Pythian Games and Olympic Games: culture and athletics

The Olympic Games should be re-formed on a Delphic or Celtic model

The Olympic Games should be re-formed on a Delphic or Celtic model

According to Wiki the Pythian Games at Delphi: “were founded sometime in the 6th century BCE, and, unlike the Olympic Games, also featured competitions for music and poetry. The music and poetry competitions pre-dated the athletic portion of the games, and were said to have been started by Apollo.’

So the relationship between the games at Delphi and Olympia equates to that between Athens and Sparta. Athens had a fine balance between cultural and physical prowess. Sparta cared only for the physical and military. So my proposal is to scrap the Olympic Games and replace them with a new series of Pythian Games – which should balance athleticism with cultural competitions, including poetry, music, oratory and dance. It  is not so much that these activities have value: it is that mind and body are part of a single organism and we should not over-develop one at the expense of the other.

Or, since the language and culture of Ancient Greece was Indo-European and Central Asian in origin,  perhaps we should re-form the Olympic Games on the basis of Celtic festivals. The Celts represent another great Indo-European tradition and we could look to the Highland Games in Scotland and the  Eisteddfod in Wales.  Anything would be better than the cynical, commercial, drug-taking body-damaging, militaristic,  mindlessness tedium of the modern ‘Olympic movement’.

Photo of Eisteddfod courtesy Sara Branch

See also: 2012  Equestrian Olympics in Greenwich Park London

10 thoughts on “Pythian Games and Olympic Games: culture and athletics

  1. Robert Holden

    Other precedents are L’Olympiade de la République, (held annually from 1796 to 1798 in Revolutionary France and the MUch Wenlock games from 1850.
    The Eisteddfordau are rather commercialised nowadyas and monogingual which appears exclusive of an international event.

  2. Christine

    It is very difficult to encourage participation and excellence at the same time without also providing a tempting opportunity for unfair competition between participants because of the rewards of success.

    It is unfortuneate when athleticism becomes distorted through the use of drugs. Often the ideals behind athletics events are very worthy… [ ]

    The same is so of choral events. [ ]

    Promoting excellence, participation and fair competition is a worthy goal. Perhaps different fields have different solutions for making this possible or close to possible?

  3. DAN

    very impressed by the first clip, wish i had been there….

    However, your point about culture integrated into the olympics is interesting. I understand diversifying the arena in terms of entertainment / spectacle but creative subjects of literacy and music are not so directly competitive and should be enjoyed for what they are I think.

    You only have to look to the telly every other night for an X-Factor or masterchef or competitive programme that rivals opposing every day lives… Wife swap, Come dine with me etc etc.

    Competitiveness makes for serious entertainment and always has done… lets not drag the arts into it…

    I should note though – I am not slagging off the achievement / fascination / fun of sports, I think events like the london marathon are absolutely fantastic and no other events close the London streets and create such an atmosphere as this. I was lucky to be part of it once and no other London experience has come close. Yet…

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    I think of myself as not being a competitive person but there are a number of competitions which stimulate creativity and excellence in the fine arts eg the Book Awards, Film Awards, Art Prizes and, of course, music competitions (but you have a clincher when you mention the X-factor!). I like the idea of a poetry competition in which people read (perhaps not all of) the Four Quartets. And I once attended an oratory competition which was wonderful. So there must be good competitions and bad competitions. If my knees and ankles were up to it, I’d love to have a go at the marathon. For a great book about non-competitive running in marathons see Haruki Murakami What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

  5. Christine

    1. My favourite type of competition is when the are other people around you are so amazing that they inspire you to new heights of achievement.

    2. Next I really like competitive people who compete fairly but hate losing…..they are rather disappointed when beaten (even in the most trivial of activities)….and practice hard for the inevitable rematch! They thrive in an atmosphere of fair but tough competition!

    3. After that I love being around excellence (even when I am really hopeless) and the person who is extraordinary acts with such good grace in getting you started on your new adventure and encouraging you along the way! Have you tried this? Look/hear this etc?

    In the absence of a joyful environment (1,2 and 3) I like to pursue things in a solitary way….ie. running on the sand at the beach…..which can be quite a zen experience!

    4. And then there is the pure joy of appreciating the achievement of something truly remarkable by whomever manages it….Wow, is that really possible! And it seems so effortless! A ballet performance for example;

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  6. Tom Turner Post author

    Competition, like evolution, is part of how we now understand the world to function. But it is no reason for separating body and mind.
    Your point about ‘hating to lose’ is interesting and may explain why Australia does so much better than the UK, which rather prides itself on taking defeat with a good grace, and India which has hardly any interest in physical competition and has an astonishingly ””’bad””’ performance in the Olympics.

  7. Christine

    Yes. Perhaps there are several aspects to competition that need to be considered where there are defined winners and losers.

    1) winning with good grace
    2) losing with good grace
    3) winning with bad grace
    4) losing with bad grace

    The Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding incident was about someone who hated to lose but also was determined to win by any means fair or foul.
    [ and ]

    Hating to lose does not necessarily mean also being determined to win by any means fair or foul.
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    Nor, do I think it necessarily think it means losing with bad grace.
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    They say Tiger Woods hates to lose [ ] however in 2009 he has won no major tournaments.

    I am guessing this article is tongue-in-cheek?
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    I am not sure that all competition is about winning and losing in this sense!?

  8. Tom Turner Post author

    I like the classification of the uses of good grace and note that ‘grace’ is a mental attribute rather than a physical attribute. The idea of ‘games’, as opposed to ‘sport’, also seems to embody this distinction. Murakami (see note above) runs marathons to ‘compete’ with himself rather than the other athletes and says his chosen epitaph would be HE NEVER WALKED. This was the first book of his I read but I am now reading the others and will be very sorry when I have finished them. From my selfish point of view he spends too much time running and not enough writing!


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