Cryptic Olympic Ode to Be Read in Ancient Greek

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Ancient Greek will resound in full Pindaric style at the welcome gala for the International Olympic Committee on Monday July 23.

An Olympic Ode, composed by an Oxford University academic, will be read in ancient Greek by London Mayor Boris Johnson.

"I have no doubt that the members of the International Olympic Committee are fully versed in ancient Greek, but to ensure the elaborate puns can be fully appreciated, I shall have the pleasure of vocalizing the Ode twice, once in Greek and then again in English," Johnson, who studied classics at Oxford University, said.

Deeply grounded in the Pindaric tradition, the ode was written by Armand D'Angour of Oxford University's classics faculty.

"Writing an Ode for the Games revives a musical and poetic tradition from ancient Greece, where Odes were commissioned to celebrate athletic winners at the Games," D'Angour said.

"Pindar was the greatest poet of his time, and sponsors paid a great deal of money for athletic victors to be honoured with an Ode by him," he said.

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D'Angour, who also composed a Pindaric Ode for the Athens Olympics in 2004, remained faithful to ancient style and form, but also introduced word play.

The six English stanzas are written in rhyming couplets and include references to sprinter Usain Bolt ('the lightning bolt around the track'), to London's Mayor (Boris's name is punned on by barus in Greek, which means "weighty"), and the chairman of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games Lord Coe ("Join London's Mayor and co. within").

There are also allusions to British athletes, including volleyball captain Ben Pipes and diver Tom Daley.

Cryptically embedded in the Greek text, are the names of over a dozen athletes, including Britain's Tessa Sanderson, Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah, and Jessica Ennis.

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"The puns may make people groan, but Pindar's audiences may have done so too," D'Angour said.

Engraved in Greek and English on a bronze plaque, the Ode will have a permanent home in the Olympic Park.

"I am delighted to have the opportunity to declaim Dr D'Angour's glorious Olympic Ode at the Opening Gala. It's a work that breathes new life into the ancient custom of celebrating the greatness of the Games through poetry," Johnson said.

He added that he would try "to resist the temptation to regale the attendees a further time in Latin, though I cannot make any promises."

Here is the fll text of the Olympic Ode, both in English and ancient Greek.

Photo: Bust of the Greek poet Pindar. Roman copy from original of the mid-5th century B.C. Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Credit: Stas Kozlovsky/Wikimedia Commons;

Full text of the Olympic Ode. Credit: Oxford University