Nemea is a well-liked tourist resort in the Peloponnese and a prominent grape-producing area with a lot of archaeological importance. Nemea is surrounded by lush plains that, along with Korinthos and Loutraki, have produced crops that have improved the region’s quality of life for many years.
The revival of “Nemea”, or the athletic competitions that were once held in ancient Nemea starting in 573 BC and alternated every two years with the Olympic Games, the games in Delphi, and the games in Isthmia, has been a major local event for the past twenty or so years at the Nemea archaeological site. Athletes and spectators from all around the world travel to the Modern Nemeia Games, which were reinstated in 1996, 2300 years after they were first held.
At least two Greek myths are connected to the location of Ancient Nemea. One, the most well-known, is about the legendary hero Hercules (or Herakles in Greek spelling). The second relates to the infant Opheltes and the start of cult activity at the location.
The First Myth
Herakles was initially only expected to do ten, not twelve, labors. However, King Eurystheus decided that Herakles’ first assignment should be to bring him the skin of a lion that was at the time harassing the hills surrounding Nemea. No weapon made by man could pierce the skin of this lion.
After embarking on a seemingly impossible task, Herakles arrived in Kleonai and spent the night at the home of Molorchus, a meager hired hand. Herakles urged his host to wait 30 days after he offered to sacrifice an animal in exchange for a safe lion hunt. Zeus, king of the gods, would accept a sacrifice from the hero if he brought back the skin of the lion. Molorchus agreed to sacrifice Herakles as a hero if the lion-slaying attempt by Herakles failed.
Herakles found his arrows were ineffective when he arrived in Nemea and started pursuing the terrifying lion. After grabbing his club, Herakles pursued the lion. It led Herakles to a cave with two openings, where he blocked one and went up to the ferocious lion through the other. He took the lion in his strong arms, ignored its sharp claws, and kept it there until he had strangled it to death.
On the 31st day after leaving on the hunt, Herakles located Molorchus and brought the dead lion back to Kleonai. Molorchus and Herakles were able to make a joint-sacrifice to Zeus. The lion’s skin served as Herakles’ armor from that point on.
The Second Myth
The myth surrounding the birth of the Nemean Games is the tale of Opheltes, son of Lykourgos and Eurydike, dying as an infant. When their son was born, Lykourgos sought advice from the Delphi oracle on how to ensure the well-being of his child. The boy was forbidden from touching the earth until he could walk, according to the Pythia.
A Shrine of Opheltes (where a bronze figurine of the baby was unearthed) and a Sacred Grove of cypress trees were uncovered at the site of Nemea as proof that the real competitors in the Nemean Games and general life at the sanctuary. The story was also reflected in the games’ traditions, such as the judges’ wearing black robes as a sign of sadness and the use of wild celery for the winning crown. The myth also explains Argos, the Seven’s home, having control over the website and games.
The featured image at the beginning of this post is from Michael F. Mehnert of WikiMedia.