I never realized the sheer amount of nudity in the ancient Olympic Games until our teacher tour of Olympia, Greece this week.
“The ancient Greek Olympic Games took place from 776 B.C.E. to 394 C.E.,” our guide, Mara, explained. “The athletes were all men, and they were all… NAKED. They were also covered in oil.”
“Whoa!” gasped one teacher traveler, aghast. “Were the spectators nude, too?”
“Well,” Mara laughed, “Funny story. The only people allowed to attend and watch the Olympic Games were men, and the first years of the games, they could be clothed. However, one day a woman snuck into the stands, dressed as a man, to watch her son compete.
The child actually WON, and his disguised mother got so excited, she started jumping up and down– and accidentally revealed her woman parts! She was thrown out, and from then on, all the spectators had to be naked, too.”
That’s a lot of naked people!
Let the record show: when we toured the ancient Olympic site in Olympia, Greece this week, we were not naked.
This was fortunate because it was chilly and raining, and also because I prefer to wear clothes when on a teacher travel tour. Just a silly preference.
I initially griped about the rainy weather when we descended from the bus, but it actually turned out to be for the best. The rain created magic. April’s billowing purple flowers popped out among the rain-brightened emerald trees, and mist evoked the mysterious realm of the gods. See the photos for proof!
“Why did the Olympic games begin?” asked Mara. “Legend is that a king asked the Oracle of Delphi how to bring peace to his constantly-warring realm, and the Oracle replied that he must create the Olympic Games. That way men might compete in an athletic way, rather than slashing each other to death.”
Indeed, this is sage advice. When you compete in sports alongside someone, even if they may look or act different from you, you gain respect for their abilities.
To further push the Olympics as a vehicle for peace and cross-cultural understanding, athletes were required to live and eat together for the time leading up to the games. Word is that sampling each other’s strange foods built intercultural understanding! That’s how I roll, anyway. :)
We teachers had our own personal Mini-Olympics during our Olympia tour. I’ve been lifting mad weights at home as part of my Wedding Arms Workout (can I please get a shout-out from some reader, somewhere in the world, on the buff condition of my arm muscles?!) and thus in a lull during our tour, I did twenty push-ups off a 2,700-year-old stone. A security officer with a giant umbrella stared at me the whole time.
“Jeez,” murmured fellow Boston teacher, Jen, “I thought he’d try to stop you or something, but I guess these rocks are made for using athletically.”
Then we emerged onto the first ever Olympic race track! It looked like a giant brown puddle. And we raced in it! (No, there were no workout motivation quotes lining the track.) If you count who in our group got to the far end first, I guess I lost, but if you count who got back to the original finish line, thus completing the loop, I totally dominated! Either way, it was a lot further than it looked, and I still have mud splashes along my jacket back and pants rump.
At the end of our tour, we all suddenly noticed that many of us entered this trip with colds and flus, but after a week in Greece, our health is now awesome! We gazed around at the purple flowers, green trees, and misty fresh air.
We stretched our sore muscles, which have been exercised from a week straight of full-day walking tours, and realized, the Greeks had it right: It IS healthy and essential for humans to embrace exercise and the outdoors! We just don’t need to be naked and oiled up to do it.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!