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The Origins of the Olympic Games

HELLAS, “the special oil,” and ATHENS,“the charming”

To engage in an issue that contradicts what is formally accepted, and on which there are no written sources, requires courage, imagination, and intuition.  You’re in a closed room in utter darkness, groping towards a window, in order to somehow illuminate the space.

If at one time Greek and Chinese were indeed one language, this presumes a shared life by these peoples, and a common cradle for mankind in general, in Asia rather than Africa.  Those who then left from there through a river passing [in present-day Nepal] would have brought their language as well as their mythology and traditions, religion and art with them.

On their journey, which took thousands of years, they would have nostalgically given familiar names to mountains and rivers they traversed, and to the new settlements they established.  Apart from Thebes in Egypt, we have a Thebes in Boeotia  (north of Athens, in Greece); we have a Malta in the Mediterranean, but also in Siberia, and in Messinia; Erasino river in Argolis (Peloponnesus), Kalavrita, Eretria (Euboea), and in Vravron (Attica).  The Ladon river is in Elis, and also in Kalavrita;  Kifissos is in Phocis, and also in Attica;  there is a Naousa in Paros, and one in Beroia.

And the mountains Parnassus, Parnes, and Parnon all have names with similar meanings.

The highest mountain in Greece, Olympus, the mountain of the gods, has namesakesin and outside of Greece: in Lauretiki (Attica), Bythinia,  Laconia, and on the islands of Euboea, Karpathos, and  Lesbos; and abroad in Cyprus, and Asia Minor (in Mysia, Ionia, and Lykia).  We can assume that mountains with the same name existed in Asia.  A parallel example supports this view:  the Turkish name Balcania, the medieval name of the Haemos (AIMOS) peninsula, originates from Bulcan (the u is pronounced  uh,   as in the English word “but”), which is the sacred mountain of Mongolia (today the name of a city and province in Northern Mongolia).  This was the starting point of Genghis Khan, (1167 - 1227) who expanded his empire from China to the Danube river and Eastern Europe.

China also had sacred mountains, one in each large province that comprised the empire (at each of the four cardinal points, and one in the center).  It is likely that one of these Chinese mountains had the now-forgotten name Olympus;   that is, one of these mountains  was probably renamed, whereas Greece’s Olympus has retained its name to the present. 

It is known that every year the Chinese Emperor would visit one of his provinces, and that each time (see The Other Santorini, p. 36) his reception was organized with musicians, theater, and gymnastic and nautical games in his honor. (Because China had 50,000 rivers and thousands of lakes, the holding of contemporary sailing races was not difficult: the Chinese were familiar with sailing contests.)  This would provide a viable explanation for the establishment of these Olympic events every four years, and would establish the origins of the Olympics in China.

Such a theory is possible for consideration, otherwise we are in danger of being considered overindulgent, foolish, and even ethnically chauvinist.  The word unfortunately does not exist in science, but do we have the right to tear down illusions and deprive a culture of its age-old primacy, even if it is not true, even if it is a false one?

In Greek the meaning of the word Olympus is not obvious, but it can be explained in Chinese. Today the Chinese call Olympus Aolinpi:   ao is an ancient Chinese word for “south,” while lin means “forest”  and probably “mountain,” as mountains were covered with trees.  The word has nothing to do with the notion of height, since the name also refers to the flat areas as well as Olympia where the games originated.  (This area was probably chosen for the games since it also had [what was then] the only navigable river in Greece, Alpheios, which was used for the nautical races.)  In addition Altis, Olympia’s sacred grove, may also have a linguistic relationship to the gold-mining mountains Altai in Mongolia (despite the difference in pronunciation designated by the different breathing marks),  since it was on the banks of the Alpheios, which contained fragments of gold in its riverbeds.

The Altai or Altaika mountains in central Asia had layers of gold, silver, and copper at a height of 1,500 m and their highest peaks in Mongolia measure 4,373 m.    Furthermore the word ekecheiria, “sacred truce,” is the same in Chinese.  In fact, although we cannot translate it directly into Greek, the Chinese qiu (*kiu) he   means  “I beg peace.”

The tripod, trophy of the Olympic games, in China was awarded to champions and theater actors (see The Other Santorini, p. 339).  Theater productions were presented by itinerant companies on hillside terraces (particularly where tea was cultivated), something which inspired the stepped seating of amphitheaters (see The Other Santorini, p. 35).  To my surprise, in the 1998 Ministry of the Aegean publication on the island of Sifnos,  I read that a French traveler (P. Jourdain) had also, in 1825, compared the cultivated terraces of Sifnos to the seating of a theater.

The successive rings, the symbol of the Olympics, was known in China (see Agamemnon’s Mask and Panchen Lama, p. 181), and even today decorates the balconies of traditional towns there.  The rings symbolize a snake, the warder of evil, and gratings on the balconies generally have symbolic representations of snakes (zig-zags, meandering lines, braids, etc.),  to obstruct evil from entering a building.

On an 11th century temple in India we have a high-relief representation of the God Siva crowning a king with a snake (seeThe Civilization of the Snake, p. 99) becauseit seems winners of the games and heroes were crowned with snakes, and decorated their necks, arms, wrists, waists, thighs, and ankles with snakes.  

On a black-figured vase in Munich a judge is crowning a young Olympiad champion with a red ribbon, which symbolizes the snake;  similar ribbons appear on his arm and thigh (see The Civilization of the Snake, p. 135);  a statue of an Aphrodite of the Hellenistic period also has snakes in relief on the arm, ankle, and left thigh.

Recently in celebrations of the Union with China in Macao, during the Dragon dance in the Festival of Spring, the dancers wore red ribbons around their foreheads and arms.  If customs were the same during the Olympic games, for example holding the games during a full moon, with similar contests and trophies, then perhaps the location where the games took place also had the same name.

Mongolia is considered a “mountainous country,” far from any oceans.  The fact that the Chinese always refer to the sun as “setting behind the mountains” even when it is setting over water, causes us to wonder where the origins of man were.  Could it be Mongolia , rather than Africa ?  It was from there that the still uncivilized hordes of barbarians descended, so that in Chinese the North came to signify a place behind “the back and spine,” “cold,” and “Evil,” and it became the place where they buried their dead (as did Jews, Greeks, and Muslims).  Whereas they considered the South to be the blessed direction, where they would face the main entrances of their houses as well as their palaces (the Forbidden City of Peking, Minoan, and Mycenaean palaces).

The Mongolian love of the sea was so great that they named their king Genghis, the Turkish word for “ocean,” which meant “wise and deep wisdom.”  The word in Tibetan is tale (thala-ssa, qalassa   =   “sea” in Greek; the q   often takes the place of d ), which rendered in English is dalai.   ( Dalai lama in Tibet means “man of deep wisdom, ocean of wisdom.”)

Genghis Kahn set forth from Bulcan, the sacred mountain in Mongolia , and this is the name the Turks gave to the Aimos mountain range (Balcan), which confirms their origins.

The Chinese are the only people who call Greece by the same name as Greeks do: Hellas; in Chinese: Xilla-Silla;   whereas all others, including the Japanese, call it Greece.  

Silla is also an area and kingdom of the 1st century B.C. in South Korea ; and Sila , with one l, is a plain in southern Italy (Calabria ) with fir as well as olive trees, where there are still Greek-speaking villages

I had been inquiring about the meaning of the word Silla in Chinese, anxiously and with no result, until a University professor from Singapore visiting the Acropolis in 1988 told me I was fortunate to have found her to ask; and that in fact the word xila means ‘special oil.’  I always regret that I wasn’t bold enough to request her name and address.

The characters of the ideograms are indeed similar, and the first, xi , meaning “rare, special” is in use today with that meaning when used in combination with other words ( xi han   = “rare”);  while the second, la , again in syllable combination, today means “fat” ( la zhu  =  “candle made from fat”).   In the word Xilla ,   the right portion of the syllable xi   remains the same today; while the left one has been added; and of the syllable la , again only the right portion remains the same  (the left has been added.)

In addition, although the word Xilla (*Hilla) is made of two syllable-words with different meanings, the name Yadian , “ Athens ,”  is made of two syllable-words with the same meaning, where the second syllable emphasizes the first.

In Chinese it is common for a one syllable-word to be repeated, for emphasis;  for example xie xie, “thank you.”  Also, when two different syllables with the same meaning are used in conjunction, a strict sequence of priority applies. Of course there are exceptions, for example it is always gou mai   “I buy” (not mai gou ) but in the instance of the words AthinaYadian, both syllable-words mean “attractive,” “wonderful,” “charming,” and can be reversed: Dian ya) .  The  y  which later was no longer pronounced, in Alexandrian times was replaced by  the soft breath mark; and d   (d), as is frequently the case, was replaced by q   (Yadian - Aqhna) .  

Today the Chinese call Athens Yadian , “the joyous,” “the charming,”  whereas for the beloved daughter of Zeus Athena they add the suffix  na (Yadian na) .

And here we should wonder: Were the names Hellas , and Athens given by indigenous people – people born in Greece ?  Or by others who came from far away, from the North?  How were places named?  Was the christening simultaneous with first impressions and analogous memories when a place was first settled?  Or later, according to learned characteristics of the land itself?  The Oracle of Delphi gave useful directions for where the founding of new towns or settlements should take place. Once, the oracle advised a people to build their colony opposite the city of the "blind,"meaning that the site of Byzantium (present-day Istanbul) on the European side was most privileged and exquisite, but the earlier settlers did not realize that, and built their town on the opposite coast of Asia minor (known today as Scoutari).

“The first people of Hellas ,” Socrates once said to Kratylos, without it being clear if he was referring to the indigenous people, or to foreigners – the first people who came to Hellas .

Does the Yunnan province of southern China bear any relation to the Ionians ?  (Two n `s instead of one do not pose a problem.)  Is this why Arabs and Turks refer to Greeks as Yunan ?

At this point it should be emphasized once again that we must release ourselves from “the bind of same-sounding words” (that are not related), and not hesitate to link words together that sound similar, when they also have similar meanings.  A similarity in sound is not enough to prove the relationship of two words, but when the meaning also coincides, then of course the words are related.  In other words, we should not be afraid, for example, to link the Soraksan range in Korea to the Sarakatsanaioi, Greek nomads in Thessaly and Macedonia who had probably originally come from South Korea and followed the same route as Genghis Khan to the Balcans.

The olive tree, one of the ancient trees from before the Flood, is the most characteristic feature of southern Greece and the islands, and the most useful.

A general of the Warring States period (475 – 421 B.C.) with the symbol of the Olympic games.
Photo: LA CHINE,  Larousse, 1979

Mount OlympusMount Olympus is called  Aolinpi  in Chinese.  The syllable-word lin means "forest,”  “mountain,”  and the second tone of   i  is rendered in Greek by ypsilon. [In Chinese there are four musical tones, which modify the meanings of vowels, and in Greek are rendered in different ways – something that explains Greek spelling and the numerous vowels - iota, ita, ypsilon, omega, omicron, etc.] Ao   means “south” (in Latin auster ), and Olympus means “the forest mountain of the south” (the mountain had to have trees).  Today the renowned place for Kung Fu in China contains the word lin   (Shaolin).

BULCAN BALCAN and XILLA ( Ellas), SILLA ( Silla), and SILA ( Sila)      


The southernmost province of China , Yunnan (in Arabic and Turkish Yunan ), is probably the cradle of the Ionian Greeks  (Iwne s ).      

    In northern Inner Mongolia an entire province and its capital are named after the sacred mountain Bulcan.  From here Ghenghis Khan began his long march. 


The Turks whodescended from Mongolia gave the name of the sacred mountain Bulcan to their new home, the mountain range Aimos (Balcan). Today the term      Balcania refers to Rumania , Serbia , Bulgaria , Albania, and Greece .

In the 1st c  B.C ., one of the three kingdoms in Korea and its territory were called Silla .



In southern Italy ( Calabria ) a mountain plateau with Greek-speaking villages and olive trees in its southern region is called Sila .

Coronation and decoration with band-snakes and belt-snakes

    Shiva winds a snake around the head of the victorious King Kola. From  Temple Gangaikondalapuram, India,11th c.  In situ.

    2nd c. B.C. clay Aphrodite.  Snakes around the arm and ankle, and on the left thigh. Museum of Canakkale, Turkey

    Gorgo on an Archaic pediment with snakes around her waist. Corfu Archaeological Museum

“Mother and child”  Detail of a clay statuette (200 B.C. – 200 A.D.) Mexico City Museum of Anthropology and History

Clay figure from Vera Cruz (900 A.D.)
Brussels Royal Museum

The band of the victor on the forehead and around the arm

Olympic Coronation

    Crowning of a victor in Olympia with a red band.  He already has bands around the arm and thigh.  Detail of a red-figured hydria found in an Etruscan tomb in Vulci, Italy.
    Staatliche Antikensammlungen,

    Red-figured hydria (Nr. 2420)
    Photo courtesy of the Museum


    Steatite head of the King-priest from Mohenjo-daro (3rd millenium B.C.) The most important finding of the Hindu Valley , and Pakistan ’s national treasure.  Band on the forehead and around the arm. I had already seen the photo many times, but all of a sudden noticed his armband.  His right arm is missing, yet  apparently both arms were decorated with ribbons, as in the photo of the Dragon dance. (On vases, usually, only one side is shown).


    The Charioteer of Delphi (470 B.C.). On the victor's band is the meander  design, one of the symbolic representations of the snake.  

    During the 2002 celebration of the Union with China in Macao, the heroes of the Dragon dance had red bands on the forehead and around the arm.

Shaka, King of the Zulus,  with the victor’s band on his forehead.




“The effort of searching for the origin of English words without also considering the words in Chinese, proves to be from naïve to ridiculous.”

baby   [14]    Like  mama   and   papa,   baby  and the contemporaneous   babe   are probably imitative of the burbling noises made by an infant that has not yet learned to talk.  In Old English, the term for what we would now call a “baby” was  child , and it seems only to have been from about the 11th century that  child   began to extend its range to the slightly more mature age which the word now covers. Then when the word baby   came into the language, it was used synonymously with this developed sense of child ,   and only gradually came to refer to infants not yet capable of speech or walking.

dame   [13]   Latin  domina   was the feminine form of  dominus   “lord” (see DOMINUM ). English acquired it via Old French  dame ,   but it has also spread through the other Romance languages, including Spanish  ducha (source of English  duenna [17]) and Italian  donna (whence English  prima donna,   literally “first lady” [18]). The Vulgar Latin diminutive form of  domina   was  domenicella , literally “little lady.” This passed into Old French as  donsele ,   was modified by association with  dame   to  damisele , and acquired in the 13th century by English, in which it subsequently became  damsel (the archaic variant  damosel   came from the 16th century French form  damoiselle ).

- damsel, danger, dominate, dominion, duenna, prima donna


gun   [14]   Gun   probably comes, unlikely as it may seem, from the Scandinavian female forename  Gunnhildr (originally a compound of  gunnr   “war” and  hildr   “war”).   It is by no means unusual for large fearsome weapons to be named after women (for reasons perhaps best left to psychologists):  the large German artillery weapon of World War I, Big Bertha , and the old British army musket  Brown Bess, are cases in point.  And it seems that in the Middle Ages  Gunnhildr   or  Gunhild   was applied to various large rock-hurling siege weapons, such as the ballista, and later to cannons. The earliest recorded sense of  gun (on this theory representing  Gunnr , a pet form of  Gunhild ) is “cannon,” but it was applied to hand-held firearms as they developed in the 19th century.

jewel  [13]   Originally,  jewel   meant “costly adornment made from precious stones or metals” – a sense now largely restricted to the collective form  jewellery  [14].  The main modern sense “gem” emerged towards the end of the 16th century.  The word comes from Anglo-Norman  juel,  but exactly where that comes from is not known for certain.  It is generally assumed to be a derivative of  jeu  “game,” which came form Latin  jocus  (source of English  jocular,  joke, etc.).

- jeopardy, jocular, joke

pay  [12]   Etymologically, to  pay someone is to “quiet them down by giving them the money they are owed.”  For the word is closely related to English  peace.  It comes via Old French payer from Latin  pacare “pacify,” a derivative of  pax “peace.”   The notion of the irate creditor needing to be appeased by payment led to the verb being used in medieval Latin for “pay.”  The original sense “pacify, please” actually survived into English  (“Well he weened with this tiding for tho pay David the King.” Cursor Mundi 1300),  but by the beginning of the 16th century it had virtually died out, leaving “give money” in sole possession.

yacht   [16]   A yacht is etymologically a boat for “chasing” others.  The word was borrowed from early modern Dutch  jaghte.  This was short for  jaghtschip, literally “chase ship,” a compound noun formed from  jaght, a derivative of the verb   jagen “hunt, chase,” and   schip “ship.” The Dutch word (whose present-day form is   jacht)  has been borrowed into many other European languages, including French and German   jacht   and Russian   jakhia.

English - Chinese

baby     baobei =  “treasure”

dame    dama   =    “big mother”             

gun    gan =   “dagger”

jewel    zhu  =  “pearl”

pay    pei   =  “pay off” 

yachting   you ting   =   “travel at sea in a light boat”

Hotel Attalos, Athens

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