Customer Reviews: The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games
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on June 30, 2004
This is a wonderful book for the summer, a surprisingly exciting page-turner that anyone can take to the beach. As both a history lover and avid gym fan, I particularly enjoyed the chapters on 'ancient Greek gymnasium culture;' there is even information on the work-out techniques they used to use! (An early form of aerobics was popular, as many exercises were done to flute music...) The book is packed with wonderful anecdotes from the pagan festival, plucked from Pausanias, Herodotus, Plato, Sophocles and other top authors from the past. It's fun to know that the ancient Games were rowdy, drunken and filled with corruption and shady dealings -- although since they competed naked, athletes would have had trouble providing corporate sponsorships for the latest olive oil merchant. It's a wonderful way to digest excellently-researched history within an amusing (often hilarious) authorial style.
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on June 28, 2004
A friend asked me to help him find this book in a bookstore. He had heard about it on National Public Radio. The bookstore had 8 copies buried in the Greek history section. They would probably sell more of this book if they stocked it in their sports section, especially with the Olympics coming up in a few weeks.
I didn't express any interest in the book during the search and I didn't skim through the book or read the back cover. Later I discovered that my friend bought several copies. I was surprised when he insisted on giving one to me, but I'm glad he did.
It's a fast, fun, entertaining book. The author starts out with an overview of the subject. In the later chapters, he goes into more vivid detail about each of the games, the rules, the locations, the cultural events, the customs, the hardships, the prices, and the celebrations. He has details about the contestants, the trainers, the judges, the spectators, the local citizens, the royalty, and the gods.
I especially liked all the stories about bribery and corruption and the Greek traditions of justice.
Each chapter has interesting ink sketches to characterize the stories. (The image of Zeus on page 132 should be flipped horizontally to properly show Zeus holding the scepter in his right hand.)
I annoyed my friend by finishing the book before he did (which is rare), and told him a lot of the storylines at our next dinner.
Then I went back to the bookstore to buy some copies for some of my friends and the local library. The facts in this book are alive and more interesting than what you'll hear on TV this summer when the 2004 Olympic Games are broadcast.
Tony Perrottet made many references to the Greek literature that he based his book on. It encourages me to reread these classics that I haven't picked up since high school and college and enjoy them again.
Good work, Tony!
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on June 15, 2004
I heard the author interviewed on NPR radio recently, and was intrigued. This book is much more than just about the Olympics -- it recreates the whole pagan world, in all its strangeness and human detail (which makes sense, as sports was only one part of that great festival -- there were literary events, artistic events, and plenty of boozing -- maybe that explains why there's more about sex in the book than athletics!). It's ideal for anyone interested in ancient history -- the past really springs to life from its pages!
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on July 6, 2004
Everything you wanted to know about the sex lives of the ancient Greeks but were afraid to ask... This is a wonderfully researched, very well written book about the classical Greek athletic culture, filled with snippets that will be great around dinner tables during the Olympics -- the naked pankration must have been quite dangerous for the naked males, while the erotic potential of the all-women wrestling matches at Sparta brought droves of Greeks from all around. I learned a huge amount about the pagan world -- certainly more than just sports (althought the Greeks would never have said 'just sports...' Anyone watching the modern 'Greco-Roman' wrestling, javelin, discus, etc etc will have their fill -- I just loved the stuff about food, wine, prostitution -- the women charged different rates depending on the sexual position, esp if it involved more physical effort on their part... go ancient heteras...!)
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on July 16, 2004
More than just the Olympics, also a fast tour of Hellenic society. Perrottet is good not just on the details of the games but also on the role of the games in the Hellenic world.
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on January 7, 2006
"The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games" by Tony Perrottet is a wonderful book describing the ancient Greek games. It's aptly titled, too, in two different ways. First, in the ancient Olympics, the contestants performed nude, without clothing that would prevent spectators from admiring their glorious physiques. But more importantly, Perrottet lifts the respectable veneer that is so often draped over classical times. Many writers have difficulties describing the past. Either they write with such awe that the ancients seem to have been gods, instead of mortals, or the writers write in such a way that we seem to be viewing through a dust-covered lens that makes everything seem old and faded.

Perrottet, though, brings the past alive in a way that makes the reader see and hear and even taste, feel and smell - especially smell! - what it was like to participate in these ancient games. Through a variety of different ancient sources, including contemporary texts, vase paintings, statues and a visit to the ruins of Olympia, he is able to give us a well-rounded experience. He guides us through the importance of the games in honoring the gods, how athletes trained, including specific, faddish diets that they followed, the evolution of the different events, the role that women played (unfortunately very little), the discomfort felt by the crowds, and even how physicians treated injuries. "The Naked Olympics" is great fun, and even though the Olympics are not being held in Athens this year, it's worth reading this book to appreciate them wherever they take place (the winter Olympics are taking place in Turin, Italy in 2006).
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"... there was no reliable water supply at Olympia ... so dehydrated spectators would be collapsing in droves from heatstroke. Nobody bathed for days. The sharp odor of sweat did battle with Olympia's fragrant pine forests and wildflowers, only to be overpowered by the intermittent wafts from the dry riverbeds, which had been turned into open-air latrines. And every minute of the day was a trial with Olympia's incessant plague of flies ... The smoke from thousands of cooking fires created a pall of pollution. Crowd control was enforced by local officials with whips." - from THE NAKED OLYMPICS, on the conditions facing the spectators. Perhaps could also describe the ambience surrounding modern-day after-Christmas sales.

With THE NAKED GAMES, author Tony Perrottet repeats what he previously did with Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists, i.e. take the reader back to the good old days. In this volume, Tony describes, based on relatively meager and scattered historical sources, what it was like to attend, either as a spectator or an athlete, the original Greek Olympic Games, which were uninterruptedly staged every four years from 776 B.C. to 394 A.D. That's 1,170 years, a performance run that Broadway productions can only fantasize about. Some rocks don't live that long.

My pre-existing knowledge of the Greek games and Olympia being, well, nil, the only errors apparent to me were in an artist's re-creation of the forty-foot high statue of Zeus within his Olympia temple. The drawing of the idol is wildly out of proportion, based on measurements provided in the historical record, to the human figures alongside. Moreover, Tony's text places a scepter in his right hand and a winged statue of Victory in his left while, in the drawing, it's just the opposite. Didn't anyone proof-read?

The volume contains thirty-one illustrations, most of which show the contestants' activities as depicted on drinking cups, amphorae, and water jars of the period. Not surprisingly, pretty much all of the subjects are buck naked, which is how they competed and which is consistent with the book's title. I wish I'd had the sunscreen concession.

There's also a drawing of what the Sanctuary of Olympia complex may have looked like around 150 B.C. based on extant ruins and archeological evidence. There is, however, no placement of Olympia on a map; it was rather isolated from the rest of Greece. I had to look it up on-line.

Finally, there's a scene from the film Ben Hur (1959) that shows the title character racing his 4-horse chariot. Perrottet maintains that the film's race sequence, and action sequences like it in other movies, accurately portrays the chaotic and violent nature of the event as it was staged at the Greek games. Really? I didn't realize Charleton Heston was that old.

As a work of popular history, THE NAKED GAMES is almost certainly not the most learned or comprehensive work on the subject. But for anyone with a casual interest in a wide range of topics, this book, assuming Perrottet is reporting the facts with reasonable accuracy, is a congenial and instructive diversion.
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on June 11, 2004
Come and join the spectators at the Ancient Games. Put your bets on, pick up a rented lover, get very drunk and generally have a rip roaring time !
In this book you feel as though you are part of the (all too human) crowd that came from farflung outposts to the great gatherings. It's a delight to find an author who makes ancient history come alive and places the reader in the heart of the vulgar vibrant throng.
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on August 18, 2004
If you're like me you find the modern Olympics stultifyingly uninteresting, so all the more kudos to Tony Perrottet for writing a book that is brief, witty, and deceptively learned beneath its breezy exterior. Whether you have any interest in sports, ancient or modern, this book brings the past to life in a way that makes it seem at once as contemporary as our own lives and shockingly strange as well- a trick only the best popular history books manage to pull off. If you like this book, take a look at Perrottet's other book on ancient life, Pagan Holiday, which carries off the same succesful appproach with the ancient Romans.
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on July 23, 2004
How come the ancient Greeks had all the fun? Sports? Obviously they were there at the Olympics. But so much else too! Great banquets with sexy flute girls, philosophers like Plato pontificating in one corner, writers like Herodotus reading in the other. Wine, rich food, fire eaters and astrologers. They knew how to party in ancient Greece. Don't worry about watching the games this year in Athens, read this book instead.
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