The Olympic Idea
¹ 5 (2009)
Kiev Rus people were quite familiar with the Olympic idea and the Games. Here is an excerpt taken from Russian scroll of Bulgarian translation of the Greek philosopher Dionysius the Areopagite's works, telling about Olympia as a competition venue: «The city of Olympia is a place for competitions. The Olympic Games define five types of competition. The first
One was presented a wreath of laurel leaves that grew in a grove nearby » With the help of archaeological terms it is possible to distinguish two cultural layers. One is related to people, it is of archaic, deep nature. There is a direct correlation between Achilles and Ilya Muromets: centaurs, the Amazons, heroes and beasts from Greek mythology in general appear in Slavonic myths and folklore under other names, they can be seen in the architectural decor of the first Christian temples, and heard about in jokes, which even in their form copy antique traditions.
The second layer is more limited and unstable, but equally striking: it is characterized by a more ambitious nature, opportunistic attempts to ground the exceptional role of the country in European politics and discover symbols of the changing public ideals. Here Roman togas and Greek chlamyses were not uncommon. The reign of the great prince Ivan III produced a formula «Moscow is the third Rome», and the prince's grandson Ivan the Terrible demanded that European monarchs acknowledged his descent from the Roman emperor Augustus. The Russian title «czar», a derivative from the name Caesar, that had been a common name for all Roman emperors, firmly intertwined itself with the family tree of the Russian sovereigns. Peter I named the new capital of his country Saint Petersburg and built this Palmyra of the North on swamps using antique patterns, and his title «emperor» that he assumed in 1721, also has roots in Ancient Rome. Antique monuments were searched for, collected and purchased throughout the whole European continent. The interest in antique culture was growing astonishingly fast.
Sometimes, antiquity manifested in unusual and even paradoxical findings that were however quite scientific from the point of view of that time. For instance, discovery of fossil ivory at Paleolithic encampments of the upper Don near Voronezh, made Peter I believe that Alexander the Great, whose combat elephants had bogged down in Scythian swamps, led his troops through that area on their Tanai's route.
It would be wrong to assume that Peter's opinion was wrong, as archaeology had not yet been born and nobody knew about mammoths. He was right in the key point, however: the Voronezh findings are indeed similar to elephant bones. On the vast territory of the Black Sea coast and the Crimea, that had been conquered from the Turks, Russians built new cities and fortresses and give them new Hellenistic names or restored
The antique heritage predetermined the development of Russia's Golden, and later Silver age: the poems of Pushkin and his contemporaries, of Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, and Blok are all rich of antique imagery.
Sport entered the 20th century unnoticed. The first Olympic Games were not very confident in defining the perspectives of world sports. However, the scale of the Olympic idea was quite impressive: peoples were competing with each other at stadiums but not on the battlefields! A glimmer of hope that had shone in ancient Olympia three thousand years ago and proclaimed impossibility of war during competition was inspiring, even though many people considered it naive and unviable.
Author: Valery Chesnok