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Greek symbols can be Trojan horse for reporters
Published: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 08:55 AM Doha Time
ATHENS: Writing about the Olympics in the land of Oedipus can be a complex business.
The world’s journalists are finding inspiration in classical Greek drama and myth. After all, Nike is not just a running shoe in these parts.
It is not every day that you can have the sword of Damocles hovering, athletes suffering from Achilles heels and teams enduring Pyrrhic victories.
Herculean efforts abound in the land of Marathon races. Homer, the poet and not the Simpson family patriarch, hovers over every baseball game.
With all this rich symbolism available, it is not hard for a journalist to enjoy a Eureka moment and declare that Greek sailors are on a Poseidon adventure in the sailing regatta.
NBC sports commentator Bob Costas won hoots back home when during opening night ceremonies he told co-host Katie Couric, “Oedipus, as you know, Katie, was the tragic king who killed his father and married his mother — a sequence of events that rarely turns out well.”
He topped that line moments later when he noted that Alexander the Great had competed indifferently in the Olympics. “As an athlete, he might have been Alexander the so-so.”
Thanks to a doping scandal involving two Greek sprinters, one of the most overused phrases of the Games for the last 48 hours has been “Greek tragedy”.
As the Ottawa Citizen noted: “On the night that Greece dared to dance with the gods of Olympia, a sentimental journey to antiquity was jolted by a modern reality.
“Doping. A scandal involving two Greek athletic stars has stunned and shamed the host nation ... A fairy tale becomes a Greek tragedy, or is it a farce? It’s hard to tell.”
The Citizen was not alone as he began his Olympic Odyssey. Legions of reporters waxed lyrical about the dangers of Hubris.
Drawing on the references of ancient Greece is to be expected, says language expert Paul JJ Payack.
Payack, the president of the Global Language Monitor (, said: “There were more than 3,000 references to Classic Greek history and mythology in the media and on the Internet this morning versus virtually none only 30 days ago.
“There is an almost desperate attempt in the worldwide media frenzy to link any news story to the Athens Olympics and classical Greek history, with the overuse of such terms as sword of Damocles, Trojan horse and Achilles heel.
“The media is going to any lengths to get in as many classical references into a single story as possible.”
His favourite came from a New York Times story on the Athens Games: “This was a chance for the Greeks to let go of Oedipus, to suspend their inner Sophocles, to embrace a little tragedy (sic) relief before plunging head first into their appointed doom.”