Depiction of Herakles and the Cretan Bull
The Greeks themselves ascribed Olympic origin
to more exalted beings — the Greek gods -. One of the wonders of the Greek
civilization was that, unlike all predecessors in history, the Greeks did not
worship celestial bodies, natural elements, or weird animals as gods. The
Greeks, unique in tumbling the fierce gods of Assyrians and Egyptians from their
deified animalistic pedestals, created their own gods in the form of human
The Greek gods were the first to be endowed and invested with the fun and
foibles of human beings, fashioned in the magnificent bodily forms of men and
women. The Greek gods were created in the likeness of the people of Greece.
Greek Gods and men had a kinship and felt comfortable with each other.
Therefore, it was only natural that any great event should be attributed to a
god, or demigod. Pindar, a great poet of Greece, in his famous Eleventh Olympic
Ode to victory, says that the Games began at the dawn of man's life on earth. He
claimed the Games were started by Herakles (the Roman Hercules ), son of Zeus.
One day an impudent, upstart mortal named Augeas made disparaging remarks about
Zeus, and so angered Herakles, the original muscle-man, that he challenged
Augeas to a wrestling match. Meeting on the flat alluvial plain formed between
the two rivers Kladeos and Alpheos, Herakles gave Augeas the drubbing he
deserved. The wrestling match was historic! Both wrestlers "had muscles which
bulged to the thickness of a man's arm," and were so strong "each could crack
the neck of the strongest man." The battle raged as each threw the other, and
grimaced in pain from the half nelsons and other torturous holds secured. For
hours they fought until their massive muscles were strained to the utmost; until
joints bid fair to be pulled from their sockets. But Herakles, the master of
all, bested his adversary, leaving him a senseless mass of quivering flesh on
After the battle, the giant Herakles walked around a large area, dragging a
stick behind him. The rectangular arena marked off by the stick he called the
Altis, a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, the chief of all gods. Having marked off
the Altis, Herakles decreed that a temple of finest marble should be built to
honor Zeus, and should be staffed with priests the year around. Furthermore, he
ordered that another building, placed to the north of the Temple of Zeus, should
be called the Prytaneion, the priests' council house; it should contain an
ever-burning fire of Hestia, the mild-mannered goddess of hearth, home, and
fire, and daughter of Zeus.
Not content with heaping such honor upon his father, Herakles stated that every
four years games should be held in honor of Zeus. The finest athletes with the
masculine physiques should meet at Olympia for sporting events.
Like all gods, and all athletes, Herakles wished to make known to posterity his
own prowess, so he ordered a fine statue to be cast in bronze and set up in the
Altis, in commemoration of his victory over the lowly mortal, Augeas.