The Ancient Olympics by Nigel Spivey
A History

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The word "athletics" is derived from the Greek verb "to struggle or to suffer for a prize." As Nigel Spivey reveals in this engaging account of the Olympics in ancient Greece, "suffer" is putting it mildly. Indeed, the Olympics were not so much a graceful display of Greek beauty as a war fought by other means.
Nigel Spivey paints a portrait of the Greek Olympics as they really were--fierce contexts between bitter rivals, in which victors won kudos and rewards, and losers faced scorn and even assault. Victory was almost worth dying for, the author notes, and a number of athletes did just that. Many more resorted to cheating and bribery. Contested always bitterly and often bloodily, the ancient Olympics were no an idealistic celebration of unity, but a clash of military powers in an arena not far removed from the battlefield. The author explores what the events were, the rules for competitors, training and diet, the pervasiveness of cheating and bribery, the prizes on offer, the exclusion of "barbarians," and protocols on pederasty. He also peels back the mythology surrounding the games today and investigates where our current conception of the Olympics has come from and how the Greek notions of beauty and competitiveness have influenced our modern culture.
As a Cambridge classicist and athletics coach, Nigel Spivey is uniquely qualified to write this eye-opening account of the Greek Olympics. Anyone interested in the ancient world or in the Olympic games will be fascinated by this revealing history.

About Nigel Spivey

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Nigel Spiveyteaches the classics at Cambridge University. He is the author ofUnderstanding Greek Sculpture: Ancient Meanings, Modern Readings, Greek Art, Etruscan Art, andEnduring Creation: Art, Pain, and Fortitude.
Published August 13, 2004 by Oxford University Press. 304 pages
Genres: History, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Just in time for the Summer Olympics, a fresh new history of the games that begot all of today's quadrennial pomp, circumstance, competition, and urine-testing.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of The Ancient Olympics: A History

The Guardian

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And it will take international human endeavour and cultural imagination - homonoia - to do anything towards clearing out the festering piles of hatred, aggression and vengefulness from the world that is celebrating the Athens 2004 Olympics.

Aug 14 2004 | Read Full Review of The Ancient Olympics: A History


Nigel Spivey does this admirably in The Ancient Olympics, tracing the games' origins from a local footrace to the leading sporting event of the ancient world.

Sep 22 2014 | Read Full Review of The Ancient Olympics: A History

Spivey's book is an interesting study of history, art, literature and philosophy that scrapes away the layers of myth covering the reality of the ancient games.Howard Shirley is a writer in Nashville.

Jul 17 2017 | Read Full Review of The Ancient Olympics: A History

The Sunday Times

The football fan who has seen his team relegated, the cricketer who has travelled two hours only to be given out first ball, the child humiliated by watching its father come last in the school egg-and-spoon race: all know that a game is never only a game.

May 23 2004 | Read Full Review of The Ancient Olympics: A History

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