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Living History: The 2012 Nemead

August 11, 2012

Thanks to the Drudge Report for news that, amidst the glitz, glitter and drama of the 2012 Olympics, an ancient contest, the Nemean Games (or, ‘Nemead’), has continued a quadrennial revival dating back to 1996.  One of the sponsors, a professor who helped excavate the ancient stadium where the Nemean Games once took place.   The single event is a footrace of approximately 200 meters known as ‘the Stadion.’  A literal ‘foot-race,’ the contestants run barefoot.  (However, unlike the ancients, modern contestants do not run naked.)  Runners compete in groups broken down by age and sex; events are not timed and the winner is crowned with a wreath of ribbon, a palm branch, and a crown of wild celery, as in antiquity.

The Olympics themselves date back to 776, B.C., and continued on as one of a quadrennial cycle of annual games, known as ‘The Panhellenic Games,’ of great import and religious significance until 64, A.D., when Nero ‘won’ every event that he entered, leading to their eventual irrelevance and discontinuance in the time of Theodosius I (d. 395, A.D.).  The other games in the cycle were the Isthmian, Pythian and the Nemean.  (The Heraean Games, for women, took place at Olympus beginning in the 6th Century, B.C.)

While the modern Olympics, revived in 1896, intended, originally, to preserve the spirit of the originals (religious significance aside) in promoting amateurism, athleticism and a spirit of international cooperation (like the ‘Olympic Truce’ of the ancient Greeks), they have, since the advent of television, become increasingly professionalized and commercialized.  The quiet revival of the Nemean Games is a reminder that the spirit of the ancient games may have flickered before the glare of neon lights and television cameras, but it has not yet been extinguished.

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