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THE OLYMPIC GAMES
NORTHWEST of Sparta, in the country called Elis and in the city
of Olympia, rose a beautiful temple for the worship
of Jupiter (or Zeus), the principal god of the
Greeks. This temple was said to have been built
 by Hercules, the great hero from whom, as you remember,
all the Heraclidę claimed to be descended.
According to the legends, Hercules was a son of the god
Jupiter, and had ordered that a great festival should
be held here every four years in honor of his divine
The Temple at Olympia.
For the purpose of attracting all the neighboring
people to the temple at Olympia, Hercules founded many
athletic games, such as wrestling, stone and spear
throwing, foot, horse, and chariot races, boxing,
swimming, and the like.
Hercules himself was present at the first of these
festivals, and acted as umpire of the games, rewarding
 the victors by giving them crowns of wild olive leaves.
This custom had been kept up ever since, and the Greek
youths considered this simple crown the finest prize
which could be given.
As the Spartans were great athletes, they soon took
important parts in the Olympic games, won most of the
prizes, and claimed the honor of defending the temple
at Olympia in all times of danger.
All the people who went to Olympia to witness the games
laid some precious offering before the shrines, so that
the temple came to be noted for its beauty and wealth.
Painters and sculptors, too, further adorned it with
samples of their skill, and it soon contained numerous
gems of art.
The most precious of all was a statue representing
Jupiter, which was the work of the renowned sculptor
Phidias. This statue was more than forty feet high;
and, while the god himself was carved out of pure white
ivory, his hair, beard, and garments were made of gold,
and his eyes of the brightest jewels.
The temple and grove were further adorned with a great
many statues representing the other gods and all the
prize winners, for it was customary to place a
life-sized statue of each of them in this beautiful
During the celebration of the Olympic games many
sacrifices were offered up to the gods, and there were
many religious processions in their honor. Poets and
artists, as well as athletes, were in the habit of
hastening thither on every occasion; for there were
contests in poetry and song, and the people were
anxious to hear and see all the new works.
 Between the games, therefore, the poets recited their
poems, the musicians sang their songs, the historians
read their histories, and the story-tellers told their
choicest tales, to amuse the vast crowd which had come
there from all parts of Greece, and even from the
shores of Italy and Asia Minor.
As the games were held every four years, the people
eagerly looked forward to their coming, and soon began
to reckon time by them. It was therefore usual to say
that such and such a thing happened in the first,
second, or third year of the fifth, tenth, or
seventieth Olympiad, as the case might be.
Soon even the historians began to use this way of
dating important events; and by counting four years for
each Olympiad, as the time between the games was
called, we can find out exactly when the chief events
in Greek history took place.
Although the Olympic games were probably held many
times before this system of counting was begun, and
before any good record was kept, we can trace them back
to 774 B.C.
For one thousand years after that, the name of each
victor was carefully written down; and it was only
about three centuries after Christ that the Olympic
records ceased. Then the games came to an end, to the
sorrow of all the Greeks.
Several attempts have since been made to revive these
games; but all proved fruitless until the Greek king
arranged to renew them in 1896. In that year a great
festival was held, not at Olympia, but in the city of
 Besides some of the old-fashioned Greek games, there
were bicycle and hurdle races, shooting matches, and
contests in jumping. People from all parts of the
world went to see them in as large numbers as they went
to Olympia in the olden times.
The victors in the games, who belonged to many
different nations, received medals, and wreaths of wild
olive and laurel leaves; but the people did not wear
crowns of flowers as formerly, nor offer sacrifices to
the old gods, for Greece is now a Christian country.