Hold Olympics, End a Plague? Make Herakles Your Friend Too

Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.4.5-6

“After Oksulos, Laias, his son, held power, but I have learned that his descendants did not rule as kings. I am going to pass over them even though I know who they are, since I do not want my story to descend to talking about private citizens.

Later on, Iphitos, who was a descendant of Oksulos and around the same age as Lukourgos who wrong the laws for the Spartans, he organized the contests at Olympia and re-organized the Olympic festival and the truce from the beginning, since the games had been neglected for some amount of time. I explain this in the parts of my record which discuss the region of Olympia.

It was Iphitos’ responsibility to ask the god in Delphi for a relief from suffering since Greece was at that time especially suffering destruction from civil strife and epidemic disease. The story is that the Pythia commanded that Iphitos himself had to renew the Olympic Games along with the Eleians. Iphitos persuaded the Eleians to sacrifice to Herakles too, even though that had previously believed that Herakles was their enemy.

The inscription at Olympia claims that Iphitos was the child of Haimon. But most Greeks say that he was the son of Praksônides, not Haimôn. But the Eleians’ ancient writings attribute Iphitos to a father of the same name.”

μετὰ δὲ ῎Οξυλον Λαίας ἔσχεν ὁ ᾽Οξύλου τὴν ἀρχήν, οὐ μὴν τούς γε ἀπογόνους αὐτοῦ βασιλεύοντας εὕρισκον, καὶ σφᾶς ἐπιστάμενος ὅμως παρίημι· οὐ γάρ τί μοι καταβῆναι τὸν λόγον ἠθέλησα ἐς ἄνδρας ἰδιώτας. χρόνωι δὲ ὕστερον ῎Ιφιτος, γένος μὲν ὢν ἀπὸ ᾽Οξύλου, ἡλικίαν δὲ κατὰ Λυκοῦργον τὸν γράψαντα Λακεδαιμονίοις τοὺς νόμους, τὸν ἀγῶνα διέθηκεν ἐν ᾽Ολυμπίαι πανήγυρίν τε Ολυμπικὴν αὖθις ἐξ ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐκεχειρίαν κατεστήσατο, ἐκλιπόντα ἐπὶ χρόνον ὁπόσος δὴ οὗτος ἦν. αἰτίαν δέ, δι᾽ ἥντινα ἐξέλιπε τὰ ᾽Ολύμπια, ἐν τοῖς ἔχουσιν ἐς ᾽Ολυμπίαν τοῦ λόγου δηλώσω. (6) τῶι δὲ ᾽Ιφίτωι, φθειρομένης τότε δὴ μάλιστα τῆς ῾Ελλάδος ὑπὸ ἐμφυλίων στάσεων καὶ ὑπὸ νόσου λοιμώδους, ἐπῆλθεν αἰτῆσαι τὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς θεὸν λύσιν τῶν κακῶν· καί οἱ προσταχθῆναί φασιν ὑπὸ τῆς Πυθίας ὡς αὐτόν τε ῎Ιφιτον δέοι καὶ ᾽Ηλείους τὸν ᾽Ολυμπικὸν ἀγῶνα ἀνανεώσασθαι. ἔπεισε δὲ ᾽Ηλείους ῎Ιφιτος καὶ ῾Ηρακλεῖ θύειν, τὸ πρὸ τούτου πολέμιόν σφισιν ῾Ηρακλέα εἶναι νομίζοντας. τὸν δὲ ῎Ιφιτον τὸ ἐπίγραμμα τὸ ἐν ᾽Ολυμπίαι φησὶν Αἵμονος παῖδα εἶναι· ῾Ελλήνων δὲ οἱ πολλοὶ Πραξωνίδου καὶ οὐχ Αἵμονος εἶναί φασι· τὰ δὲ ᾽Ηλείων γράμματα ἀρχαῖα ἐς πατέρα ὁμώνυμον ἀνῆγε τὸν ῎Ιφιτον.

File:A competitor in the long jump, Black-figured Tyrrhenian amphora showing athletes and a combat scene, Greek, but made for the Etruscan market, 540 BC, found near Rome, Winning at the ancient Games, British Museum (7675649600).jpg
Jump Your Way to Health! Black Figure Vase, British Museum

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