The London 2012 Olympic games are steeped in symbology, where myths and traditions of the ancient Greeks are blended with the folklore and rich cultural heritage of a small medieval village.
Zeus and Heracles are two legendary names associated with the Olympic games…and soon there will be two more–Wenlock and Mandeville–mascots designed to enchant the world.
A mascot is a “person, place or thing considered to bring good luck”. It’s meaning stems from: “talisman”, “sorcerer’s charm”, or “faerie friend”. The official web site of the London 2012 games explains that “…the British public didn’t just want a character, they also wanted a story”. If it’s a story they want, then it’s a story they’ll get…a story three thousand years in the making!
Story of the Olympics
The origin of the Olympics dates back to the 8th century BCE, when the Games were held as a festival to honor Zeus, the mighty Greek King of the Gods. Winners of the early Games were crowned with wreaths made from leaves of a sacred olive tree; a tree said to have been planted in Olympia by Heracles, founder of the Games and hero son of Zeus. Towering over the site of the ancient Games stood the gold and ivory Statue of Zeus seated upon his throne…one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Games drew athletes from across the land, who traveled to Olympia to participate. So revered were these Games to the ancient Greeks that a Sacred Truce, a time of peace, was called one month before the Games were to begin. The Olympics were held every four years (an Olympiad period) until, twelve hundred years later, Roman emperor Theodosius I ordered them abolished for their pagan influence.
Centuries later, in 1850, a spark of remembrance from a small medieval town in central England would initiate their revival. Here, in his birthplace of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, Dr. William Penny Brookes founded the local Wenlock Olympian Society to promote “the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants”. But it was not until 1896, when the first of the modern Olympics was held in Athens, that a new era of international festivities and honor was begun. The reinstated Games followed the ancient traditional timing of an Olympiad…taking place at 4-year intervals. Sadly, they did not follow the Sacred Truce; for while the ancient Greeks chose Games over war, modern man has chosen war over the Games; canceling the Olympics in 1916, 1940, and 1944.
The Story of the 2012 Mascots
Mandeville represents the Paralympics, taking his name for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, the birthplace of the Paralympic games. Wenlock, the Olympic mascot, honors the small medieval town of Much Wenlock, a village with tales of its own. Not only is this the birthplace of the man credited with reviving the Olympic games (Brookes), it is the magical site of the Festival at the Edge (FATE), an annual international storytelling festival that promises “a weekend of fantastic storytelling, tall tales, terrific tellers, music and more…”.
It was the ancient mythic Fates who determined “the inescapable destiny of man”. Perhaps it was not a coincidence then that the London creative agency, iris, was chosen to design these mascots. In Greek mythology Iris is Hera’s (Zeus’s wife) messenger goddess, personified as a rainbow. The rainbow appears as Iris descends to Earth, and disappears upon her return. The London 2012 mascots stayed true to Iris’s form, heralding the coming of the Games. Wenlock and Mandeville have been featured in four animated shorts, titled: “Out of a Rainbow”, “Adventures on a Rainbow”, “Rainbow Rescue” and “Rainbow to the Games”.
The goddess Iris also lends her name to the colored part of our eye…the part that controls the pupil through muscular expansion and contraction…allowing in outer light, like the aperture of a camera. Wenlock’s and Mandeville’s “eye” figures prominently in their story. Each mascot has but a single eye centered in their head…described as “a camera lens…to examine and record the experiences”.
This unique physical feature gives the mascots the appearance of an ancient Cyclops, those one-eyed giants who worked alongside Hephaestus, God of Fire and Forge, to craft the metal weapons and ornaments for gods and heroes…the shield and armor of Heracles and Achilles; the arrows of Apollo and Artemis; the knife of Perseus; and the thunderbolts of Zeus.
Look closely at the Olympic logo centered on Wenlock’s shiny metallic chest and you will see what is described as “”hards dynamically explode around it to give focus to the logo”. The shards resemble the lightning bolts of Zeus; perhaps he sends a message that, three thousand years later, he is still at “the heart of the Games” that were begun in his honor.
For more information on the town of Much Wenlock and the mascots Mandeville and Wenlock, visit these web sites:
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