Volos spectacle to honor mythical Olympic ‘founders’

VOLOS – Jason and the Argonauts will sail again. But this time, organizers say, it will be part of a musical «super show» days before the Olympic soccer preliminaries begin in the central port of Volos, one of four Greek cities hosting the matches. Volos hopes to capitalize 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 ceremonies on August 13. Olympic organizers have refused to offer any details of the opening ceremonies. 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 Organizing Committee believes that reporting on the contents of the opening ceremonies will spoil for spectators one of the most awaited surprises of the Games,» Michalis Zacharatos, 2004 communications general manager, said. «You will just have to wait and see.» Volos officials were cautious, too, neither confirming nor denying any links with the Athens 2004 Olympics opening ceremonies. «(The Argonaut myth) combines the local tradition of a country organizing 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. 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 return alive as the fleece was located in Colchis on the Black Sea, the eastern edge of the known world 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 the pieces into the sea. The Volos show, however, mostly seeks to encourage a new idea: that the Argonauts were the fathers of ancient sports contests. «They organized games that were before the Olympic Games… (The Argonauts) were athletes,» said Nikos Tsaknis, a journalist from Volos whose book about an Argonaut-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 Lemnos and other games during the height of the Mycenaean civilization 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 AD 393 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 on 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 that literary sources suggest athletic contests in an area near Colchis far back in antiquity. These pre-Olympic games were always in honor of someone’s death. «Only princes and people of elite classes participated in the games in honor of the dead,» Adrimi said. «The (mythical) Argonauts were not random people. Those 50 people that were taken on the Argos were all princes of various kingdoms of the Mycenaean period… They were not just simply strong boys of Mycenaean society.» The «multimedia» rendition of the myth will include «movement, dance, acrobats and images» by the Czech theater troupe Laterna Magika, Marangopoulos said. Most of the scenes will take place on a replica of the ancient ship, the Argos. In composing the music, Marangopoulos used instruments known to ancient Greeks, including stringed musical instruments called lyres and the Balkan lute, the uti. 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-meter (94-foot) ship will be complete in 2005.