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The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Statue of Zeus maze puzzle

Statue of Zeus (432 BC) maze puzzle

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The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was the most famous artistic work in all of Greece and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and it made a profound impression on all who saw it.

Pausanias, a Greek traveler who wrote the earliest guidebook to ancient Greece in 150 AD, described the statue in great detail; yet he also wrote that "records fall far short of the impression made by a sight of the image." To the Greeks the statue of Olympian Zeus was the incarnate god, and not to have seen it at least once in one's lifetime was considered a misfortune.

Ruling over the gods from his exalted throne atop Mount Olympus, Zeus saw everything, rewarded good conduct, punished evil, and governed all. He was the bringer of thunder and lightning, rain, and winds, and his weapon was the thunderbolt. He was the protector of cities, the home, strangers and supplicants. Altars to Zeus graced the forecourts of houses throughout Greece and pilgrims visited his many mountaintop shrines, but the god's best-known temple was the monumental Temple of Zeus, built in 460 BC in a sacred grove between two rivers at Olympia.

Within this temple the statue of the supreme god sat upon an intricately carved cedarwood throne that was decorated with mythical scenes of lesser gods and heroes rendered in gold, ebony, and precious stones. In his left hand Zeus carried a scepter made of a multicolored alloy of rare metals; crowned with an eagle's head, it symbolized his rule over the earth. His extended right hand supported a life-size statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, and the stool beneath his feet was upheld by two impressive gold lions. His hair, beard, and drapery were made of gold, and his unclothed flesh—head, hands and feet—was rendered in burnished ivory. To keep the ivory from cracking the god had to be regularly anointed with olive oil, which was collected in a shallow pool beneath his feet. Over 40 feet in height, Zeus was too large to fit in the temple if he stood up—a curious fact to ancient commentators, who thought of the temple as Zeus's actual home.

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If anyone who is heavy-laden in mind were to stand before this statue, he would forget all the griefs and troubles of this mortal life."

—Dion Chrysostom, Greek rhetorician and philosopher, 1st century AD

Presiding over the Olympic Games

Zeus presided over the Olympic games, a great Panhellenic festival that took place once every four years. Protected by a sacred truce, athletes from cities throughout Greece journeyed to Olympia to compete in the festival's contests of strength, endurance and skill.

Only Greek men and boys were allowed in the games, and athletes had to swear a solemn oath before the altar of Zeus that they had trained for at least ten months and would compete fairly. Events included footraces, chariot and horse races, the discus and javelin throw, boxing, wrestling, and the broad jump. Combination events were popular, such as the pancration, a violent free-for-all that combined wrestling and boxing, and the pentathlon, which included running, wrestling, and javelin throwing. Runners were judged not only by their place at the finish line but also by their form, and thus the second or third place finisher often won the event. The athletes covered their bodies with oil, and competition was in the nude. Married women were excluded from watching—under penalty of being hurled from the Typaeon rock.

Statue of Zeus

Victors received only a simple laurel of wild olive and the right to erect a statue at Olympia; by the time of Pausanias over three thousand such statues crowded the site. But Olympic champions were hailed as heroes: poets sang their praise, sculptors reproduced their image, and in their home cities, walls were torn down to make way for their triumphant return. Athletes from Athens even enjoyed free dinners in the state dining halls for the rest of their lives.

Fate of the Statue of Zeus

At its height in the 5th century BC, the Olympic games drew crowds of over 40,000 from all across the Greek world: Athens, Sparta, Syracuse, Rhodes, and a hundred other cities. The statue of Zeus presided over the games until 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I because of their pagan associations. The fate of the statue is unknown. Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the temples in 426 AD, and the statue may have perished then or been carried off to Constantinople, to be lost in the great fire that engulfed that city in 475 AD...

The Statue of Zeus maze art is based on reconstructions of the statue by J. Swaddling and Martin Price.

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Text taken from Amazeing Art: Wonders of the Ancient World — HarperCollins Publishers — Serialized in Games magazine — Recommended by the Archaeological Institute of America — A BookSense "What's in Store" Main Selection —  Maze puzzle art reproduced by the British Museum

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We must also mention the Labyrinths, quite the most abnormal achievements on which man has spent his resources. One still exists in Egypt..."

—Pliny, Roman author, 1st century AD

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