By Neil Faulkner
Yale Univ. 263 pp. Paperback, $28
Walk for days and miles along treacherous roads in the heat of the summer. Fight crowds of thousands for a place to camp. Search for water. And, by all means, try to steer clear of the fetid trash and waste that breed disease all around you. (Read: no trash cans and no toilets.)
These are the conditions described in archaeologist Neil Faulkner’s new book, “A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics,” a manual for any would-be Games-goer in ancient Greece. Faulkner discusses such mundane details as currency and finding your way around the Olympic Village, but he also gives ample coverage to the five-day competition. On getting a seat in a stadium built for 40,000 people that is packed with 100,000, he says, “Many find themselves sitting on lower slopes of the Hill of Kronos; it is some distance from the action, but it does afford some relief from the merciless crush further down.” About the opening ceremony, which takes place 36 miles from the Olympic Village, he writes: “Be aware that this is a solemn religious ritual. . . . However, expect a great deal of pushing and shoving as people struggle to get a view, and, towards the back of the crowd, where no-one can see, arguments [are] breaking out among the bored and fractious.”
Faulkner goes into detail about the “oiled and dusted” athletes, and he litters the book with Greek myths. Ultimately, however, the ancient Olympics were more of an epic frat party full of booze and sex than a prestigious sporting competition, and Faulkner paints that picture well.