Ancient Olympics Comic

The most famous ancient Greek athletes in the ancient Olympic Games

11 Apr 2014
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During the 1200 years of the ancient Olympic Games in ancient Greece, there was a little phrase that was sounded countless times in the stadium and in the places of the games. A phrase that depicted applause, admiration, reward, joy, excitement, honor, glory: “Tinella Kallinike!”.

For the ancient Greeks one of the bigger honors a person could live was to win in the most famous athletic competitions, the ancient Olympic Games. So, every time that an ancient Olympic athlete made a victory the audience clapped and cheered with this phrase that means “Well done glorious victor”.

The word “tinella” was made up by the ancient lyric poet, Archilochos, who wanted to emulate the sound of the chord of a lyre or a guitar. He used this word to start one of his songs, dedicated to Hercules (“Tinella, oh glorious victor, rejoice…”). Later on, this phrase was established as a greeting to the ancient Greek athletes during their crowning.



Ancient Greek athletes | Ancient Olympic athletes


In the twelve centuries of the ancient Olympic Games there had been many ancient Greek athletes that managed to win worthily the title of the Olympic champion. However, among them there were some really famous whose names lasted in the history of the games in a very special way.

- Diagoras

Diagoras, one of the most popular ancient Olympic athletes, was from the town Ialyssos of Rhodes and he was a descendant of a royal generation. He was competing in boxing and according to the historians of this period he had the reputation of the most illustrious of all the boxers. He was honored with the title of the Olympic champion in 476 BC, in the 79th Olympiad and he had victories in other several national and regional competitions as well.

His tall stature, his nice face and his proud posture impressed those who saw him. They used to call him "efthymacha" (=be straight in the battle), as when he fought he always treated his opponent with his head upright upfront, without crouching to avoid him and without drawing himself back. As a result, with his bravery and pure and honest claim of victory the ancient Olympic athlete caused growing pride and satisfaction to his fans. But this was only the beginning for the ancient Greek athlete Diagoras, since he would live great glories throughout his life and even at the time of his death. All three sons of his, Damagitos, Akousilaos and Dorieas were crowned Olympic medalists. The tradition was continued even by his grandchildren - children of his daughter Kallipatira- who both were honored with this title, glorifying once again Diagoras.

The end of his life found the ancient Olympic athlete Diagoras in one of the happiest and honorary moments a man could ever live. It was in 448 BC, when Diagoras was in 83rd Olympiad, attending his two older sons who managed to win fighting the one in boxing and the other in pankration. At the time of the award and after they were crowned with the wreath of victory through the cries and shouts of the crowd, they ran to their father, wore him their wreaths, lifted him on their shoulders and carried him triumphantly to the stage! The spectators cheered and bedewed them with flowers and laurels. Then, all of a sudden, the voice of a viewer from Sparta was heard. He addressed the famous ancient Olympic athlete and said: "Katthane, oh Diagoras, ouk eis Olympia anavisei!", which means "It’s time to die now Diagoras. The only thing remaining for you is to live to Mount Olympus!” (= be a god). And indeed, right there happy in the arms of his children, the ancient Olympic athlete Diagoras left his last breath.

The statue of the ancient Greek athlete Diagoras was standing in the grounds of the Sacred Altis in ancient Olympia, among those of his sons. Besides, the ancient lyric poet Pindar, a contemporary of Diagoras, praised him in one of his most brilliant Odes, whose words were graved in golden letters by compatriots of Diagoras in the temple of Athena at Lindos, Rhodes.


- Theagenes

Theagenes, an ancient Greek athlete in boxing and in pankration, was medalist in two consecutive Olympiads (480 BC and 476 BC) and also winner in numerous other competitions at national level. The physique and strength of Theagenes, who came from the island of Thasos, was such that his contemporaries likened him to Hercules. His compatriots from Thasos believed that Theagenes was actually the son of Hercules.

He was just nine years old, when he detached a god’s bronze statue from its stand and carried it home. The people considered that his act was irreverent and they wanted to kill him. Finally, luckily for him the logic prevailed and the punishment imposed on him was to return the statue in its place. And so he did. Theagenes put indeed the statue in place causing this way the admiration of the people.

With his numerous victories and achievements -it is said that he had won 1.400 wreaths- the ancient Greek athlete Theagenes became a legend even while he was still alive and the rumors about him were spread by word of mouth all over Greece.

After his death, his compatriots wanted to honor him and set up his statue in Thasos. The historian Pausanias narrates the following incident regarding this statue: an athlete, opponent of Theagenes, who couldn’t win against him, went every night and whipped the statue of the great ancient Olympic athlete, as if he was punishing him. Therefore, the statue budged, leaned over, fell down and killed him. After that, the children of the deceased sued the statue. So the judges of Thasos, after condemning the statue in exile, they threw it into the sea, obeying thus the Athenian law of Draco which determined that even inanimate objects can be banished in case of murder.

But then, a great disaster hit Thasos, as a drought destroyed the crops of the people affecting them and their flocks. As a result, they decided to send their representatives to the oracle of Delphi in order to ask what they should do. The response was that they should restore the exiles. So they did the Thasians but the infertility continued as before. So for the second time, the delegation went to the oracle to ask for a new advice. The oracle then advised them to restore the exiled statue of Theagenes. Indeed, when some fishermen accidentally caught the statue in their nets and pulled it to the shore, the citizens of Thasos return the statue to its position and infertility stopped. Since then they honored the ancient Olympic athlete Theagenes as their god who heals diseases.


Another one famous ancient Olympic athlete was Milon from southern Italy and particularly from the town Croton. The sport in which he competed was the wrestling. He was declared Olympic champion six times and he took part in many sporting events throughout Greece. It is said that in the first time he participated in the Olympics was so sure he would win that he brought his statue with him!

The stories about the superhuman strength and accomplishments  of this ancient Greek athlete are more suited to some mythical hero. They say for example that he kept a pomegranate in his hand challenging the people around him to get it. But no one could extract the pomegranate nor cause him to shake it so as to crush it. Also, that he was standing on a disk smeared with oil and no one could move him. It is also referred that he tied a chord on his forehead and holding his breath, he swelled his veins and managed to break the string. Or even that the ancient Olympic athlete arrived in Olympia holding on his shoulders a large cow which he cut into pieces, baked it, and ate all on his own. According to another source, when Milo was in a symposium with the other students of the philosopher Pythagoras, one of the pillars that supported the roof was about to fall. Then Milo held the central pillar until they all got out the room and even himself managed to get out out before the collapse of the building. And there are many other narrations that extol this great ancient Greek athlete.

The first time Milo was defeated was around the age of forty years, in the Olympic Games in 512 BC, when he was wrestling with Timasitheos, another ancient Olympic athlete. The outcome of the match was in the balance but Timasitheos finally managed to tire his opponent and defeated him. At the announcement of the name of Timasitheos as the winner, the crowd invaded the stage, they lifted Milon on their hands, carried him all around and cheered. Even Timasitheos was among them.

- Dorieas

Dorieas from Rhodes was a great ancient Olympic athlete in pankration who belonged to a family that had a tradition of victories at the Olympic Games and other athletic competitions in ancient Greece. Being the youngest son of glorious Diagoras and brother of Olympic victors, he was also crowned three times in a row Olympic champion in the 87th, 88th and 89th Olympiad and his statue was erected in Olympia next to those of his family.

He was distinguished not only for his athletic performance but also for his involvement in the political affairs of his homeland, as he served as a general during the Peloponnesian war fighting for Sparta. When Dorieas was caught by the Athenian fleet he was transferred prisoner in Athens, where he would be killed. However, as soon as the Athenians saw the person standing before them was actually the famous Rhodian ancient Olympic athlete, they acquitted him of the charges and released him. Unfortunately, the death sentence came from the side of the allies, the Spartans, who considered that Dorieas was unfair against them.

Consequently, Diagoras, Theagenes, Milon and Dorieas were some of the many great ancient Olympic athletes that were well-known in ancient Greece for their physique, their power, their performance in athletic contests and their achievements. Ancient Greek honored them as heroes and sometimes even as gods and their names were written in golden letters in the pages of history of the ancient Olympic Games.


Dimi NtouranidouWritten by Dimi Ntouranidou


Graduate teacher of Greek literature (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Literary editor of publications, Responsible for writing articles about the ancient Olympic Games   






Images of the ancient Greek Olympic Games blog are taken from the Ancient Greek Olympic Games Comic. In the Ancient Olympic Games Comic you will find much more about the ancient Olympic Games while having fun reading a wonderful comic story. You can download a sample episode of the comic here.









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