Mythology OLYMPIA (Ancient sanctuary) ILIA - GTP - Greek Travel Pages

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Ancient myths

History of Ancient Olympia

In the western Peloponnese, in a peaceful, idyllic valley, between Kronos Hill and the confluence of the rivers Alpheios and Kladeos, there flourished in ancient times one of the most important pan Hellenic sanctuaries: the Sanctuary of Olympia. At this Sanctuary, apart from rituals performed for healing, games called Olympic were also established from a very early period and, with the passage of time, attracted the attention of all the Greeks. With the Olympic Games, the ideal of noble rivalry found its complete expression and for many centuries forged the unity and peace of the Greek world. Hence the Sanctuary where they took place was recognized as one of the greatest pan Hellenic centers.


It has not yet been established when people first began worshipping at Olympia. However, archaeological finds show that the area was at least settled from the 3rd millennium B.C. it is also known that the first Sanctuary was the Gainon, which was found at the foot of Kronos hill and was dedicated to Geia (Earth), the wife of Ouranos (Heaven). That was also it is said, the most ancient oracle of Olympia (Pausanias V, 14, 10).
Later, Kronos - the youngest son of Geia and Ouranos - having deposed his father, was worshipped at Olympia with his wife, Rhea. According to Pausanias (V, 7 ,6) the people of that time, who were also called the people of the golden age, built a shrine to Kronos at Olympia. Besides, on the summit of Kronos Hill, which took this name from Kronos, there was on altar to the god, where the so-called "Basilai" every year made sacrifices in his honour (Pausanias VI, 20, 1).
In the course of the centuries came new gods. According to myth, Kronos swallowed his male children fearing that they might depose him, as he had deposed Ouranos. He has devoured two children, Poseidon and Hades, when Zeus was born. Then Rhea, having given Kronos a stone bound in swaddling clothes to swallow, handed the newborn child to five Cretan brothers, the Daktyloi of Isa or Kouretes, to conceal him and bring him up in Crete. When Zeus came of age, he asked Metis for help to overthrow Kronos. Metis gave Kronos some medicine to drink and so made him vomit the two children whom he had devoured. Then Zeus helped by his two brothers and three sisters. Hera, Hestia and Demeter, deposed Kronos after a terrible conflict lasting ten years, which is know as the Titanomachia (Battle between the Gods and the Titans).
Since the Olympian gods prevailed, from then on the Sanctuary of Olympia became positively the Sanctuary of Zeus. So in a series of local myths Zeus was associated with Olympia and the Games. One of these local myths says that the five Cretan brothers, the Kouretes, to whom Rhea had entrusted his guardianship, came from Crete to Olympia, where Zeus was weaned on the milk of Amalthea by the nymphs. At Olympia, the eldest of the five brothers, Hercules - not Hercules the son of Amphitrion and Alkmene- arranged foot races among his brothers and honored the winner with a crown of wild olive, which grew abundantly in the valley. Even Hercules called these games "Olympic" and appointed that they should take place every fifth year, since he and his brothers numbered five (Pausanias V,7, 6-9).
Other local myths also say that Zeus fought with Kronos at Olympia usurping the leadership and that he himself established the games because he overcame Kronos. It is also said that other gods competed at Olympia and that Apollo beat Ares at Boxing and outran Hermes (Pausanias V, 7, 10).
According to tradition Aethlios, the first king of Elis was also an organiser of the games. Aethlios was succeeded by his son Endymion, who in turn organised races at Olympia among his sons Paeon, Aetolus and Epeios, in order to leave his kingdom to the winner. Pelops too, after he beat King Oinomaos of Pisa in a chariot race and married the King's daughter Hippodameia, once again arranged at Olympia games in honor of Zeus, which it was said were the most memorable of all those which had been celebrated up till then.
When Augeias reigned over Elis, Hercules- son of Amhitrion and Alkmene- came to clean his stables. After the contest however, Augeias refused to give Hercules the cattle, which he had promised. Then Hercules marched against Augeias, and after conquering Elis, he arranged games at Olympia in honour of Zeus. At these games it is said that he himself was distinguished in Wrestling and in the Pankration. Finally, games at Olympia were also arranged by Oxylos, the King of Elis. After the reign of Oxylos however, the games were forgotten until the time of Iphitos, the great King of Elis (Pausanisas V, 8, 1-5).
Spiros Foteinos, ed.; Cited August 2002 from the Municipality of Olympia URL bellow, which contains images.

The first Olympic Games

Heracles, being the eldest, matched his brothers, as a game, in a running-race, and crowned the winner with a branch of wild olive. Heracles of Ida, therefore, has the reputation of being the first to have held, on the occasion I mentioned, the games, and to have called them Olympic. So he established the custom of holding them every fifth year, because he and his brothers were five in number. Now some say that Zeus wrestled here with Cronus himself for the throne, while others say that he held the games in honor of his victory over Cronus. The record of victors include Apollo, who outran Hermes and beat Ares at boxing. It is for this reason, they say, that the Pythian flute-song is played while the competitors in the pentathlum are jumping; for the flute-song is sacred to Apollo, and Apollo won Olympic victories.

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