A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics

A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics, by Neil Faulkner, Yale University Press, €18.00, $28.00, £14.99.

As the excitement and preparations for the London summer Olympics are heating up, it is easy to forget how this truly global sporting event actually started out. It is the perfect opportunity to revisit ancient Greece and to learn some curious facts: did you know that 2,400 years ago, Olympian athletes used to compete naked? Did you also know that women - with the exception of prostitutes, slaves and one priestess - were not allowed to attend the Olympics and if they were caught they were thrown off the cliffs of a nearby mountain? Equally bewildering is the fact that the Olympic ceremonies and contests originally represented a hunting ritual or perhaps a blood sacrifice. Greeks’ favorite combat sport, the Pankration, is a good indication of this: the contest was gory and brutal with only one rule: if you run away from the fight you face flogging. If you are curious about how you would have experienced the Olympics some 2,000 years ago, then Neil Faulkner’s A Visitor’s Guide To The Ancient Olympics is your go-to book. Written in the style of an actual travel guide the author transports the reader back to the ancient Olympics, complete with a historical background, suggestions on places to sleep and eat, an introduction to ancient Greek customs and religion, as well as a program of events. One thing is for sure, after reading this book, you will not observe the Olympics the same way. You might wonder, for example, if, in the spirit of austerity measures, perhaps this year the Greek team will be represented in their more traditional outfits…