The Games of Heracles

Citing another explanation for the Games’ origins, Pindar says they were founded by the Greek hero Heracles. King Augeas of Elis refused to pay Heracles his agreed fee for cleaning out his stables. In response Heracles killed the king’s nephews Cteatus and Eurytus (often shown in art as conjoined twins).

Full-scale war ensued, which ended only when Heracles defeated Augeas, occupied his land, and, to mark his victory inaugurated the Olympic Games in Zeus’ honour: measuring out the sacred grove on behalf of his peerless father.

He fixed the boundaries of the Altis [the Olympic sanctuary], separating sacred from profane, and designating all the space around it as an area in which to rest and feast. Besides the twelve ruling gods, he paid honour to the River Alpheus; and he named the hill the ‘Hill of Cronus’ – before, when Oenomaeus ruled, it had been nameless, thick with snow.

The Games of Heracles Photo Gallery

Pindar describes these first games, listing victors in contests such as wrestling, chariot-racing and the discus, while Pausanias records that attendees had another cause for gratitude to Heracles: According to legend, when he was sacrificing at Olympia, Heracles was plagued by clouds of flies.

So, either because the idea came to him himself or because someone else suggested it, he sacrificed to Zeus Apomuios [Zeus Who Banishes Flies], and so the flies were banished to the other side of the Alpheus. They say that, following his example, the Eleans sacrifice to Zeus Apomuios to drive flies away from Olympia.

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