20 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (31) Olympian

A reminder of Greek pride in the Olympian tradition … in Vergina Restaurant in Platanias in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I left Ireland for Greece with everyone showing great pride in our Olympians, both those who took part in the summer games and those who took part in the Paralympics. I returned from Greece to find a debate in Ireland over plans to rename the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.

In the English language we can use the word Olympian as an adjective relating to, or inhabiting Mount Olympus (Όλυμπος), near Thessaloniki in northern Greece, such as the ‘Olympian gods,’ of something that is befitting or characteristic of Mount Olympus, such as ‘Olympian detachment,’ ‘Olympian calm’ or even ‘Olympian arrogance,’ or of relating to, or constituting the Olympic Games.

We can also use the word Olympian to refer to one of the deities said to have lived atop Mount Olympus, to someone who is lofty and above it all, or to a participant in the Olympic Games.

The word Olympian was first used as an adjective in English in the 15th and 16th centuries, and as a noun in the early 17th century.

The original Olympic Games (Ὀλυμπιακοί Ἀγῶνες) were first held not on Mount Olympus but at Olympia (Ολυμπία), in the western Peloponnese, from the eighth to the fourth century BCE. The modern Olympic Games were revived in Athens in 1894.

If we are proud of our Olympians in Ireland, and if we are quick to defend the name of the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, then Greeks are equally proud of the traditions associated with Mount Olympus, Olympia, and the Olympic Games.

Mount Olympus seen from the Monument of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday: Monastery

Tomorrow: Hypocrite

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