Greek Mythology in Modern Sports

Think Greek Mythology is a thing of the past? Guess again. Our modern world remains heavily influenced by ancient Roman and Greek religions, from architecture to storytelling. One area where you'll find a good deal of Greek mythology is in professional and amateur sports.

Name of the Gods
Several professional sports teams in the United States get their names from Greek mythology. The word athletes itself is an ancient Greek term meaning "contestants." The Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball owe their name to ancient Greek history. Both baseball and hockey have a team called the Senators, and while the name may be taken from our modern government, the word "senatus" and the concept of elected representatives both come from the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The best example comes from the National Football League, home of the Tennessee Titans. In ancient Greek Mythology, the titans were the creators of the world and the universe and the parents of the commonly known Greek Gods.

Even the shoes that atheletes wear have a connection to Greek mythology. The name Nike belongs to the Greek goddess of victory. The famous Nike "swoosh" logo, designed by Carolyn Davidson in 1971, is an abstract representation of the goddess' wings.

Going the Distance
The word "marathon" and the distance of the race both stem from accounts of The Battle of Marathon, fought between the Greeks and the Persians in 490 BC. Marathon was a beachfront village where armies from Athens and Sparta repelled an invading force that wanted to return Athens to Persian rule.

There are two accounts of how the marathon race got its name. The first concerns Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger who was sent to Sparta to ask for reinforcements. Accounts of the battle say that Pheidippides traveled 279 miles in three days to reach Sparta and return with news that the Spartans were coming. Another account of the battle has the Athenian army traveling 25 miles in a day to prevent the Persians from attacking Athens.

These stories were eventually combined to create the myth of Pheidippides, who allegedly ran the 2 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory over the Persians and then dropped dead. The first version of this story appears in Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens.

The first modern marathon took place during the first modern Olympic games, held in 1896 in Athens. Runners retraced Pheidippide's alleged route from the beach to the city. Early marathons were around 25 miles in length, but the current standard for marathon running is 26 miles and 385 yards.

Olympic Achievements
Our modern Olympics derives from an ancient Greek ritual. Each year, young women would gather in Olympia, a sanctuary of the gods, and hold a footrace. The fastest would become a preistess for Hera, the wife of Zeus and the goddess of childbirth and marriage. Over time, footraces for men became part of the tradition, and the games evolved from a religious rite into a competition between the various Greek city-states. Wars between the city-states would be put on hold so that the games could take place.

Wrestling, boxing and javelin and discus throwing joined footraces as the Olympics grew in popularity, along with chariot races and equestrian events. Some form of the games was held every year, either Olympic games or the Panhellenic Games, which took place every four years and included many of the same events. The ancient Olympic tradition ended around the start of the fifth century as Greek rulers encouraged a belief in Christianity over beliefs in the Greek gods.

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