before
It was nameless when Oinomaos ruled,
And drenched with many a snowstorm.
In this first birthday-rite
The Fates stood near at hand,
And he who alone proves the very truth,
Time. In his forward march
He has revealed all clearly:
How Herakles portioned the booty, war gift,
Made sacrifice and founded
The fourth year's feast
With the first Olympiad
And the winning of victories.
Pindar  518 - 438 BC who wrote Odes for the 4 great festivals
A rather uncharitable and warning Ode for Aristomenes of Aegina who was the winner of the boy's wrestling at the Pythian games

And now four times you came dawn with bodies beneath you
(You meant them harm)
To whom the Pythian feast has given
No glad home-coming like yours.
They, when they meet their mothers,
Have no sweet laughter around them moving delight.
In back streets; disaster has bitten them.
But who, in his tender years,
Finds some new lovely thing,
His hope is high, and he flies
On wings of his manhood:
Better than riches are his thoughts.
- But man's pleasure is a short time growing
And it falls to the ground
As quickly, when an unlucky twist of thought
Loosens its roots.
Man's life is a day. What is he?
What is he not? A shadow in a dream
Is man: but when God sheds a brightness,
Shining life is on earth

Other Games Comments

Today we like to think that our athletic heroes are there solely because of their talent, which has to be considerable, but it is certainly true that an attractive sportsman is seen, heard and sponsored more often then a talented fellow competitor who has not been blessed by the Graces. Perhaps this is where we are at fault in an ideal or 'correct' world, but has not millions of years of evolution guided us towards seeking out the best looking and the strongest as our way of genetically modifying every species towards what we consider perfection. Once again I have to acknowledge the balance to this argument, that the mind or soul is the twin that must also be satisfied, but does not the soul shine more brightly from the eyes of a good man and thus is beauty revealed. A fleeting blossoming of youth can soon be eroded by a mind not nourished by ideals higher than a simple and narrow need to better an opponent.

Aristotle believed that when boys trained too young, it sapped them of their strength. He believed that the first three years after puberty should be spent on study before he began athletic exertions, because physical and intellectual development could not occur at the same time.

American painter Thomas Eakins, friend and neighbour of Walt Whitman photographed his art students wrestling in 1883. Photos of nudes were used as the basis for his paintings to convey the Greek ideal of friendship and male beauty. This was a theme taken up by many early photographers. Strength, exertion, movement and musculature to reveal an ideal as they saw it.

 The Ancient Egyptians, also participated in many sports with rules, referees, uniforms and winners receiving special collars. It is believed they participated in wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, long jump, stick-fighting, swimming, rowing, shooting, fishing and athletics, as well as various ball games. The Pharaoh and nobles were patrons of such competitions.
In many Egyptian tombs, paintings and glyphs depicting sports events have been found. Particularly acrobatics, hop and jump, ball games, and wrestling. However acrobats, usually women and boys, were mainly viewed as performers. Wrestling in loin-cloths was practiced mainly as part of Egyptian military training, but there are 200 wrestling groups depicted in a tomb at Beni-Hassan. It was certainly competitive for the pair involved. There were also various running activities. On the King’s"jubilee celebration," he would run alone between two sets of three cosmic semicircles and at the pyramid complex of Djoser are the ruins of the world's first running track. Hard evidence appears of two other activities, archery and chariot riding, with bows and chariots being found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Actual chariot races may not have existed, but been rather the honour of perfecting the art of driving a chariot.
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