The Naked Olympics
The True Story of the Ancient Games
By Tony Perrottet
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 9780812969917, 256pp.)
Publication Date: June 8, 2004
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What was it like to attend the ancient Olympic Games?
With the summer Olympics’ return to Athens, Tony Perrottet delves into the ancient world and lets the Greek Games begin again. The acclaimed author of Pagan Holiday brings attitude, erudition, and humor to the fascinating story of the original Olympic festival, tracking the event day by day to re-create the experience in all its compelling spectacle.
Using firsthand reports and little-known sources—including an actual Handbook for a Sports Coach used by the Greeks—The Naked Olympics creates a vivid picture of an extravaganza performed before as many as forty thousand people, featuring contests as timeless as the javelin throw and as exotic as the chariot race.
Peeling away the layers of myth, Perrottet lays bare the ancient sporting experience—including the round-the-clock bacchanal inside the tents of the Olympic Village, the all-male nude workouts under the statue of Eros, and history’s first corruption scandals involving athletes. Featuring sometimes scandalous cameos by sports enthusiasts Plato, Socrates, and Herodotus, The Naked Olympics offers essential insight into today’s Games and an unforgettable guide to the world’s first and most influential athletic festival.
"Just in time for the modern Olympic games to return to Greece this summer for the first time in more than a century, Tony Perrottet offers up a diverting primer on the Olympics of the ancient kind….Well researched; his sources are as solid as sources come. It's also well writen….Perhaps no book of the season will show us so briefly and entertainingly just how complete is our inheritance from the Greeks, vulgarity and all."
--The Washington Post
“A vivid evocation of the blood and guts, not to mention sheer guts, that marked the original Olympic Games more than two thousand years ago. Tony Perrottet tells the gripping story of a festival of physical attainment during which athletes risked and sometimes lost their lives. Today's champions have it easy.” —Anthony Everitt, author of Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician
“This is the book to read if you want to know what it felt like to be a spectator or a contestant at the ancient Olympic Games. Perrottet brings the scene to life in all its pageantry and squalor, with its beautiful bodies, rotting meat, flies, and broiling heat. Then, as now, the Games brought out the best and the worst of human potential, and blood, sweat, tears, sex, and money were all part of the Olympic experience, along with religion, bribery and politics.
—Mary Lefkowitz, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College and author of Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths
"This lively account of the classical Olympics portrays them as "the Woodstock of antiquity," and claims that the Games, while taken seriously, were also where Greeks gathered for a five-day debauch. A prostitute could earn a year's wages in the course of the tournament, Thessalonian peddlers sold love potions made from horse's sweat and minced lizard, and pentathletes competed to the accompaniment of flutes, perhaps the ancient equivalent of stadium rock. The festival offered beauty pageants and Homer-recitation contests, numerologists and fire-swallowers, and such culinary delicacies as roasted sow's womb. Athletic events also fuelled a thriving pickup scene: a message etched into the wall of a stadium at Nemea reads, "Look up Moschos in Philippi - he's cute."
--The New Yorker
"Erudite, colorful and frequently hilarious, Perrottet's The Naked Olympics is a marvelous resource for athletes, spectators, and scholars alike. I will never watch the Olympic games in quite the same way again."
—Michael Curtis Ford, author of The Ten Thousand and The Last King
"I considered myself a pretty solid researcher on ancient Greece, till Tony Perrottet's The Naked Olympics blew me out of the water. I never knew (just two among hundreds of delicious factoids) that there was no separate event for discus and javelin -- they were part of the pentathlon -- or that the chariot race ran 24 laps and took fifteen hair-raising minutes. (Not to mention the distinction between various attendant types of groupies, courtesans, and pornai.) Mr. Perrottet's vivid cinematic prose not only delivers encyclopedic intelligence of the ancient games but spirits you back in time with such immediacy that you can smell the sweat and feel the hot Greek sun. If you're gonna be glued to the modern Athens Games like I will, you must read The Naked Olympics. No other book communicates with such authenticity ' where it all came from, ' back in the days when you didn't need wardrobe malfunctions to get naked."
—Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire, Tides of War, and Last of the Amazons
"The Naked Olympics presents the Greeks in all their glory, brutality, and vulgarity. It is a fascinating picture and popular history at its best."
—Norman Cantor, Professor Emeritus, New York University, and author of Antiquity: The Civilization of the Ancient World
" Fans of Tony Perrottet's Pagan Holiday (aka Route 66 AD) will kill to read his follow-up The Naked Olympics. A seasoned traveller, Perrottet follows all the highways and byways of ancient Olympic lore. He really makes you feel what it was like to be at the ancient Olympics, conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells (especially the smells) of the Games with a sure and vivid touch. The Naked Olympics would be just the thing to cover your nakedness as you watch the 2004 Athens Olympics or go to visit the ancient site of Olympia - figleaves need not apply. "
—Paul Cartledge, Professor of Classics, Cambridge University, and author of The Spartans
"Short of building your own time machine, reading Tony Perrottet’s The Naked Olympics will be the closest you’ll come to experiencing the blood, sweat, glory, and greed that were the ancient Olympic Games. And if you do somehow happen upon a time machine, you’d still be wise to trust Tony Perrottet as your guide. Steeped in scholarship, leavened by humor, and lighted by the same flames of history and love of sport that illuminated the works of Homer, Lucian, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pausanias and Dio the Golden-Tongued, Perrottet’s The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games is one of those rare books that you’ll be citing for years to come."
—Dan Simmons, author of Ilium
"It was the Woodstock of antiquity: a five-day spectacle of heroic performance and after-hours debauchery dedicated to the Greek gods and held every fourth year at the rural religious sanctuary of Olympia. There were no team sports in the first Olympics, no torch marathon - that staple of the modern games was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler - and there was certainly no spandex. The original Olympics , travel writer Tony Perrottet tells us in this fun, light-hearted primer on the Greek competition that began it all, competed buck naked. Except, that is, for a generous coating of olive oil. ('Boy rubbers' were on hand to massage the oil in.) Wrestling, sprinting, boxing and chariot racing were the center-ring events of the competition, which ran uninterrupted and largely unaltered for 1,200 years, beginning in 776 B.C. Released to coincide with this summer's Athens games, The Naked Olympics is an engaging history lesson on an event that has apparently always been as much about pomp and politics as it has about superhuman strength."
---National Geographic Adventure