ELEIA had been the scene of athletic games, celebrated with great pomp by assemblies of chiefs from various parts of Greece. Iphitus, a grandson of Oxylus, succeeded to the throne of Elis. Active and enterprising, but not by inclination a soldier, he was anxious for a remedy for the disorderly situation of his country. Among all the violence, feuds, and wars, superstition maintained its empire, and the oracle of Delphi was held in veneration.
Iphitus sent an embassy to supplicate information from the deity, "How the anger of the gods, which threatened total destruction to Peloponnesus, through the endless hostilities among its people, might be averted?" He received an answer, which he had probably dictated, "That the Olympian festival must be restored: for that the neglect of that solemnity had brought on the Greeks the indignation of Jupiter and Hercules; to the first of whom it was dedicated, and by the last of whom it had been instituted." Iphitus proceeded to model his institution; and ordained that a festival should be held at the temple of Jupiter at Olympia, near Pisa in Eleia, for all the Greeks to partake in, and that it should be repeated every fourth year; that there should be sacrifices to Jupiter and Hercules, and games in honour of them; that an armistice should take place throughout Greece for some time before the commencement of the festival, and continue some time after its conclusion. A tradition was reported, that the Heraclides had appointed Oxylus to the throne of Elis, and the guardianship of the temple of Olympian Jupiter, and consecrated all Eleia to the god. A reputation of sanctity became attached to the whole people of Eleia, as the hereditary priesthood of Jupiter; and secluded them from all necessity of engaging in politics or war. But it was not possible, by any institutions of religion, to destroy that elasticity given by nature to the mind of man, which excites continually to action, often palpably against men's interests, which was strong in the general temper of the Greeks, and which can never be subdued or restrained in any nation but by orders and balances. Restless spirits arose, not to be satisfied. The Eleians often engaged as auxiliaries in the wars of other states, on pretence of asserting the cause of religion; but even in that cause itself they could not agree among themselves. While monarchy subsisted in the posterity of Iphitus, as it did for some generations, Eleia continued under one government; but at length the spirit of democracy prevailed there, as elsewhere in Greece, and with the same effects: every town claimed independency; Pisa and Elis became separate commonwealths. Olympia was situated within the territory of Pisa, on the northern bank of the river Alpheius, which alone separated it from that city. Elis was thirty miles distant; but the Eleians retained the guardianship of the temple, and superintendency of the festival. The Pisæans now disputed their right; wars arose between the two cities; each endeavoured to gain allies. At one time, Pheidon, tyrant of Argos, claiming to be by birth the proper representative of Hercules, took to himself the guardianship of the temple, and presided at the games; at another rime the Pisæans prevailed, and presided at some Olympiads. At length the Eleians destroyed Pisa so entirely, that not a ruin was left; and ever after, excepting in the 104th Olympiad, when the Arcadians violently interfered, they held the presidency undisturbed.
If a democracy could ever, in any case, hold together, it would be natural to expect it in this institution of Iphitus, which, founded wholly on religion, had procured so much prosperity and veneration to his people: but it is as rational to expect that a glass bubble, with a drop of water inclosed in it, will resist the heat of the fire: the vapour within will blast it into dust and atoms.
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