Neil Faulkner is the author of A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics, to be published soon by Yale University Press. In this regular blog, he comments on the London 2012 Olympics in the light of the wisdom (or lack of it) of the ancients.
Article by Neil Faulkner
The ancient Olympics were held in honour of Zeus, the king of the gods, the master of the heavens. Half the festival was given over to religious rites, including a huge blood-fest on the third day, when a hundred oxen were sacrificed at the supreme deity’s altar.
The stadium (for foot races) and the hippodrome (for equestrian events) comprised grassy banks around earth tracks. All the prestige architecture was in the religious sanctuary. This was dominated by the monumental Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Inside the temple sat an enormous cult statue of Zeus enthroned made of gold and ivory. Zeus was so big that, had he stood up, his head would have gone through the ceiling. The statue was one of the most awesome sights in the ancient world.
What great monument overlooks the Olympic Park in Stratford today? What is London 2012’s equivalent of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It is, of course, the Temple of Capital. The Westfield Shopping Centre.
If you have tickets for the games, you will almost certainly have to pass through it to get in. It is all designed that way. If, more likely, you do not have tickets, you can still visit the Temple.
Remember that this complex has been planted in the middle of one of the most deprived urban areas in Britain. Remember, too, that very few of the people who live there have tickets. But at least they can visit the Temple. They might even venture onto the first floor to gawp at the treasures stacked inside.
Gawp is all they could do. We are talking wall-to-wall designer shops where virtually every price tag is in three figures. We are talking £1,000 handbags, £5,000 coats, and £10,000 diamond watches. We are talking an in-your-face display of the greed of the modern super-rich.
And the customers? Obviously not the local scruffs peering in the windows. So who? It does not require much imagination. Of the 8.8 million tickets, one in four is not on sale to the general public. No less than 2.2 million tickets have been held back as freebies for athletes, officials, VIPs, top sporting bodies, corporate sponsors, and guests thereof.
This means 2.2 million freebies for the rich. I am sorry to be blunt, but that is what it means. I promise you that the IOC guest seats and the corporate hospitality seats at the men’s 100m final will not be occupied by benefit claimants from Stratford or even bank clerks from Croydon.
Expect bumper sales on the first floor of the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford this summer – each £1,000 handbag a little offering to the God of Greed.
Dr Neil Faulkner is research fellow at the University of Bristol, fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and codirector of several field projects. A freelance archaeologist and historian, his previous books include Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt against Rome and Rome: Empire of the Eagles. He lives in Hertfordshire, UK.
A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics is published in April 2012.