It seems there has been a war waging for some time between music and sports. (Yes, my ex husband was a coach and I am a musician, lol). But, seriously, most high school band students at most small schools can tell you how hard it is to get to practice their show on the football field. I remember us "sharing" it with the football team... a few times. Footballs sailed in the air along with our music, threatening to strike us down. Drum majorette and coach whistles competed there also. But I think "we musicians" won this round-- which came first, music or sports in ancient Olympic history?
The games began as a religious event to honor the Greek gods. Music was the only event as of old in the Pythian Games, which honored Apollo, god of the arts. Sporting events were added in 586 BC. The Olympic games began later in 776 BC. Music was a feature at all Greek games, but was not part of the Olympic games, except for the Olympics Trumpeters and heralds. Because the Greeks thought that music improved the coordination of the movements music, it was played during the long jump. "Musical Contests" were held to honor the muses, and goddesses of music, literature and drama. These contests were independent or athletic events and just as important. The rest of the following chart may be found here.
singing + flute
playing the flute
playing the kithara
The Pythian games and Olympic games took place every four years-- Olympic in the first and Pythian in the third. The term ‘olympiad’ was used to describe the time from one game to the next (there were no calendars then). Even after athletic events were added to the Pythian games, the musical events remained the most important, coming first in the 5-day long festivities. The first day was for religious ceremonies (sacrifice, reenactment of the struggle between Apollo and Python, procession). A banquet was held on the second day. Musicals Contests were on the third day, althetic contests on the fourth day, and horse races were on the last day. Prizes were a laurel crown, but later apples were given.
In the third year of the 48th olympiad (586 BC), the Amphiktyony continued to award prizes for kithara-singers and added a contest for singing accompanied by flute and for playing flute. For the first time, they also awarded prizes to athletes. The events were the same as those at Olympia, with the exception of the four-horse chariot. The long distance race and the sprint was added, also.At the second Pythian games (582 BC) they did not invite them to compete for prizes anymore, but from then on they made the games crown-games. They event of singing accompanied by flute was deleted. At the eighth Pythian games (558 BC) an extra contest for the kitharists (instrumental only) was added.
In the Hellenistic period writing poetry and prose was an Olympic event, along with competitions for tragic and comic actors. The Pythian games was best known for musical contests. There were three musical contests at Delphi in the classical period: playing the kithara, the combination of kithara and singing, and playing the aulos. The kithara was a type of lyre, with vertical strings of equal length. The aulos was a wind instrument, ancestor to the oboe. Two auloi were typically played by a musician at the same time. Both the kithara and the auloi could both accompany soloists as well as choirs, but the event of singing accompanied by an aulos was abolished soon after it was begun. The contest of singing a hymn for their god was the first singing event which offered a prize.
According to Tony Perrottet, author of The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games athletes would hire the best poets to write odes to victory. Greek poets would showcase their newest works in front of such an enthusiastic, educated crowd.Centuries later in 1896 Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the games, and in 1912 at the Stockholm Games he was successful in adding music, painting, architecture and poetry (lyric and epic). His very lackluster poem "Ode to Sport">won the gold medal!Because of the lack of quality and translation problems,poetry was dropped after the 1948 London Games.To see a chart of the music and sports event by year, please see "Ancient Games."