Rosemary Sutcliff’s ancient Olympics | 1972 not 2012

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It was early in the day but already it was growing hot; the white dry heat of the Greek summer; and the faint off-shore wind that made it bearable had begun to feather the water, breaking and blurring the reflections of the galleys lying at anchor in Piraeus harbour.

Half Athens, it seemed, had crowded down the to the port to watch the Paralos, the State Galley, sail for the Isthmus, taking their finest athletes on the first stage of their journey to the Olympics.

Every fourth summer it happened; every fourth summer for three hundred years. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way, earthquake or pestilence or even war – even the long and weary war which, after a while of uneasy peace, had broken out again last year between Athens and Sparta

Writer for children and (young) adults, Rosemary Sutcliff,  published in 1971 The Truce of the Games which was her short story for children about the Olympics. Two athletes from different ways of life and backgrounds discover the meaning of friendship as they compete against each other in the ancient Olympic games. With a changed title –  A Crown of Wild Olive  – this story was collected with two others – The Chief”s Daughter, and A Circlet of Oak Leaves –  into Heather, Oak, and Olive  (1972).

Reviewing the three stories, reader Joy on GoodReads said:

For fans of historical fiction, Rosemary Sutcliff ranks among the divine. Her prose is easy and fluid, and these three short stories, hard to find, are beautifully written and worth tracking down. This is the second book of Sutcliff‘s that I read, after I fell head over heels for her remarkable re-telling of Tristan and Iseult. A great book for those interested in ancient Britain, the Roman occupation of those islands, or anyone who delights in a well-told story set in the past.

Cover of The Truce of the Games by Rosemary Sutcliff (Antelope Books)Cover of Heather, Oak and Olive (1972) by Rosemary Sutcliff

The frontispiece of Rosemary Sutcliff’s personal copy of her own book has her distinctive dolphin signature.

Author Rosemary Sutcliff's personal copy of the Heather, Oak and Olive.

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