Regular readers of this blog will remember that leading up to the summer Olympics in Rio I featured some early twentieth-century Olympic athletes. While doing the research, I came upon a curious, nearly unbelievable tidbit that I did not have time to pursue. Now that I’m laid low with a head cold, I’ve done some historical digging, so here we go.
The Festival of the Diocleia
According to Theocritus, a third-century Greek poet, the ancient Dorian city of Megara hosted a version of the Olympic games called the Festival of the Diocleia, held at the onset of spring. One of the important events was a kissing contest, strictly for boys only. The Diocleia was an annual contest celebrated by the Megarians in honor of an ancient Athenian hero, Diocles, around whose grave young men assembled on the occasion, amusing themselves with gymnastic contests and other events, such as the kissing competition. The young man who gave the sweetest kisses won the prize, a garland of flowers. That was it – no medal or other prize – just some flowers.
The origin of this festival was Diocles, an Athenian exile who fled to Megara, where he found a male youth with whom he fell in love. Diocles was slain in battle, while protecting the object of his love with his shield. The locals honored the gallant lover with a tomb, raised him to the rank of a hero, and instituted the festival in commemoration of his faithful attachment to his male lover. The competitions took place around the tomb of Diocles.
Trivia: It has been proposed that another Megara citizen, Orisippus, a runner in the twentieth Olympiad in 720 BCE, accidently lost his tunic and thus introduced nudity into the Olympic games, but that has been proven a myth. Nudity came from Crete ca. 600 BCE. So there you have it.
Extra credit: read David Levithan’s relevant novel, Two Boys Kissing, based on a true event. In the 2013 novel two 17-year-old former boyfriends set out to break the Guiness world kissing record of 32 hours. In front of their classmates (I’m not making this up). Many who have read this book were uncommonly touched by it. But I digress.