On Olympic victors, ancient and modern / Stamatia Dova

Dova, Stamatia

During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the dialogue between the ancient and modern Olympics was enriched by the comparison between Leonidas of Rhodes (crowned 12 times at Olympia from 164 to 152 bc in the stadion, diaulos, and hoplitodromos) and the internationally acclaimed U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps (winner of 13 individual Olympic gold medals from 2004 to 2016). Decided by medal count, the two most decorated Olympic victors of all time seemed to abridge a cultural distance of 2168 years. After reviewing all extant sources about Leonidas of Rhodes, this paper examines three other exempla of Olympic victors, Diagoras of Rhodes (boxing, crowned 464 bc), Ladas of Argos (dolichos [5 km], crowned 460 bc), and Spiridon Louis (Marathon race, 1896 Athens Olympics), with special emphasis on the reception of their victories. In the cases of Diagoras and Ladas, the author’s analysis identifies the analogies between a death sealed by Olympic glory and the paradigms of Tellos and Kleobis and Biton in Herodotos 1.31. The significance of Spiridon Louis’ victory for the nascent modern Greek state is discussed within the framework of the first Marathon race. By revisiting societal attitudes towards distinguished athletic winners then and now, this paper also engages in a discourse on the relationship between the ancient and modern Olympics.

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