Hercules and the Olympic Games

The most known myth surrounding the origin of the Olympic Games was that of Pelops, a prince from Lydia who wanted to marry the daughter of King Oenomaos. To do so any suitor must compete against the King in a Chariot race and if he lost he would be beheaded. Pelops replaced a pin with wax in the chariot of the King who was then killed. Pelops married Hippodamia and founded the Olympic games to celebrate his victory. A different version says they were funeral games in the memory of Oenomaos. The east pediment of the Zeus Temple in Olympia represents the start of the chariot race between Oinomaos and Pelops, with Zeus in the center.

Another myth comes from the Tenth Olympian Ode of the poet Pindar who tells how in his 5th labor, Hercules had to clean the stables of King Augeas of Elis. After disagreements, broken promises etc. Hercules sacked the city of Elis and instituted the Olympic Games in honor of his father, Zeus. He is said to have taught men how to wrestle and measured out the stade, or the length of the footrace. At the first Games Hercules was the only contestant ( Well a rather boring competition). Now while this was possible for the running and throwing events it was a problem for boxing or wrestling and his father Zeus who was present at this first Games finally entered the wrestling match against Hercules and grappled him to a draw.

The Olympic stadium course length was 192.27 meters or 600 Hercules foot lengths that provides an idea of Hercules foot size:


There remains another question: Was it the very old egyptian god Herakles or the younger greek hero Herakles? As is well-known from the tales of Herodot, the egyptians worshiped a god named Herakles long before the greek Herakles lived. The simple figures leave no doubt: The stadion in Olympia was designed and build according to the foot length of the egyptian Herakles, Dieter Lelgemann, Recovery of the Ancient System of Foot/Cubit/Stadion – Length Units


The Olympic Games
The Strong son of Zeus' drove the whole of his host
And all his booty to Pisa,
And measured a holy place
For his mighty Father.
He fenced the Altis and marked it off
In a clean space, and the ground encircling it
He set for rest at supper
In honour of the ford of Alpheos
And the twelve Kings of the Gods.
To Kronos' Hill he gave a name: for before
It was nameless when Oenomaos ruled,
And drenched with many a snowstorm.
In this first birthday-rite
The Fates stood near at hand,
And he who alone proves the very truth,
Time. In his forward march
He has revealed all clearly:
How Hercules portioned the booty, war gift,
Made sacrifice and founded
The fourth year's feast
With the first Olympiad
And the winning of victories.
Pindar c. 518 - 438 BC

The true origin of the Games is somehow lost in time even concerning the persons for example there is another Hercules who also is considered as the founder of the Games, the so called Hercules Daktyl, who was only as big as a finger (daktyl) .

King Oenomaos. From east pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, c. 460 BC. Antikmuseet, Lund.
Hippodameia, daughter of Oinomaos, from east pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, c. 460 BC. Antikmuseet, Lund

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