Categories
Women

Women In Sports: The Heraean Games

Hera was the goddess of marriage, family, childbirth and the protectress of women. The Roman counterpart of Hera was Juno. For the Romans, Juno was the protector and special counselor of the State. The month of June is named after Hera’s Roman name.

Hera. Queen of the 12 Gods

Some of the best known temples dedicated to Hera were the Heraion of Samos (that was one of the largest and most famous Greek temples), The Temple of Hera at Agrigento (one of the best preserved in Sicily), The temple of Hera at Olympia (which was one of the oldest monumental temples in Greece), the Temple of Juno in Rome (which stood on the Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum)

Perhaps my favorite fact about Hera is that she’s linked with the first official women’s athletic events in History: the Heraean Games.

The Heraean Games. By Prospero Piatti

Few know that the ancient Greeks organized sporting competitions not only for men, but for women too. Men and women competed in separately organized games, exactly as it happens today.

The most prestigious ones held for women were the Heraea (honoring Hera). These women-only athletic events probably took place around the same time as the Olympic Games.

Ancient Olympia

SOME FACTS ABOUT THE HERAEAN GAMES

  • The Heraea were held at Olympia, in the Peloponnese.
  • They were held every four years.
  • There were three different age categories for competitors, and young girls competed in a footrace.
  • All sporting, religious and cultural events of the Heraea at Olympia were presided over and organized by a group of sixteen women from Elis.
  • All athletes were unmarried women.
  • All 16 members of the presiding committee were notable women of Elis, representing all 16 cities of the region of Elis, at the Peloponnese.
A group of priestesses in front of the Temple of Hera at Olympia. They carry the Olympic Flame.

It is worth noting that the first recorded games for women, were held by the Ancient Greeks as early as the 6th century BC, and they were probably held in the Olympic year itself, prior to the men’s games. Since the collapse of the ancient world, women were not allowed to participate in events of major importance, such as the Marathon Race, only as late as 1972 (!) This is when the famous Boston Marathon incident, that involved Kathrine Switzer, took place. Since that day, most discriminatory policies were dropped, leading to the first women’s marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Yes. Since the first official women’s athletic competition to be held in Ancient Greece, more than 26 centuries had passed! We could do better. But, still: better late than never.

Bronze figure of a running girl from Sparta (520 BCE-500 BCE) British Museum
Categories
Mythology Women

The Judgement of Paris

The Golden Apple of Discord

The goddess of quarrel and strife was Eris. She was sister and companion of murderous Ares, the Greek  god of war and daughter of Nyx (Night). Unhappy and displeased that she was not invited to the wedding ceremony of Peleus (the king of the island of Aegina) and Thetis (the sea-nymph), Eris felt pushed aside and soon came up with a cunning plan in revenge for not being invited

Eris
Eris. Attic plate, ca. 575–525 BC (Berlin Antikensammlung)

The feast was attended by most of the Olympian Gods. Eris’ idea was to ‘forget’ a golden apple in the great banquet. That apple carried an inscription: “TO THE FAIREST” (ΤΗ ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΗΙ). Eris knew that her shiny apple would quickly draw attention.

Yes, that was all she had to do. Soon, three goddesses at the wedding were fascinated by the golden apple and wanted it for themselves. Aphrodite, Athena and Hera immediately competed for it. They asked the other Greek Gods who should own it, but they proved smart and they chose not to interfere. They immediately smelled trouble. What was the point? If they chose one, then the other two goddesses would probably hold this against them. It sure was a hard call so the Gods agreed that Paris, being the most handsome mortal, should be the judge.

judgement Paris 1
Walter Crane – The Judgement of Paris (watercolor on paper, 1909)

Everyone was happy with this solution and the gods were very pleased. Paris had a difficult task laying ahead. Athena, Hera and Aphrodite stripped naked in front of Paris and each goddess offered him an appealing gift trying to win his decision.

  • Athena tried to tempt him offering infinite wisdom.
  • Hera promised him absolute power over great kingdoms.
  • Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman on earth, Helen.

Deal-maker! Paris made his choice

As you know, Paris gave the golden apple tot he Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. Spoiler alert: This decision would soon lead to the outbreak of one of the most famous wars ever, the Trojan War… And the fall of Troy would later lead to the foundation of Rome!

All this, for an apple.

gold apple

Categories
Women

How can a couple be happy?

A secret that can keep your relationship healthy and happy (a word of advice from a 5th c. BC Athenian woman )

Perhaps the most famous woman of classical Athens was Aspasia, wife of Pericles. Aspasia presents us with the best solution for a couple to find happiness together:

Neither will be happy, Aspasia says, as long as they both desire an ideal partner;

…rather, each must be the best spouse!

Then, their partner’s wish will be fulfilled…

Born in Miletus, Aspasia was a truly remarkable woman that Pericles adored and respected immensely. The so-called ‘father of the Athenian Democracy’ was even accused that some of his speeches were actually written by Aspasia. Pericles’ love for Aspasia was known all over Athens. He always kissed her goodbye and hello when he left and came home. This was unseemly for a respectable man, and for a man of Pericles’ standing, unheard of. He was often criticized for his relationship with Aspasia, and for his obvious reliance on her help and judgment. Famous Athenian men -like Socrates- were turning up at Pericles’ house just to have a discussion with his wife.

Pericles bust
Pericles

To the question what makes a couple happy and successful, Aspasia had a simple answer.

In Cicero’s book ‘De Inventione’, we come across a dialogue where Aspasia is counseling a respected Athenian, Xenophon, and his wife.

“Please tell me, madam, if your neighbor had a better gold ornament than you have, would you prefer that one or your own?”

“That one,” she replied.

“Now, if she had dresses and other feminine finery more expensive than you have, would you prefer yours or hers?”

“Hers, of course,” she replied.

“Well now, if she had a better husband than you have, would you prefer your husband or hers?” At this the woman blushed.

But Aspasia then began to speak to Xenophon. “I wish you would tell me, Xenophon,” she said, “if your neighbor had a better horse than yours, would you prefer your horse or his?”

“His” was his answer.

“And if he had a better farm than you have, which farm would you prefer to have?”

“The better farm, naturally,” he said.

 “Now if he had a better wife than you have, would you prefer yours or his?” And at this Xenophon, too, himself was silent.

Then Aspasia concluded: “Since both of you have failed to tell me the only thing I wished to hear, I myself will tell you what you both are thinking. That is, you, madam, wish to have the best husband, and you, Xenophon, desire above all things to have the finest wife.

Therefore, unless you can contrive that there be no better man or finer woman on earth you will certainly always be in dire want of what you consider best, namely, that you be the husband of the very best of wives, and that she be wedded to the very best of men.”

-Cicero, ‘De Inventione’ [I.31.51-52]

Aspasia
Aspasia of Miletus