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Life and Death at Nemea: The Hero Opheltes and the Origin of the Nemean Games

Life and Death at Nemea: The Hero Opheltes and the Origin of the Nemean Games

Jorge Bravo received his Ph.D. in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology from the University of California at Berkeley and is now Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Maryland.  His book, Excavations at Nemea IV: The Shrine of Opheltes, will be published in January by the University of California Press.  He is co-director of the American Excavations at Kenchreai and an NEH Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
Αbstract
The Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea was host to one of the great athletic festivals of ancient Greece, the Nemean Games, on par with the ancient Olympics.  In this talk I will describehow the ancient Greeks connected the origin of the Games with the myth of the hero Opheltes, a baby whose sudden death created a ritual obligation to honor the child with funerary rites and games.  Archaeological evidence from the Shrine of Opheltes at Nemea combines with literary and artistic testimony to shed light on how the bond between the Games and the child hero was celebrated throughout antiquity with ritual observances such as sacrifice and libations.  I will alsoexplore the cultural and political significance of this curious juxtaposition of the celebration of life and the commemoration of death, which constitutes an intricate expression of the ancient Greek conception of human mortality.