Celebrate Like It’s 776 BCE: The Ancient Greek Olympics and Other Festivals

On Saturday April 28th the Department of Classics was delighted to host 40 members of the general public who attended a free Study Day on the Olympics and other festivals. We offered a programme of six talks on different aspects of ancient festivals, with plenty of time for questions. The audience, which ranged from school students to retired members of the University, and visitors from Italy, were very engaged with the topics. Their responses to the day overall praised the range and depth of the talks; everyone reported that they were entertained, informed, and stimulated. Guests also took the opportunity to visit the Ure and enjoy its outstanding collections.

The Departments thanks are due to the presenters, to Alice Le Page for help with publicity, to Nina Aitken for help with catering and signage, and to Philip Smither for help in the Ure Museum.

The programme was as follows:

  • Professor Ian Rutherford, How They Organised the Ancient Olympics
  • Dr Amy Smith, Nike: Victory at the Olympics and on Athenian Vases
  • Dr Emma Aston, Knocking on Hellas’ door: Thessaly, Macedon and pan-Hellenic participation
  • Dr Matthew Nicholls, Bread and Circuses
  • Dr Susanne Turner, In Cold Blood: Dead Athletes in Classical Athens
  • Professor Barbara Goff, The imaginary Greece of Baron Pierre de Coubertin

New Monograph by Prof. Barbara Goff and Dr Michael Simpson

Goff, Simpson, OlympicsThinking the Olympics: the classical tradition and the modern Games (London: Bloomsbury/Bristol Classical Press, 2011) is the first book to focus on the theme of tradition as an integral feature of the ancient and modern Olympic Games. Just as ancient athletes and spectators were conscious of Olympic traditions of poetic praise, sporting achievement, and catastrophic shortcoming, so the revived Games have been consistently cast as a legacy of ancient Greece.

The essays here examine how this supposed inheritance has been engineered, celebrated, exploited, or challenged. Deriving from a range of disciplines including cultural history, classics, comparative literature, and art history, the essays address aspects of the Games as varied as oratory, praise poetry, ideas of victory and defeat, the athletic body, neoclassical painting and architecture, and contemporary advertising. The Athens Games in 2004 were widely represented as a return to ancient, and modern, origins; the Beijing Games in 2008, meanwhile, saluted a radically different ancient civilisation. What is the Olympic future for ancient Greece?

Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson have collaborated on several ground-breaking works on classical reception, including most prominently Crossroads in the Black Aegean: Oedipus, Antigone and dramas of the African diaspora (Oxford: OUP, 2007) and most recently ‘Voice from the Black Box: Sylvain Bemba’s Black Wedding Candles for Blessed Antigone’, in Helene Foley and Erin Mee ed., Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage (Oxford: OUP, 2011). They are currently working on a study of classics in the British Labour movement.