An Interview with Professor Peter Bien

Peter Bien is a professor of English at Dartmouth College.

These questions and answers were taken from an interview recorded with Professor Peter Bien on November 10, 1995 at Dartmouth College. The answers are paraphrased from his responses.

Table of Contents

Q: What is the difference between the events now and the events then?

A: First of all, the competition included artistic composition and poetry. Secondly, the event was very political. As everyone knows, there was a truce that accompanied this, so that people from all parts of Greece and very often people who were not very friendly to one another could come and they would all congregate there and they would not only watch the games but they would do political business. In that sense, it is very much like what happened just recently of state of the UN and they did not just use that time to celebrate the UN. They used that time to talk to one another in very useful ways. It also happens in great state funerals. There was one in Israel just two days ago; heads of state that don't usually talk to each other, including Arabs and Jews, were all together and those special occasions are used for political discussion.

Q: In addition to athletics what else was Olympia a center for?

A:Olympia was a great center for art as well as athletics and was concerned about religion as we can see from the statue of Zeus but also a way that the Greeks projected certain things about their civilization. They did that through the sculpture, that they chose to place in the temple of Zeus.

Q: What did the word athlete mean to the Greeks of Olympia?

A: Athlete is a Greek word, athletes , in Greek and it means athlete but most basically, it goes back to the oldest Greek- Homer. It means somebody who contends, somebody who takes part in a contest. That is what athletes do but not only athletes, so the word in a slightly different form athlos which is the contest for a prize is applied to the great hero, Herakles who had to achieve many contests in order to prove himself. So when you are a contestant for a prize there is also toil, trouble and labor for that prize and all those things are contained (at least in the Greek sense) of the word, athlete. I think when you think of it athletitism in the modern day starts with the Greeks not necessarily with Olympia but certainly it is very present in Olympia.

Q: What is the meaning of the Olympic games?

A: That is the most basic meaning of the Olympic games. The celebration of civilization of the excess energy that only a civilized people has to use in sport.