The east pediment of the Temple of Zeus, by Annie Duerr

The east pediment of the temple at Olympia displays a chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaus. Everything is implicit in this scene because you know the past, the present, and the future. The first chariot race was at Olympia, so this sculpture on the Temple of Zeus shows the origin of chariot races. Oinomaus, the king of Pisa, set up a chariot race directed by Zeus to determine who would marry his daughter Hippodemeia. There was a prophecy that said he would be killed by his son in law. 13 suitors came but nobody was successful. The losers had their head cut off and were staked. In the race between Pelops and Oinomaus, Pelops wins. There are depictions of the story that say that Pelops cheats by putting wax on Oinomaus’s wheel. The presence of Zeus suggests that he endorsed Pelops, wanting him to win. On both ends of the pediment, there are people lying down who are identified as the rivers that bound the sanctuary. These rivers, the Kladeios and the Alpheus are still. Nobody is moving in this scene. We know the details of the pediment because Pausanias wrote down what he heard from the tours given in ancient times. The east pediment depicts promise and doom; competition and winning but also the price of winning. It serves to remind people about sportsmanship.

Pindar of Thebes’ poem describes the idea about how we’re here for just a moment. He writes, “We are things of a day. What are we? What are we not?” (1). We are only around for a very short time, a day in comparison to the rest of time. “The dream of a shadow is man no more” (2). Man has the ability to have a dream and escape from the shadow. “But when brightness comes, and the gods give it, there is a shining light on men, and his life is sweet” (3-4).  Light comes from the shadow, when the dream is fulfilled. This poem could be a victory song for an athletic contest. People are famous in a place and time but when that place and time is over, the person is not famous anymore.

The poem describes a moment of happiness and accomplishment. On the east pediment, Pelops’ dream of marrying Hippodemeia is fulfilled. The presence of Zeus suggests that he had some involvement. The poet Pindar also describes the notion that this moment only lasts so long; it is fleeting. Pelops was famous for winning the race, but after that generation, he was remembered, but his accomplishment was not the focus anymore. For those who believe that Pelops cheated, the east pediment represents sportsmanship and attitude. It reminds each person at Olympia that winning comes at a price, so it is not necessarily the most important thing. In a time when athletic contests were held so highly, this showed a very important message.