Miller’s Macedonian connection to Ancient Nemean Games

6 February 2019
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Stephen Miller, the renowned American classical Archaeologist from the University of California at Berkeley and the architect of the revival of the Nemean Games on antiquity, is already preparing for next year’s event from his base on the Peloponnesian Peninsula.

The front covers of the brochures for the seventh, and next, Nemean Games scheduled for June 26-28, 2020, feature the infant Opheltes, whose death was the cause of the creation of the original Games – one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece that were first held in the 6th century BCE. According to tradition, Opheltes was set down on a bed of wild celery when a deadly snake bit him. Hence, the crown of victory at Nemea was made of wild celery.

“All the games in antiquity had to do with death. They were really an expression of life in the face of death. If you go all the way back to the Funeral Games of Patroklus in the Iliad, we’re going to run and jump and show that we’re alive even though Patroklus, Opheltes are dead,” Miller told New Europe during an interview at the offices of the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games (http://nemeangames.org/) in the village of Nemea.

The Seventh Nemead will take place on June 26-28, 2020. It was at Nemea that the Ancient Greeks celebrated athletic and religious festivals that were part of the cycle of games at Delphi, Isthmia, and Olympia. The ancient stadium that Miller discovered at Nemea in 1974 is an important monument in the history of classical sport.

Unlike in the Olympics, the Nemean Games gives the average person a chance to participate in an international athletic festival where athletes run barefoot on the same soil where their ancient counterparts ran more than 2,000 years ago.

“We try to do everything one day so all the winners are there for the closing ceremony get their crowns and celery all at the same time, Miller said. “It takes a great deal of organization and very careful timing. We managed to do it this last time (2016) and succeed, but it was just about the limit of what we could do. We had 1,300 participants,” he added. “People do know about it and a lot of people come back because it’s not just the experience of that, it’s the experience going through the tunnel, of becoming an ancient Greek for ten minutes at least.”

“In 1996, I was very surprised at the success. I had no idea of the involvement and turnout that we had…But as it grows, and more and more people have the experience, they share that experience,” he said. “I learn something every time I have the Games of what’s required…what was required in antiquity. I learned the value of slaves because you need hands. You need people working. And when we did it back in 1996 (The First Modern Nemead) nobody wanted to be a slave.

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