CHEATING AT THE ORIGINAL OLYMPICS. The Rio Olympics are about to begin. Naomi Shavin begins her article in the current Smithsonian (August 3) on cheating in the original Greek Olympics by noting that: “despite a state-sponsored doping scheme, the Russian delegation would not be wholly disqualified from the Rio Olympics but would be subject to a case by case determination of whether they had used illegal drugs.” Slavin then describes some of the ways of cheating that have been documented in the Greek Olympics, which are said to have been first held in 776 B.C., “though archeological evidence suggest they may have begun centuries earlier.” As so often, I marvel at how much is known about what happened long ago.
Some of the evidence of cheating is documentary. There is a history by Pausanias from about 200 AD which describes some of the cheating—bribery of opponents in wrestling or of a rival charioteer. And here is a picture of a cup from about 490 BC which features an image of “a wrestler attempting to gouge the eyes of an opponent and bite him simultaneously.”