In Nemea

Krawczuk, Seven Against Thebes:

After many, many years, in the times in which the third expedition of seven against Thebes marched against the city, the Nemean Games – along with the Olympic, the Pythian and the Isthmus games – were among the four most famous in all Greece. Starting in 573 BC they took place every other year, always at the height of summer. They preserved the memory of those who had founded them in the heroic age: of Heracles, the seven princes, and the tiny Opheltes smothered by the snake. A glorious Doric temple of Zeus was built here in the fourth century BC; its architect was the famous Skopas from the island of Paros. In front of it was a great altar and at the back wall a narrow passage to an underground chamber known as the Opheltes grave; in truth it was either an earlier temple, or a grave from the Mycenaean period. Near the temple of Zeus there were buildings where the competitors trained: palestra and gymnasion; and a little further, on the slope of the hill, a stadium, an open air theater, and a hippodrome; that is where the wrestling competition and the races took place.

But the glory of Nemea did not last long. Already in the third century the city of Argos, which had conquered the area, moved the games from the valley onto its own territory, so that the revenue stream from the games might flow directly into its own citizens’ pockets. Nemea became deserted. Then came earthquakes and gradually toppled all buildings. Only ruins remained and three – only three – columns of the great temple of Zeus. They stood there, alone and proud, a romantic accent in the wilderness; they were once the favorite subject of woodcuts of traveling artists on the Grand Tour; and today they are the favorite topic of video camera films of American tourists; for whoever travels to see the ruins of Mycenae stops in this charming valley, where Heracles performed one of his twelve works at the command of King Eurystheus.

This was written in 1968.

So why does a google image search return -- five columns?!


Wait, it gets worse. There are now seven:

Yes, you guessed it. There are plans afoot to refound the games and to rebuild the Temple of Zeus. Refounding the games would be in keeping with the ancient tradition -- the games were founded by Heracles, then refounded by the Seven Princes during the first expedition of seven against Thebes (as is described in Euripides' Hypsipyle). But are there around heroes of sufficient standing to refound the games successfully?

And has no one paid attention to the ever more urgent need to preserve the traditional picturesque landscapes of our civilization? Think what happened to the fifty three stations of the Tokaido, cemented over and obscured by boxy bunker-like reinforced concrete low-rises. Think about all these romantic records of travel to Nemea combined with philosophical musing on the impermanence of things. They will be rendered obsolete!


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