Despite this debauchery, the Games had a spiritually profound meaning.
The sanctuary of Zeus was the most sacred place in the ancient world. The gods paid as much attention to the sports results as mortals. Athletes offered sacrifices nonstop to the gods, and the gods were even meant to have competed in the Olympics at an early stage.
They didn't have some of the things that we associate with the games today, like the torch relay.
The torch thing was really devised for the 1936 Nazi games. Hitler was fascinated with the ancient Greek world. He had all these theories that Spartans were this Aryan super race. Carl Diem, a sidekick of his, came up with this idea of carrying the torch from Olympia to Berlin.
But the torch and the opening ceremony transcended those rather sordid origins, and it became this wonderful tradition.
What about the Olympic flame?
Every sanctuary had its eternal flame. As a symbol, fire has been an important part of ancient Greek culture.
What was the opening ceremony like?
It was just as spectacular as it is today, the athletes filing into the temple, where they had to give their oath before a terrifying statue of Zeus wielding these thunderbolts. They had to swear over this bloody slice of boar's flesh that they would obey the rules of the game and use no unfair means to gain victory.
The judges were concerned that athletes would use performance-enhancing potions. But even more popular was placing curses on your opponents. There are stories of athletes veering off course [or] not being able to make it out of the starting blocks.
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