Symbols from 19th Century

The foundation of a new state presents to the new Government the need to legitimise its power. The formation of a centralised authority (King and official Government) constitutes a new experience for thousands of inhabitants of the Greek state, who carry out different habits, a different way of thinking, and a different culture. The new political authorities need to be accepted and supported by different groups of people. Thus, they must create a new "language" that is understood and accepted by individuals.

Additionally, this new situation creates new concepts, such as citizen and citizenship. What does "citizen" mean for the inhabitants of the Greek state? How will the people realise the need to obey in a central authority? The new authorities need to communicate with the inhabitants of the Greek state; they need to make them understand that they are citizens of a state. In order to achieve this goal, they must find ways to homogenise the various modes of living and thinking. Participation in new experiences, fashioned by a main authority, is the only way. The educational system experiences a new unity. Another is the organisation of athletic events which not only helps to create a new culture but to understand the new concepts as well.

The King
The figure of the King became the symbol of the nation-state. The King is represented as the Father of the Nation and finally, he is identified with the Nation. That is the main symbol of the authorities, the first that must be understood and accepted by the people. Through that process, the people will learn to obey in a common shared central authority: the Greek state.

"The King then arose and with a sonorous voice answered:

"I declare the opening of the first International Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation! Long live the Greek People!"

He raised his right hand. Immediately thunderous cheers arose from all the vast space answering the royal words."
[Charles Beck (ed.) Oi Olympiakoi Agones, 776 p.X. - 1896 (The Olympic Games, 776 BC - 1896), Athens 1896].

Music is another element that helped citizens learn about these new concepts. The Olympic Hymn illustrates the merging of the classical past and the national present. The description of 1896' Olympic Games proves the ritual elements connected with the music:

"... all the bands concentrate in the middle of the arena and to them are added a great number of musicians with chord instruments and a great crowd of singers, The direction of all this gathering of musicians is undertaken by the distinguished Greek composer Spyridon Samaras whom the council of the Olympic Games entrusted with the composition of the Hymn of the Games, of which the words had been written, at the instruction of the same committee, by Costis Palamas (a famous Greek poet).

The poem is as follows:

Ancient immortal spirit, unsullied father of
that which is beautiful, great and true,
Descend, make thyself known and shine hero
on this earth and below these skies
witness of Thy Glory

Illuminate the endeavour of the noble contests
in the running race, the wrestling and the throwing.
Place a wreath of evergreen branch,
creating the body as of iron and worthy.

Vales, mountains and oceans shine with Thee
Like unto a great temple of white and porphyry.
To which all people hasten to this temple
to worship Thee, Oh ancient immortal Spirit.

That hymn sung in the open air in full sunshine, in the presence of tens thousands of spectators, moved with emotion, has something of especial worthiness."
[Charles Beck (ed.) Oi Olympiakoi Agones, 776 p.X. - 1896 (The Olympic Games, 776 BC - 1896), Athens 1896].

The Parade
In symbolic terms, the parade is the celebration of the modern era. It is symbol of pride and strength of the national states. The spectators of the parade participate in this celebration showing their enthusiasm. The parade conveys the message of unity through a show of power. The parade of Olympic champions, with which the Games were concluded, is indicative of that meaning:

"After the distribution of the prizes, the parade of the Olympic Winners took place in the stadium. Led by Mr. Manos, director of the Games, the Olympic Winners and those placed second, bearing the honourable prize of a branch of wild olive or laurel, proceed round the arena, at a slow pace, to the enthusiastic playing of the bands. In the first rank is Louis waving a small Greek flag enthusiastically.

At the end of the parade, the King proclaimed in a loud voice:

"I declare the First International Olympic Games terminated!"
[Charles Beck (ed.) Oi Olympiakoi Agones, 776 p.X. - 1896 (The Olympic Games, 776 BC - 1896), Athens 1896].

The Flags
One of the most characteristic symbols of the national states are their flags. The flag is a symbol of the nation's unity. People learn to identify their national existence with the flag. During the Olympic Games, the winners and their compatriots cannot hide their emotions in the view of their country's waving flag.

Classical Symbols | 1896 Stamps | Modern Symbols