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
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.