Monday, August 6, 2012

London 2012: Olympic ode recited by Boris Johnson

By Angela Harrison BBC News correspondent 

Oxford academic Armand D'Angour previously wrote an ode for the Athens Olympics in 2004 

London Mayor Boris Johnson is set to recite an Olympic ode in ancient Greek that he commissioned for London 2012.

Mr Johnson, who studied classics at Oxford University, will read the poem in both ancient Greek and English at a gala for the International Olympic Committee.

He asked Oxford academic Armand D'Angour to compose the ode - and gave him some tips on what to put in it. 

It includes references to athletes, including sprinter Usain Bolt.

Dr D'Angour wrote the ode in ancient Greek with modern lyrics, and said he translated the six verses into "fun English rhyming couplets".

The English version includes puns on athletes' names - such as "lightning bolt" - a reference to Jamaica's Bolt - an idea suggested by the mayor himself.

British diver Tom Daley and volleyball captain Ben Pipes feature in the poem, as does the London 2012 chairman Lord Coe. 

In the Greek version, the poet says he has "cryptically embedded" about a dozen names. 

The poem in English begins: "This new Olympic flame behold, that once burned bright in Greece of old; with happy hearts receive once more these Games revived on London's shore."

Ode for the London Olympics 2012
This new Olympic flame behold, that once burned bright in Greece of old; with happy hearts receive once more these Games revived on London's shore.

Praise rival teams, in sport allied, as athletes stream from far and wide; the poet too must take the road conveying praise to victory owed.

Millions of watchers will embrace the passion of each close-­run race, the efforts of the rowing teams and gymnasts balancing on beams.

They will observe with rapt delight the archer draw his bowstring tight, the skilful rider guide her horse, and lightning bolt around the course.

The pipes will play, the drum resound, as medallists are daily crowned; the crowd's hurrah will reach the skies when victors hoist the golden prize.

Now welcome to this sea­‐girt land, with London's Mayor and co. at hand. Good luck to all who strive to win: applaud, and let the Games begin!

The ode has been engraved on a plaque which will have a permanent home in the Olympic Park. The words are in ancient Greek with the official, formal translation, rather than the modern one shown here. 

It is the second time the Oxford academic has written an Olympic ode. The first time was for the Athens Olympics of 2004. 

He told the BBC News website that Mr Johnson approached him at a classics event.

"He said to me: 'You're famous; you wrote the Olympic ode. I want you to write me one for London'."

Dr D'Angour said: "It will certainly be fun to hear the ode read by the mayor in his inimitable style, and I hope people will enjoy seeing the plaque when visiting the area in years to come."

He said he wrote the ode in the style of classical poet Pindar, using what is called alcaic metre.

"Writing an ode for the Games revives a musical and poetic tradition from ancient Greece, where odes were commissioned to celebrate athletic winners at the Games," he said. 

"Pindar was the greatest poet of his time and sponsors paid a great deal of money for athletic victors to be honoured with an ode by him."

He feared some "may groan" at the puns, but added: "Pindar's audiences may have done so too".

Mr Johnson, who studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford, said: "I was delighted to have the opportunity to declaim Dr D'Angour's glorious Olympic ode at the opening gala. 

"It is a work that breathes new life into the ancient custom of celebrating the greatness of the Games through poetry."

Speaking ahead of the gala at the Royal Opera House, he added that he would have to "resist the temptation to regale the attendees a further time in Latin".

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