Origins of the Olympics

Interesting-Olympic-Facts-Mount-Olympus-GreeceThe Olympic games are named after mount Olympus in Greece, the home of the Greek gods. They are rooted in Greek legend, a time for the gods to enjoy the delight of play and of the display of physical prowess in friendly competition. According to Greek mythology, the earliest such games were played by lesser gods known as the Dactyls. The dactyl Heracles raced with his two brothers. He crowned the victor with a laurel wreath. Following this, all the Olympian gods participated in friendly contests of  wrestling, running and jumping. There are other myths relating to the origin of these games but they all pertain to a vision of joyful feats of physical prowess.

The Greeks held to an ideal of “a perfect mind in a perfect body” and the Olympics were made into an occasion for the display of physical perfection. The earliest Olympic games among the Greeks were held at least as far back as 8th c. BCE in Olympia on the Peloponnesos peninsula. Women and slaves were not allowed in these games, which were held in honor of Zeus. The earliest games in Olympia for women go back to the 6th c. BCE and took the form of running races to gain the privilege of being a priestess for the goddess Hera. A parallel contest for the men was conducted to choose a consort for the priestess to aid in the religious rites.  Being a display of the body beautiful, the tradition of physical nudity was introduced to games in the 8th c. BCE, perhaps by the Spartans, and was adopted early in the Olympics. This celebration of the beauty of physical form also took a cultural turn, with famous sculptors vying to outdo each other in depicting the athletes in their sculptures.

The various city-states of ancient Greece participated in these games,  for which any warring states stopped their conflict to follow the Olympic Truce, so that participants and viewers received safe passage and the human ideal represented by the games was honored over regional or personal differences. From an early stage (and perhaps from the inception), the games were held every four years, a unit of time known as the olympiad, which was used in state reckonings. The ancient Greek Olympics continued after Greece came under Roman rule, until the late 4th c., when the Roman emperor Theodosius I put a stop to them as part of a suppression of paganism in favor of making  Christianity the state religion.

In modern times, the first significant attempt to revive the Olympics occurred in Revolutionary France between 1796-1798. There were a few more attempts in between but the modern Olympics was initiated after the founding of the International Olympic Committee by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1890. The first modern international Olympics were held in Athens, Greece in 1896. Fourteen nations with 241 athletes participated. The tradition of holding the games once every four years was also revived. Based on earlier articles of the British Olympic Foundation, the International Olympic Charter was adopted. This charter aimed to maintain the spirit of friendly celebration of the powers of the human body in joyful competitive sports in which the spirit of goodwill predominated over success and failure. Since the 1896 Athens Olympics, there have been 27 Olympics in four year intervals with three interruptions due to World Wars I and II. Though the Summer Olympics are considered the main international event, there are also Winter Olympics, now in two-year intervals from the Summer Olympics.

With the present Olympics, London U.K. has hosted the games thrice and altogether 43 nations have hosted the games and most nations of the world participate. Los Angeles has hosted the games twice, in 1932 and 1984. The largest number of records in athletic performance have been and continue to be broken during these games, in keeping with the spirit of physical perfection of the human being worldwide which they are meant to showcase.

From a pan-Grecian recurrent memorialization of an aspect of the human ideal, we have moved into a global celebration. The Olympics today represents a planet-wide acknowledgment of the human urge to perfection, enacted at the physical level. Similarly, UPR, a contemporary wisdom academy, celebrates in its curricula and educational programs an integral ideal of perpetual human progress. Though physical skill is certainly a universal aspect of this ideal, UPR exists to further the powers of mind and spirit which inhabit the body and are in profound need of development and exercise if we are to live harmoniously together as human beings on and with the earth. UPR mines the wisdom traditions of the world, including that of ancient Greece, India, China, East and West Asia and other cultural heritages and engages these with new emergent knowledge paradigms to seek solutions to the problems of our times. Our Master’s programs in Consciousness Studies and Transformational Psychology are meant to prepare global citizens with the skills and capacities to navigate the planet towards a more sustainable and holistic future.