By: J Nighteagle
A very long time ago in Greece girls took to running races at religious festivals. Young men liked the idea and they too took to foot racing. From such modest origins over the centuries developed the block-buster athletic events we still glorify as Olympics. From the beginning, around the sixth century B.C., the four day contests were held every four years and were gender distinct. The women’s Heraea, dedicated to the goddess Hera, Were the first official games held in the vast Olympic Stadium, which could hold 40,000 screaming spectators
In classical Athens women were relegated to second-class status. They attended to the household, spent long hours at their looms, and seldom left the home. The athletes among them were permitted to race, but never encouraged in the same rigorous manner as their brothers. While the boys required training for ten months before entering Olympic events, girls were forbidden to work out. Pericles expressed the male viewpoint of female accomplishment with fiendishly clever irony: “fame will be great for the woman whose reputation for excellence or blame is least known among males “Nevertheless for women so physically and psychically confined, any chance at running must have provided joyous release for pent-up muscles and minds.
Sparta offered girl athletes a dizzying different world. The military city-state not only encouraged womens sports, but required grueling physical education as institutional policy. In addition to arduous races, girls competed at the javelin and staging battles. They preformed nude or in skimpy tunics, the better to attract boys at the events and inspire marriage and procreation. The cultural goal of Sparta was unremittingly eugenic – to develop strong mothers for breeding strong, healthy warriors for the state. Infant girls considered weak were exposed to die. Rather then the regal Hera, Spartan girls identified with the goddess Artemis. Untamed and ferocious, the Divine Huntress roamed the woods with her bow and quiver hunting down animals, the perfect mentor for Spartan girls blazing with a zeal for victory.
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