London's Mayor Gets to the Greek

How good was London Mayor Boris Johnson's recitation of a poem at the Olympic Gala this past Monday? Well he reportedly upstaged Placido Domingo... and he did it speaking ancient Greek, no less.

The poem, intended to honor the Games' Greek roots, was Johnson's own brainchild. He's well-known to love the classics -- the Guardian recently described him as "famous for quoting Virgil and Homer in the original at the slightest provocation" -- so it was no great surprise that he asked Armand D'Angour to write a poem in the language of the original Olympic Games.

Thankfully, D'Angour translated the poem into English for all of us non-classicists:

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 medalists 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!

D'Angour composed his poem roughly in the style of Pindar, a Greek poet known for his odes commemorating Olympic victories. Here's an excerpt from one of Pindar's odes celebrating Xenophon of Corinth (translated by Anne Burnett), who was a favorite to win the pentathlon:

Welcome this rite of crown-bearing revelry,
dancers he leads back from Pisa
where he was pentathlon victor and
first in the stadium race.
No one has ever surpassed him!

No one? Pindar obviously never got to see Usain Bolt.

Johnson described D'Angour's poem as "a work that breathes new life into the ancient custom of celebrating the greatness of the Games through poetry." And the poetry world should tip their hats to Johnson for redirecting some of the light shining so brightly on London this month.