As the world continues to be gobsmacked (that's the first time I've ever used that word) at Greece's efforts at Euro 2004, word comes from the Daily Times of Pakistan of a sort of opening ceremonies thing to the Olympic Football/Soccer tournament:
Jason and the Argonauts will sail again.
But this time, organisers say, it will be part of a musical supershow days before the Olympic soccer preliminaries begin in the central port of Volos, one of four cities around Greece hosting the matches.
Volos hopes to capitalise on its connection to one of antiquity’s best-known myths – the bloody deeds of Medea and the hunt for the golden fleece – with a new twist. The spectacle will try to promote the theory that Jason’s crew was composed of athletes who took part in games that were forerunners of the ancient Olympics. It also could be a hint of what may occur at the main Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony on August 13.
Olympic organisers have refused to offer any details of the opening ceremony. But the stadium will apparently be flooded to evoke images of Greece’s interplay of sea and land and possibly its ties to the ancient myths. “The Organising Committee believes that reporting on the contents of the opening ceremony is spoiling for the spectators one of the most awaited surprises of the games,” Michalis Zacharatos, 2004 communications general manager, said in a statement. “You will just have to wait and see.”
Volos officials were cautious, too, neither confirming nor denying any links with the Athens opening ceremony.
“(The Argonaut myth) combines the local tradition of a country organising the Olympic Games with an international appeal because Jason and Medea are symbols that are very well-known,” said Dimitris Marangopoulos, the creator and composer of the 85-minute show planned for August 8-10 in Volos, about 325 kilometers (195 miles) northwest of Athens.
According to the myth, King Pelias of Iolkos – near modern day Volos – promised his nephew Jason his rightful kingdom if he could return with the fleece. Pelias thought that Jason would never make it back alive as the fleece was located in Colchis on the Black Sea, the eastern edge of the world known to the Greeks.
Medea, the daughter of the Colchis king, aided Jason with magic and helped the Argonauts escape. She slowed the pursuit of the Colchis warriors by cutting up the king’s brother and throwing pieces into the sea. Back in Greece, myths say she claimed to have a youth-restoring potion and tricked the daughter of Pelias to butcher the king and place the remains in the cauldron.
The Volos show, however, mostly seeks to encourage a new idea: that the Arogonauts were the fathers of ancient sports contests. “They organised games that were before the Olympic Games ... (The Argonauts) were athletes,” said Nikos Tsaknis, a journalist from Volos whose book about an Arogonaut-athlete link was the basis for the musical. “They are mythical Olympians. They are founders of sports.”
Tsaknis said there is evidence of athletic contests on the island of Limnos and other games during the height of Mycenaean civilisation about 1200 BC. The Olympic games were born in southern Greece in 776 BC and held every four years until the Roman Emperor Theodosius abolished them in 393 AD after Christianity took root and he deemed the games pagan.
Archaeologist Vasso Adrimi, who is in charge of excavations in the Volos area and a leading expert in the Jason myth, believes traders from Iolkos reached far-flung ports in the Black Sea and may have provided the foundation for the myths of Jason and Medea.
She also notes literary sources suggest athletic contests in an area near Colchis far back in antiquity. These pre-Olympic games were always in honour of someone’s death. “Only princes and people of elite classes participated in the games in honour of the dead,” Adrimi said. “The (mythical) Argonauts are not random people. Those 50 people that got into the Argos are all relatives among themselves, princes of various kingdom of Mycenaean period ... They are not just simply strong boys of the Mycenaean society. They are nobles.”
The “multi-media” rendition of the myth will include “movement, dance, acrobats and images” by a Czech theater troupe called Laterna Magika, Marangopoulos said. Most of the scenes take place in the ancient ship, called the Argos. In composing the music, Marangopoulos used instruments known to ancient Greeks, including stringed musical instruments called lyres and the Balkan lute called the Uti. He also used electronic sounds.
“We have a number of indications of ancient Greek music. We do not have an exact image, but through my eyes I approached this world,” Marangopoulos said. Officials in Volos are also re-creating the Argos and are building a large model that will be on display during the Olympics in the area known as Pefkakia, where the myth says the original ship was launched.
The full-scale 28.5 metre (94-foot) ship will be complete in 2005 and will be constructed using the same wood and tools of the Mycenaean period. The replica will make its way to Georgia with 50 oarsmen from all over the European Union. “We are at the heart of this myth,” said Marangopoulos.