Mary Beard: Professor reminds everybody that Hitler invented the Olympic torchHistorians in the News
I don’t quite understand how we have forgotten that the “Olympic Torch” ceremony was invented by Hitler and his chums.
If ever there was an “invented tradition” well worth stamping out, it is this ridiculous, Fascist-inspired waste of money – which sends a Bunsen Burner around the world at tremendous cost for several months before the Games, manned (and womanned) by people dressed up in pseudo-ancient Greek costume, no doubt feeling very silly....
Hardly any commentator stops to mention that this silly torch ceremony has nothing to do with the ancient Greeks, and was really invented to be a magnificent shot in Leni Riefenstahl’s movie (choreographed by Carl Diem). This is one of Hitler’s most pervasive legacies.
They also don’t stop to mention that the ancient Olympics – far from being that sweet haven of peace -- were pretty political anyway. Even in their hay-day, they were often interrupted by the rough hand of Politics.
The classic case is the eligibility of Alexander the Great’s ancestor, Alexander 1 of Macedon. When he turned up to compete in the early fifth century BC , the other Greeks said that he was a foreigner and so wasn’t eligible. Eventually the gate-keepers allowed him to take part, but -- although he finished first (equal) – he didn’t get his name written into the official list of winners. (Hence, he is an awkward example on both sides for the modern argument about whether “Macedonia” is “Greek”. Does Alexander 1 prove the Greekness of the Macedonians, or vice versa?).
But there were plenty more political controversies. The worst was in 364 BC when the Games happened while Olympia was under enemy occupation, or more accurately in the middle of a war zone. In fact, the Arcadians (Olympia’s neighbours in the Peloponnese) invaded during the Pentathlon event and some of their soldiers looted the sacred treasures. So much for the “Sacred Truce”.
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Michael Kopanic - 4/6/2008
The headline to Mary Beard's article about the Olympic Torch is misleading, because Hitler and his regime did not invent the Olympic Torch, although they exploited it and used the Torch relay from Greece to the host country for propaganda purposes.
Dr. Carl Diem invented the Torch relay idea during World War I, but the games were cancelled due to the war. Diem later became a firm Nazi supporter and used the idea of the torch and the relay during the 1936 Olympics.
A previous article in HNN did a nice job of summarizing the Nazi contribution, as does Wikipedia.
University of Maryland University College
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