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p794 Nemea

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp794‑795 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

NEMEA (νέμεα, νεμεῖα or νεμαῖα), one of the four great national festivals of the Greeks. It was held at Nemea, a place near Cleonae in Argolis. The various legends respecting its origin are related in the argumenta of the Scholiasts to the Nemea of Pindar, with which may be compared Pausanias (II.15 § 2, &c.), and Apollodorus (III.6 § 4). All these legends, however, agree in stating that the Nemea were originally instituted by the Seven against Thebes in commemoration of the death of Opheltes, afterwards called Archemorus. When the Seven arrived at Nemea, and were very thirsty, they met Hypsipile, who was carrying Opheltes, the child of the priest of Zeus p795and of Eurydice. While she showed to the heroes the way to the nearest well, she left the child behind lying in a meadow, which during her absence was killed by a dragon. When the Seven on their return saw the accident, they slew the dragon and instituted funeral games (ἀγὼν ἐπιτάφιος), to be held every third year (τριετηρικός). Other legends attribute the institution of the Nemean games to Heracles, after he had slain the Nemean lion; but the more genuine tradition was that he had either revived the ancient games, or at least introduced the alteration by which they were from this time celebrated in honour of Zeus. That Zeus was the god in honour of whom the games were afterwards celebrated is stated by Pindar (Nem. III.114, &c.). The games were at first of a warlike character, and only warriors and their sons were allowed to take part in them; subsequently, however, they were thrown open to all the Greeks (δημοτικὸν πλῆθος συνέδραμε). The games took place in a grove between Cleonae and Phlius (Strabo, VIII p377). The various games, according to the enumeration of Apollodorus (l.c.), were horse-racing, running in armour in the stadium (Paus. II.15 § 2), wrestling, chariot-racing and discus, boxing, throwing the spear and shooting with the bow, to which we may add musical contests (Paus. VIII.50 § 3; Plut. Philop. 11). The Scholiasts of Pindar describe the agon very imperfectly as ἱππικὸς and γυμνικός. The prize given to the victors was at first a chaplet of olive-branches, but afterwards a chaplet of green parsley. When this alteration was introduced is not certain, though it may be inferred from an expression of Pindar (Nem. VI.71), who calls the parsley (σέλινον) the βοτάνα λεόντος, that the new prize was believed to have been introduced by Heracles. The presidency at these games and the management of them belonged at different times to Cleonae, Corinth, and Argos, and from the first of these places they are sometimes called ἀγὼν Κλεώναιος. The judges who awarded the prizes were dressed in black robes, and an instance of their justice, when the Argives presided, is recorded by Pausanias (VIII.40 § 3).

Respecting the season of the year at which the Nemean games were celebrated, the Scholiast on Pindar (Argum. ad Nem.) merely states that they were held on the 12th of the month of Panemus, though in another passage he makes a statement which upsets this assertion. Pausanias (II.15 § 2) speaks of winter Nemea, and manifestly distinguishes them from others which were held in summer. It seems that for a time the celebration of the Nemea was neglected, and that they were revived in Ol. 53.2, from which time Eusebius dates the first Nemead. Henceforth it is certain that they were for a long time celebrated regularly twice in every Olympiad, viz. at the commencement of every second Olympic year in the winter, and soon after the commencement of every Olympic year in the summer. This has been shown by Böckh in an essay über die Zeitverhältnisse der Demosth. Rede gegen Midias, in the transactions of the Berlin Acad. 1818, 1819. Histor. Philol. Klasse, p92, &c.; compare Ideler, Handb. der Chronol., II p606, &c. About the time of the battle of Marathon it became customary in Argolis to reckon according to Nemeads.

In 208 B.C. Philip of Macedonia was honoured by the Argives with the presidency at the Nemean games (Liv. XXVII.30, &c.; Polyb. X.26), and Quintius Flamininus proclaimed at the Nemea the freedom of the Argives (Liv. XXXIV.41; Polyb. X.26). The emperor Hadrian restored the horse-racing of boys at the Nemea, which had fallen into disuse. But after his time they do not seem to have been much longer celebrated, as they are no longer mentioned by any of the writers of the subsequent period (see Villoison, Histoire de l'Acad. des Inscript. et Bell. Lett. vol. XXXVIII p29, &c.; Schömann, Plutarchi Agis et Cleomenes, &c. § X).


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