Exhibition shows Olympic treasures from British Museum
More than 110 invaluable treasures, selected from the British Museum and revealing the relationship between the ancient and modern Olympic Games, will be on display at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum from tomorrow (August 3) until November 24.
The exhibition is one of the major events to coincide with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the co-hosting of equestrian events in Hong Kong.
The exhibition, “The Ancient Olympic Games”, is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Trustees of the British Museum, and organised by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the British Museum. It is supported by the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China and the education programmes are funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.
Exhibits include sculptures, pottery, goldware, bronzeware, coins, medals, and the world-renowned marble sculpture “The Discus Thrower”. They vividly tell the stories of the sporting venue of ancient Olympia, the different events held at the ancient games as well as the ceremonies honouring the winners and associated religious activities. The exhibition also traces the development of the modern Olympic Games and reviews the history of the participation of China and Hong Kong in this festival of sport.
Officiating at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (August 2) were Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, the Deputy Director of the British Museum, Dr Andrew Burnett, the Steward of The Hong Kong Jockey Club, Mr Michael T H Lee, the President of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, Mr Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, the Chairman of the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee and Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, Mrs Jenny Fung, the Chairman of the History Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Leung Yuen-sang, and the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow.
Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Tsang said, “The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games are only six days away. Hong Kong is indeed proud to be one of the co-host cities of the Games. We are taking this opportunity to show the dynamism and vibrancy of the cultural scene of Hong Kong as an Olympic City through a wide range of cultural programmes and exhibitions for the enjoyment of all in Hong Kong.”
“Just when the Equestrian Events of the 2008 Olympics will soon take place here in Hong Kong, we have collaborated with the British Museum to organise this exhibition not only at the right time, but also at the right place. Staged in Sha Tin at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the exhibition shares the same district where the Olympic Equestrian Venue and the Olympic Village are located. During the Games, an Olympic Live Site will also be set up at Sha Tin Park for the enjoyment of the public. I appeal to all in Hong Kong, athletes, visitors and members of the public alike, to come visit us and be a part of the Games,” Mr Tsang said.
“The Ancient Olympic Games” is the third museum exhibition staged following the opening of the “Story of the Horse” at the Museum of Art, the “Heavenly Horse” exhibition at the Museum of History to coincide with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. There is also the “Sports Arena” at the Science Museum. Featuring a selection of more than 100 items themed on the Games, “The Ancient Olympic Games” exhibition takes visitors back in time to gain an insight into the sporting spirit embodied in the ancient Games, and the origin and development of modern day Olympics.
First held in 776 BC, the ancient Olympic Games occurred continuously at Olympia in Greece every four years until the late fourth century AD. The Olympic Games were held in honour of Zeus, and the grove or “Altis” at the heart of Olympia was sacred to him. The gymnasium was often attached to temples and altars. The athletic contests formed part of a festival, which also included the ritual sacrifice of animals, processions, banquets, and competitions for heralds and trumpeters.
Before an Olympic festival, heralds travelled to every Greek state to announce a Sacred Truce. States participating in the Games were forbidden to take up arms, pursue legal disputes or carry out death penalties. Thus athletes and other participants were protected during the time it took to travel to and from Olympia.
The ancient Olympic Games attracted athletes from all over the ancient Greek world to the sanctuary site of Olympia, where they competed before an audience of thousands. During the five-day festival, there were events such as discus, long jump, javelin, running and wrestling as part of the pentathlon, meaning ‘five (event) contest’. And running and wrestling were also separate competitions in their own right. Other events also included boxing and all-in wrestling. Equestrian events were a highlight of the festival, a dramatic start to the second day. Speed and skill were most important, collisions and accidents were common, and victory in the chariot race was especially glorified.
Music was an accompaniment to athletics training and an important element in everyday life. For the ancient Greeks, rhythm and grace of movement were a vital part of athletics, as well as strength, speed and distance. Just as nowadays music may accompany modern physical exercise, music helped Greek athletes. In addition to the athletic events at the Olympic Games, there were competitions for trumpeters. Songs also accompanied at the banquets and celebrations in the evenings.
Just as today, there was no cash prize for a victory in the ancient Olympics. In modern time, medals are awarded to competitors finishing first, second and third, but at the ancient Olympics only the champion counted, and the prize was an olive wreath. Winning an event was a great honour, which meant fame not only for the athlete but also for the city-state he belonged to. The winning athletes would be highly respected by their people. This explains why the Olympic Games greatly influenced the Greeks in terms of their daily lives, society, education, politics and art.
Women did not compete in the Olympic Games, and married women were forbidden from even attending the festival. The city of Sparta was unusual in encouraging girls to exercise and compete in the same way as boys. Women had a separate festival at Olympia, the Games of Hera, which were also held every four years. There was only one event, the foot race, divided into three separate contests by age.
The ancient Olympic Games came to an end in around 4th century AD, when Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of Roman Empire and banned all pagan cults. It was almost 15 centuries later, and under the strong advocating of a French educator, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896 in Athens, reliving the ancient festival in modern times. However, the games were no longer religious but solely athletic. The modern Olympic Games during their early years were strongly bounded by the then political and social attitudes. Later they became increasingly international, and more and more new games were added. Moreover, it began to welcome female athletes, and organised the Paralympic Games for the disabled, making the games a global major athletic event.
To tie-in with the exhibition, a series of education and extension activities will be organised. A lecture entitled “Ancient Greek Athletics and the Body Beautiful” to be given in English by the Senior Curator Dr Ian Jenkins and Curator Ms Victoria Turner of the Greek and Roman Antiquities Department of the British Museum will be held on August 3. Dr Frederick Cheung Hok-ming, the Associate Professsor of the Department of History, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, will give two lectures in Cantonese: “Ancient Greek Mythology and the Olympic Games” on August 9 and “Ancient Greek History and Society” on October 19. Another talk on “More than Blue and White: Travel Writers’ Impression of Greece” will be presented on October 5 by Dr Wong Kim-fan, part-time lecturer of Department of Translation, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. All lectures will be held from 2:30pm to 4pm on the dates designated at the Seminar Room of the museum. Admission to these activities is free and reservation is required. For details and reservation of seats, please contact the Education Team of the museum on 2180 8260.
An audio-guide to the exhibition is available in the gallery and a fully illustrated catalogue is available from the museum’s Gift Shop.
Located at 1 Man Lam Road in Sha Tin, the Heritage Museum opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).
Admission to “The Ancient Olympic Games” exhibition is $20 from Thursday to Monday, and $10 on Wednesdays. A half-price concession is available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, full-time students and people with disabilities.
Car parking is available at the Heritage Museum. Those who prefer to use public transport may take the MTR to the Che Kung Temple station, which is within three minutes’ walk of the museum.
For enquiries, call 2180 8188. For details of the exhibition, visit the museum's website at http://hk.heritage.museum/.
Ends/Saturday, August 2, 2008
"The Discus Thrower", a marble sculpture made in Roman in the 2nd century AD, has become famous as an emblem of the ancient Olympic Games, and also of the ancient Greeks. It shows an athlete - naked, refined and eternally youthful - seemingly captured in the moment before releasing the discus.
Picture shows a bronze figurine of Zeus made in Roman in 1st to 2nd century AD. Zeus is the ruler of the company of gods on Mount Olympus and lord of the sky. Zeus in this statuette holds a sceptre and a thunderbolt, showing his control over gods and mortals, and his destructive power.
Picture shows a bronze statue named "Forbidden Fruit" which was made in Roman in the 1st century AD. It features the hero Harakles, the legendary founder of the Olympic Games. He is said to have entered the Games himself: he won the wrestling and "pankration", killed a boxer and rode a divine horse to victory. Herakles is shown here with the muscled physique of a boxer, holding three of the golden apples of the Hesperides.
The bronze discus shown in the picture was made in Greek in the 5th century BC. This discus weighs 2.075kg, only just over the 2kg weight used in the modern men's competition. This discus is engraved on both sides. The side captured shows a long jumper holding jumping weights, used to add momentum for a longer jump.
This is a bronze group of a two-horse racing chariot, with one horse missing. Made in Roman in the 1st to 3rd century AD, this model shows the lightweight construction of racing chariots, made of bent wood lashed together with leather strips. The design was based on war chariots, but racing chariots were smaller and lighter as they usually carried only a single charioteer.
The opening ceremony of the "The Ancient Olympic Games" was held today (August 2) at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. The officiating guests are about to ignite the Olympic fire at the ceremony to mark the opening of the exhibition. Pictured are (from left) the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow, Chairman of the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee and Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, Mrs Jenny Fung, Steward of The Hong Kong Jockey Club, Mr Michael T H Lee, Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, Deputy Director of the British Museum, Dr Andrew Burnett, President of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, Mr Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, and Chairman of the History Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Leung Yuen-sang.
Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing (2nd from left), appreciates the "The Discus Thrower", one of the star exhibits of the "The Ancient Olympic Games", after officiating at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (August 2) at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Looking on (from left) are the Senior Curator of the Greek and Roman Antiquities Department of the British Museum, Dr Ian Jenkin, Deputy Director of the British Museum, Dr Andrew Burnett, the President of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, Mr Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, and Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow.