Exploring the Ancient Greeks by Doug Daye

With the Olympic Games in Tokyo officially opening today, Museum Attendant Doug Daye was inspired by the Games and items in Villa Finale’s collection to bring us this fun blog post. Take it away, Doug!

Doug Daye

If you’re a fan of the Olympics like I am, you are excited about the Tokyo Olympics that are about to take place! Not only do I enjoy the Olympics, but I also enjoy learning about the Greeks and Greek mythology (probably because Disney’s Hercules was one of my favorite movies as a kid). Since the Greeks founded the Olympic games, why not look at some of the Greek-related items in our collection at Villa Finale!

Chariot Racer

Chariot races were the event that founded the Olympic Games in ancient Greece around 680 BCE. It was very popular and appealed to all social classes, from slaves to those of royal status. Races usually consisted of small two wheeled chariots, pulled by two, four, or six horse teams. The drivers were generally slaves or those who came from underprivileged backgrounds, who could become wealthy if they were successful. Races were held in the Hippodrome which was a huge stadium specifically designed for chariot racing. These races were very dangerous, resulting in serious injuries (or death) for both riders and horses!

Pan and the Nymph

Pan was known as the God of shepherds, hunters, forests, meadows, and the mountainside. The Greeks associated his name with “pan” meaning “all.” He is characterized as a man with two horns, a beard, and the legs and tail of a goat. He is often associated with nature and pasturelands. He is frequently portrayed in literature and various works of art. He was known to inhabit the countryside of Arcadia, playing his flute and vigorously pursuing nymphs.

Nymphs were often called minor goddesses, but other translations refer to them as spirits or ethereal beings. They were tied to a certain feature of a landscape or place such as springs, rivers, trees, and meadows. Also, they had the ability to morph into trees, flowers, animals, or other things in nature. Physical descriptions of these beings always portray them to be young, beautiful maidens with long hair and decorative garments. Though nymphs were believed to be located everywhere, they were also believed to be very elusive to humans and often only seen in the company of gods like Dionysus, Artemis, and of course Pan.

Theseus and the Centaur

This sculpture, created by Antoine – Louis Barye, portrays the story of Theseus fighting the Centaur Bianor. In the story, Greek hero Theseus is invited to attend the wedding of his friend Pirithous, the king of Thessaly. Pirithous also invited his neighbors, the Centaurs (who have the upper body of a man and lower body of a man) to also attend the ceremony. The Centaurs behaved in a very disorderly fashion by drinking too much and causing chaos. They tried to kidnap the bride, but Theseus quickly stepped up to fight them off and rescue her.

The Cumaen Sibyl

Sibyls were prophetesses whose prophecies played important roles in major events. They claimed to be under the authority of a certain god and they were usually affiliated with an ancient oracle or temple. According to historic records there were twelve sybils but the Cumaen Sibyl was the most well-known. She was the priestess of the god Apollo that resided in Cumae. There are two events where she played a crucial role in the foundation, and success of Rome. First, she sold the Sibylline books (a collection of prophecies written in rhyme) to the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus. Second, she foretold Aeneas’s future in Italy which led him to the underworld to see his father. There he was told that his descendants would found Rome.


Hephestus was the Greek god of fire, blacksmiths, artisans, and volcanoes. According to Greek mythology, he was the son of Zeus and Hera. In other versions, he was the son of Hera alone. Because he was born deformed, he was thrown out of Mt. Olympus by Hera, who was disgusted by his appearance. He was later returned to Olympus by Dionysus. He was married to the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, who often had multiple affairs. In art, he is usually shown as a middle- aged, bearded man, supported by a cane, wearing a close fitting cap over scruffy hair, and standing over an anvil. He had a workshop under a volcano where he was assisted by servants made from gold. Being an excellent craftsman, he forged many weapons that were used by the gods, such as Athena’s shield, Cupid’s arrows, and Apollo’s chariot.

Enjoy the Olympic games and be sure to come visit the museum to check out these objects in person!

Click here for the official website of the Tokyo Olympic games.