Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Day at the Olympics -- An Excerpt from "A Peerless Peer"

At the start of the month I talked about Sparta's very successful athletes and Sparta's many victories in the Olympics. In this excerpt from "A Peerless Peer," Leonidas and his friends attend the Olympic games -- as spectators.

The boxing was scheduled for immediately after the dolichos, the long-distance race in which the runners had to run twenty-four lengths of the stadium. It was always hard to guess how long the dolichos would last, and since it was a rather boring event, many spectators skipped it to secure better seats for the boxing. The bulk of the Spartan spectators chose this option, because they had no strong entrant in the dolichos but were hoping Cleombrotus would give them a victory in the boxing. Leonidas, however, declared his intention to go to the dolichos.

"But if we go there, we'll never get a good seat for the boxing!" Sperchias protested.

"Why should I fight half of Greece for a place from which to watch my brother beat someone up? I can see that in Sparta without any trouble any day of the week." 

Sperchias opened his mouth three times to find an answer, and finally settled on, "But the dolichos is so boring."

"Not really. You go ahead to the boxing, if  you like."

Sperchias and Euryleon wordlessly followed Leonidas. They joined a small contingent of other Spartans, friends of the one Spartan competitor, Oliantus. No one really thought the young man, who was in the age-cohort ahead of Leonidas, had much of a changce against the Corinthian Aristeas or the Athenians, who were rumored to have not one but two outstanding runners, Pheidippides and Eukles.

Leonidas and his friends made themselves comfortable partway down the slope beside the stadium.  These were not the best seats, but their interest was only moderate. Below them was a large crowd of rowdy Athenians, who at the moment were divided into two factions that were shouting insults at one another. It was hard to hear exactly what was being said, but it sounded as if some of the men invented little rhyming ditties that made rude remarks about their rival. These brought roars of approving laughter from their own faction and counter-insults from the other faction.

There was also a large Corinthian contingent, but this was more orderly, and the front-row seats near the finish line had been cordoned off. Only just before the start of the race did the men for whom these seats were reserved arrive in a small group, escorted by slaves. One man was even carried in on a litter, which the slaves set down so he could sit. The slaves then stood and held an awning over the spectators so they were shaded from the hot sun. Refreshments had evidently been brought as well.


The cheers around them grew in intensity. The runners were on their twenty-second lap. Just two more turns. The Spartan seemed to be gaining on the leaders, and the Spartan spectators were standing and cheering him by name. "Oliantus! Oliantus!" Leonidas was gald for him. He was a quiet, rather ugly man who hardly ever drew attention to himself. A conscientious soldier, Leonidas knew, who had been passed over for promotion every year. He felt it would only be fair if Oliantus won a surprise victory here -- and it served the rest of his countrymen right for preferring to secure seats for Brotus' fight rather than support the underdog. 


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