David C. Young points out in his A Brief History of the Olympic Games that “The term Olympic Games is . . . a bad mistranslation of Greek Olympiakoi agones.” The problem is that agones gets converted into ludus, ludi, ludicrum, ie, diversions and games. ”The Romans did not take Greek athletics seriously.”
But the Greeks did: “the Greek word agones can never refer to ‘games.’ Rather, it means ‘struggles’ or ‘contests’; or even ‘pains.’ Our word “agony’ derives from it. The word ‘play,’ as well, has no application at all to Greek athletics. The Greek word for ‘play,’ paizein, comes from the word pais, ‘child.’” This is not what the Greek Olympiad was about: “When Greek boys competed in athletics, they were acting like men, not the reverse, as in other cultures.”
The old Wide World of Sports didn’t capture the right tone with its images of the “agony of defeat.” Not defeat, but the competition itself was the agon-y.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 12:32 pm
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