The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games

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Overview

What was it like to attend the ancient Olympic Games?

With the summer Olympics’ return to Athens, Tony Perrottet delves into the ancient world and lets the Greek Games begin again. The acclaimed author of Pagan Holiday brings attitude, erudition, and humor to the fascinating story of the original Olympic festival, tracking the event day by day to re-create the experience in all its compelling spectacle.

Using firsthand reports and little-known ...

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Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games

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Overview

What was it like to attend the ancient Olympic Games?

With the summer Olympics’ return to Athens, Tony Perrottet delves into the ancient world and lets the Greek Games begin again. The acclaimed author of Pagan Holiday brings attitude, erudition, and humor to the fascinating story of the original Olympic festival, tracking the event day by day to re-create the experience in all its compelling spectacle.

Using firsthand reports and little-known sources—including an actual Handbook for a Sports Coach used by the Greeks—The Naked Olympics creates a vivid picture of an extravaganza performed before as many as forty thousand people, featuring contests as timeless as the javelin throw and as exotic as the chariot race.

Peeling away the layers of myth, Perrottet lays bare the ancient sporting experience—including the round-the-clock bacchanal inside the tents of the Olympic Village, the all-male nude workouts under the statue of Eros, and history’s first corruption scandals involving athletes. Featuring sometimes scandalous cameos by sports enthusiasts Plato, Socrates, and Herodotus, The Naked Olympics offers essential insight into today’s Games and an unforgettable guide to the world’s first and most influential athletic festival.

"Just in time for the modern Olympic games to return to Greece this summer for the first time in more than a century, Tony Perrottet offers up a diverting primer on the Olympics of the ancient kind….Well researched; his sources are as solid as sources come. It's also well writen….Perhaps no book of the season will show us so briefly and entertainingly just how complete is our inheritance from the Greeks, vulgarity and all."
--The Washington Post

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A vivid evocation of the blood and guts, not to mention sheer guts, that marked the original Olympic Games more than two thousand years ago. Tony Perrottet tells the gripping story of a festival of physical attainment during which athletes risked and sometimes lost their lives. Today's champions have it easy.” —Anthony Everitt, author of Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician

“This is the book to read if you want to know what it felt like to be a spectator or a contestant at the ancient Olympic Games. Perrottet brings the scene to life in all its pageantry and squalor, with its beautiful bodies, rotting meat, flies, and broiling heat. Then, as now, the Games brought out the best and the worst of human potential, and blood, sweat, tears, sex, and money were all part of the Olympic experience, along with religion, bribery and politics.
—Mary Lefkowitz, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College and author of Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths

"This lively account of the classical Olympics portrays them as "the Woodstock of antiquity," and claims that the Games, while taken seriously, were also where Greeks gathered for a five-day debauch. A prostitute could earn a year's wages in the course of the tournament, Thessalonian peddlers sold love potions made from horse's sweat and minced lizard, and pentathletes competed to the accompaniment of flutes, perhaps the ancient equivalent of stadium rock. The festival offered beauty pageants and Homer-recitation contests, numerologists and fire-swallowers, and such culinary delicacies as roasted sow's womb. Athletic events also fuelled a thriving pickup scene: a message etched into the wall of a stadium at Nemea reads, "Look up Moschos in Philippi - he's cute."
--The New Yorker

"Erudite, colorful and frequently hilarious, Perrottet's The Naked Olympics is a marvelous resource for athletes, spectators, and scholars alike. I will never watch the Olympic games in quite the same way again."
—Michael Curtis Ford, author of  The Ten Thousand and The Last King

"I considered myself a pretty solid researcher on ancient Greece, till Tony Perrottet's The Naked Olympics blew me out of the water.  I never knew (just two among hundreds of delicious factoids) that there was no separate event for discus and javelin -- they were part of the pentathlon -- or that the chariot race ran 24 laps and took fifteen hair-raising minutes.  (Not to mention the distinction between various attendant types of groupies, courtesans, and pornai.)  Mr. Perrottet's vivid cinematic prose not only delivers encyclopedic intelligence of the ancient games but spirits you back in time with such immediacy that you can smell the sweat and feel the hot Greek sun.  If you're gonna be glued to the modern Athens Games like I will, you must read The Naked Olympics.  No other book communicates with such authenticity  ' where it all came from, '  back in the days when you didn't need wardrobe malfunctions to get naked."
—Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire, Tides of War, and Last of the Amazons

"The Naked Olympics presents the Greeks in all their glory, brutality, and vulgarity. It is a fascinating picture and popular history at its best."
—Norman Cantor, Professor Emeritus, New York University, and author of Antiquity: The Civilization of the Ancient World

" Fans of Tony Perrottet's Pagan Holiday (aka Route 66 AD) will kill to read his follow-up The Naked Olympics. A seasoned traveller, Perrottet follows all the highways and byways of ancient Olympic lore. He really makes you feel what it was like to be at the ancient Olympics, conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells (especially the smells) of the Games with a sure and vivid touch. The Naked Olympics would be just the thing to cover your nakedness as you watch the 2004 Athens Olympics or go to visit the ancient site of Olympia - figleaves need not apply. "
—Paul Cartledge, Professor of Classics, Cambridge University, and author of The Spartans

"Short of building your own time machine, reading Tony Perrottet’s The Naked Olympics will be the closest you’ll come to experiencing the blood, sweat, glory, and greed that were the ancient Olympic Games. And if you do somehow happen upon a time machine, you’d still be wise to trust Tony Perrottet as your guide. Steeped in scholarship, leavened by humor, and lighted by the same flames of history and love of sport that illuminated the works of Homer, Lucian, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pausanias and Dio the Golden-Tongued, Perrottet’s The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games is one of those rare books that you’ll be citing for years to come."
—Dan Simmons, author of Ilium

"It was the Woodstock of antiquity: a five-day spectacle of heroic performance and after-hours debauchery dedicated to the Greek gods and held every fourth year at the rural religious sanctuary of Olympia. There were no team sports in the first Olympics, no torch marathon - that staple of the modern games was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler - and there was certainly no spandex. The original Olympics , travel writer Tony Perrottet tells us in this fun, light-hearted primer on the Greek competition that began it all, competed buck naked. Except, that is, for a generous coating of olive oil. ('Boy rubbers' were on hand to massage the oil in.) Wrestling, sprinting, boxing and chariot racing were the center-ring events of the competition, which ran uninterrupted and largely unaltered for 1,200 years, beginning in 776 B.C. Released to coincide with this summer's Athens games, The Naked Olympics is an engaging history lesson on an event that has apparently always been as much about pomp and politics as it has about superhuman strength."
---National Geographic Adventure

Tracy Lee Simmons
Perrottet has done his homework. The Naked Olympics is not a work of scholarship as commonly understood, studded with extensive footnoting, though it's well researched; his sources are as solid as sources come. It's also well written, which might not have been true of a more conventional study. It could have been much longer, but it didn't need to be. Perhaps no book of the season will show us so briefly and entertainingly just how complete is our inheritance from the Greeks, vulgarity and all.
The Washington Post
The New Yorker
This lively account of the classical Olympics portrays them as “the Woodstock of antiquity,” and claims that the Games, while taken seriously, were also where Greeks gathered for a five-day debauch. A prostitute could earn a year’s wages in the course of the tournament, Thessalonian peddlers sold love potions made from horse’s sweat and minced lizard, and pentathletes competed to the accompaniment of flutes, perhaps the ancient equivalent of stadium rock. The festival offered beauty pageants and Homer-recitation contests, numerologists and fire-swallowers, and such culinary delicacies as roasted sow’s womb. Athletic events also fuelled a thriving pickup scene: a message etched into the wall of a stadium at Nemea reads, “Look up Moschos in Philippi—he’s cute.”
Publishers Weekly
Combining a wealth of vivid details with a knack for narrative pacing and subtle humor, Perrottet (Pagan Holiday) renders a striking portrayal of the Greek Olympics and their role in the ancient world. While our modern games certainly pay homage to the Greek festival that was held uninterrupted for more than 1,200 years, the book's title refers to the most pronounced difference between the two: Ancient athletes competed in the nude, adorned only with olive oil. While Perrottet also outlines events ranging from the merciless chariot races to the pankration a sort of early predecessor of ultimate fighting in which strangulation was seen as the surest means of attaining victory he also puts the games in their heavy religious context and gives readers a strong sense of what they were like from a spectator's point of view. That they were cramped, hot and dizzyingly unsanitary apparently did little to dissuade throngs of people from the often treacherous journey to Olympia to catch glimpses of their heroes. And their experiences provided by Perrottet are what separate this book from staid history. His goal, he writes at the outset, is "to create the ancient games in their sprawling, human entirety," so readers are treated not only to a thorough picture of the games' proceedings but also to glimpses of the shameless bacchanalia, numerous (and often lascivious) entertainments and even corruption that accompanied them. It's an entertaining, edifying account that puts a human face on one of humanity's most remarkable spectacles. Agent, Elizabeth Sheinkman. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Neither the title nor the subtitle does justice to Perrottet's (Pagan Holiday) engaging work. This lay reader's guide to the ancient games at Olympia presents events as they were scheduled, moving from the athletes' required preparations to the closing ceremonies and the spectators' trip home. Within this framework, he also describes the buildings, the sponsors, and what it was like for the fans in attendance. Employing numerous sources (poorly referenced, alas), Perrottet describes the 1000 years of games, how the Mediterranean world viewed the contests and the participants, and what that might say about the concomitant cultures. The illustrations reveal an idea of the importance the games played in Greek and Roman art, and Perrottet gives generous literary references, from the games' Homeric foundations to the beautiful poems written about the athletes over the centuries. One comes away with an understanding of the role played by the games in the various cultures before Christians decided the contests celebrated the wrong gods and shut them down. Recommended for all public libraries. Clay Williams, Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A trip back 2,500 years to the original Olympic Games: though lacking sponsorship from mighty auto manufacturers, they still reveal many congruencies with current Olympic practices. The rowdy road from the city-states of antiquity to Olympia for its quadrennial sporting competitions was traveled at least 293 times over 1,200 years. Spectacular showbiz at its nascent best, the games were well organized and profitable. The Olympic field of dreams was carefully prepared. Even when war raged on the peninsula, all belligerents observed a general military truce in Olympia. Spectators came in vast numbers. It was classical-age Woodstock, with ongoing amusements. Boozing and prostitution were open and notorious, junk food was hawked, and a great time was had at the traditional summer games. The five-day program began with opening ceremonies and hack literary declamations followed by the chariot race and the pentathlon (discus and javelin throw, long jump, running and wrestling). Then came foot races, more wrestling, boxing, free-for-all fighting, and, just for laughs, running in full body armor before the closing ceremonies and final hangovers. Contestants were customarily clad in nothing but olive oil, thus ensuring that no women snuck in to compete. Judges, expected to be above reproach, were sometimes reproached. The Olympia emergency room ministered to contestants full time, while coaches trained their compliant athletes with special exercises and fad diets. Some old traditions are recent inventions: there was no marathon back then, and the Olympic torch relay, we find, was created by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin games. Travel-writer Perrottet's (Route 66 A.D., 2002, etc.) account of theancient competition, using sources from Pindar and Plato to Herodotus and Homer, as well as other ur-sportswriters, makes lively and entertaining reading. A timely re-creation and recreation: wonderful history for sports fans, great sportswriting for classicists, and fun for all. (30 illustrations, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812969917
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/8/2004
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 609,703
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Table of Contents

Map : the sanctuary of Olympia c. 150 B.C.
I For the love of Zeus 3
II The Greek sports craze 18
III Countdown 38
IV The Olympic boot camp 47
V Trials of the ancient sports fan 60
VI Scenes from the fringe 72
VII Let the games begin 80
VIII Blood on the tracks - the chariot race 92
IX The pentathlon 103
X To the victors, the feast 114
XI The sacred slaughter 124
XII No Philistines in the stadium 130
XIII To race with immortals 138
XIV Javelins into spears 149
XV The forgotten amazons 155
XVI Theater of pain - the contact sports 161
XVII Bring on the leeches ... 174
XVIII Last rites 179
App The Olympic program 193
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2005

    The coolest book ever!

    This book is recommended if you're interested in how the Olympic games began. It offers lots of details of how people and atheletes reacted to during the run of the games. It also gives a timeline of the games and a detailed timeline of how the games were performed in 5 days. In addition of good info, the illustrations are cool. I like it very much. Its easy to read, informative, and funny. Recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2004

    wonderfully entertaining history

    This is a fascinating introduction to ancient Greek culture, not just sports (the first Olympics included much more than just athletics, so there is a wealth of information on religion, sex, boozing, sightseeing, art, literature -- and great cameos by sports fans like Plato, Sophocles, Herodotus...!) It really brought the whole event to life for me in a way that I hadn't expected -- and the illustrations are excellent, drawn from original vase paintings, to show the long jump, wrestling and something called the pankration, which was an all-in brawl where strangling was encouraged as a way of achieveing victory. A hugely entertaining read -- for anyone interested in the past.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2012

    Tim

    Grabs the whip

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2012

    Silver

    Closes her eyes trying not to let her tears show.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2012

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