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The Truce of the Games | A Crown of Wild Olive
TruceGames
First edition cover

Publication

1971

Length

Short story

Audience

Children

Historical era

Classical Greece

Illustrations

Victor Ambrus

Collection

Heather, Oak, and Olive 1972

The Truce of the Games is a short story first published in 1971 by Hamish Hamilton, illustrated by Victor Ambrus. It was retitled "A Crown of Wild Olive" for the 1972 collection Heather, Oak, and Olive and is usually anthologized under that name.

A young Athenian athlete befriends his Spartan competitor during the brief Olympic truce in the midst of the Peloponnesian War.

PlotEdit

Amyntas is the youngest athlete – too young for military service – in the Athenian delegation to the Olympic Games in the year after the reignition of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. In the athletes' quarters he meets Leon, his Spartan competitor in the boys' double stade footrace, and befriends him despite Amyntas's shyness and Leon's taciturnity.

Amyntas and Leon fall into each other's company during the month of training leading up to the Games, frequenting the festival's fairgrounds, the riverbanks, and clearing the disused stadium. Discussing their rivals from Megara, Thrace, and around the Hellenic world, they acknowledge that they two are each other's only real competition. Returning discomfitted to the training grounds, Leon steps on an abandoned sickle blade, delaying his training for days.

Amyntas, guiltily aware that Leon's injury could win him the victory for Athens, makes a sacrifice to Olympian Zeus, that he might perform his best without regard to anything else.

Leon's foot heals and the Games open. As they both foresaw, Amyntas and Leon are neck and neck down the home stretch, when Amyntas realises that the cut on Leon's foot has reopened. Amyntas wavers, torn between throwing a now dubious contest, winning it for his city, or shaming his friend by allowing him the victory, until he recalls his prayer to Zeus. Amyntas takes the race.

Leon finds him afterward and reproves him for his lack of proper triumph. Amyntas admits that his victory is hollow, and Leon denies it: as a Spartan, he would not have allowed a mere wound to slow him down.

As the Games conclude and the athletes prepare to depart, Amyntas and Leon make their farewells. Knowing that they are unlikely to meet again, unless in battle or with the bitterness of war experience between them, they must hope that they never will. As he rides out of Olympia, Amyntas realises that Leon too made a sacrifice to their friendship, by relinquishing any claim to their race, and accepts it as a parting gift.

ChronologyEdit

"Every fourth summer it happened; every fourth summer for more than three hundred years. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way, earthquake or pestilence or even war – even the long and weary war which, after a while of uneasy peace, had broken out again last year between Athens and Sparta."

The Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 BCE, and its first phase, the Archidamian War, lasted until 421, when Nikias of Athens brokered a so-called Peace, which was punctuated by intermittent fighting between Athenian and  Spartan allies. In 418 an Argive alliance supported by Alkibiades of Athens was defeated by the Spartans at Mantineia. In 413 hostilities were officially renewed between Athens and Sparta when Sparta occupied the Athenian fortress at Dekeleia.

While an Olympiad (the period from one Olympics to the next) famously spans four years, ancient record keeping and reckoning of dates make it somewhat unclear in which years the Games actually were held. The Spartans apparently violated the Olympic truce in the tenth year of the war (421-420 BCE) and were banned from the Games, placing the next Olympics in 416 and 412. Sutcliff presumably intends 412, a year after the outbreak of the Decelean War.

CharactersEdit

  • Amyntas
  • Ariston, father of Amyntas
  • Leon
  • Hippias the trainer, Athenian
  • the Corinthian
  • the Rhodian
  • the Macedonian
  • Nikomedes of Megara
  • Eudorus the wrestler, Athenian

PlacesEdit

  • Greece, Hellas
    • Athens
      • Piraeus, the port of Athens
    • Salamis, nearby island
    • the Isthmus of Corinth
      • Corinth
      • Megara
    • The Peloponnese Peninsula
      • Olympia
      • Sparta
    • The islands
      • Rhodes
    • Macedonia, Greek enough

Historical and literary backgroundEdit

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