The Games are Open; Now, Open a Book
Today begins full-fledged Olympic fever, placing London at the center of spirited rivalry and international attention. There is a romantic quality to the Olympic Games: countries putting aside their wars and politics and grudges to come together in the name of sportsmanship and tradition. And as these Games of the XXX Olympiad begin, it is this tradition that Neil Faulkner explores in A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics.
So you want to go to the Greek Olympic Games? You may be disconcerted to learn that getting there is far from straightforward. This may be the premier event in the Greek sporting calendar, but it takes place in a remote rural backwater located a good distance from any major thoroughfare.
Faulkner disguises his work of popular history as a guide book to the ancient games, outlining how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, and all the other details necessary for a traveling tourist. This approach is unique, and it manages to create a hybrid of easy read and historical account.
Faulkner invites the reader to engage in the role of tourist:
So you must allow yourself to believe it is 388 BC – 2,400 years ago – when the ancient Olympic Games were at their peak. As far as I have been able – as far as the evidence allows – I have attempted to reconstruct the Games exactly as they might have been in that year… My approach is not an altogether ‘reputable’ academic procedure.
But this admission does not weaken his book, for these amassed details, for the first time, come together and paint a full picture of the Olympics of 2,400 years ago. Faulkner’s comprehensive vision of the ancient Olympics is a perfect companion to their modern counterpart, filling in the missing but often questioned details of the past.
And although the modern Olympics are often criticized for being too commercialized, Faulkner points of the not-so-innocent aspects of the ancient games. Gluttonous feasts, extreme alcohol consumption, and countless sexual encounters turned the Olympics into more of a wild party and less of a distinguished athletic event. Perhaps, this guide book seems to suggest, although the setting and grandeur have wildly evolved, the original spirit of revelry has never changed.