Emeritus Professor Bob Milns and Professor Donald Kyle from the University of Texas
Emeritus Professor Bob Milns and Professor Donald Kyle from the University of Texas
10 June 2009

According to University of Texas Professor Donald Kyle, an expert in the field of ancient sport, the original Olympic Games were the ancient Greek version of Woodstock.

Professor Kyle was selected as the R.D. Milns Visiting Professor of 2009, and recently gave a guest lecture at UQ about ancient sport.

In his talk “The New Ancient Olympics” Professor Kyle noted how the Ancient Olympic Games are both relevant and revealing but warned of their crafted mythologies.

“There are idyllic notions of competing in the nude - and how great would that be?” he said.

“But that’s simply not the whole story.”

Professor Kyle depicted the Ancient Olympic Games as “no medals, no women and no decathlon”, and jokingly suggested how depressing it would have been without those components.

“The Olympics in 400BC would have been like Woodstock, because of the celebration, nudity and lack of water or sanitation,” he said.

“Greece successfully mythologised Athens as the birthplace of Ancient Olympics and transformed cultural sports into an inclusive modern celebration.”

Professor Kyle credited Pierre Coubertin as the founder of the modern Olympic Games, for his role in connecting sporting amateurism to Greek tradition and crafting the Olympic ideal.

“Coubertin invented Olympic tradition to enhance the current games,” he said.

“The Olympic Games rose from cultural games where there was no remuneration, rather than from wars, as otherwise thought.”

“As economies were raised, colonisation increased competition. The Ancient Olympics eventually grew into a competition, much like the modern day Olympics, where ancient athletes competed for victory, excellence, and cash rewards.

“Relevance in inspiration is what kept the Ancient Olympics alive, and what will keep them going in the future.”

Professor Kyle has recently released a new book Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, published by Blackwell Press.

The R.D. Milns Visiting Professorship in History and Classics was founded last year by the Friends of Antiquity, a joint initiative of Classics and Ancient History and the Alumni and Friends Association of the University of Queensland.

The next lecture in the Sunday series will be held on June 14, where Dr Andrew Sneddon will present “Where did all the poor people go?: the forgotten people in historical discourse”.

Media: Dania Lawrence or Tara Young at UQ Arts (07 3365 3072, tara.young@uq.edu.au)