Ex Pede Coroebum
The stadion at Olympia is supposed to be 600 times the length of the foot of Herakles, which means that the great hero of the twelve tasks took a size twelve sandal. Not extraordinary by today's standards, but this was 776BCE remember. So legendary were the size of the feet of Hercules (to romanise him for a moment), that they inspired the Latin motto "Ex pede Herculem" - We recognise Hercules by his foot!
There's an awful lot about Hercules on the 'net, and a shed load about the ancient Olympian games - in fact, I now know more than I ever really wanted to know about ancient Greek jock straps (basically, a length of leather thong and a degree of precision knotwork that brings tears to the eyes!).
But, if you put Coroebus into Google, all you get is those two facts - a cook, from Elis. This caused me to produce this meditation on Coroebus, and what might have happened whilst winning and afterwards. It was broadcast on "Roy's Rarebits!" on BBC Radio Wales on 23/7/06.
Be warned - this poem features full-frontal male nudity, so control your imaginations or read some A. A. Milne instead!
Ex Pede Coroebum
In the scorching Olympian sun
Young Coroebus stands,
Naked as the twenty men beside him,
Right toes hooked into the starting groove,
Arms stretched straight ahead,
For the agonothetes to give the starting signal.
A trumpet blares,
And Coroebus, a free man,
Soles burning on the pale-brick dirt track
Hurtles along in the 600 size 12 footsteps of Herakles,
Lungs sucking in the hot dusty air,
For the honour of Zeus
And, crying out, first breasts the line.
The agonothetes, like officials everywhere,
As Coroebus pants, breath grating,
Take their time in judging
Who elbowed who,
Whose heel hooked whose ankle,
And finally tying the winner's headband
To the sweat striated brow of
Coroebus the Cook, of Elis.
For him the honour,
The lighter of the fire in the temple of Zeus,
The first Olympic champion,
And then what?
Was it back to the kitchen,
For the young man who put Elis on the map,
Back to the olives,
The feta cheese,
The stuffed vine leaves,
Did Coroebus feel the long slow slide from
Celebrity to curiosity to nonentity:
"You won the last Olympics!"
"Didn't you win the Olympics once?"
"What! You won the Olympics?"
Is heard, or nothing heard at all.
Finally, when tripple legged like the Sphinx's riddle,
Did even his own grow tired of the tale,
His grandsons weary of being told
How to place their heels when running,
How to avoid elbows jerking towards their breastbones,
How to breathe,
Until Coroebus ceased to do so.
But for one perfect flyspeck in the amber of time
Coroebus will always stand,
Young, naked, with arms outstretched,
Poised to leave his own footprints
Seared into the stadion of Olympia.