Miller Revives Nemean Games

Stephen Miller, professor emeritus of classical archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, stands in front of the Temple of Neamean Zeus in southern Greece (AP Photo/Derek Gatopoulos, FILE)

For archeologist Stephen Miller the revival of the Nemean Games every four years at the ancient stadium he uncovered is an emotional event.

“The people who were here tonight, the man who was being MC (master of ceremonies), five or six people, more than that, people out there – volunteers. They’re spending their time, their money to make this work. Yeah, there’s emotion involved,” Miller told New Europe in Athens on October 14 on the sidelines of the formal announcement of the Sixth Nemead, which will take place on June 10-12.
The revival of the Nemean Games is becoming a tradition in a region already known for Hercules’ First Labor: the Nemean Lion. “It becomes more and more known, something that people are used to doing and tell their friends and they come back and bring their friends back with them,” the professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley and Director of Nemea Excavations said.“
Our problem right now is – we’re not sure what will happen – but last time we had over 1,000 runners and it was all we could do to accommodate them, get everyone a chance to run. If we get 1,500 runners, and we could, I don’t know how we’re gonna do it. We’ll have to start before the sun comes up,” Miller said.The Greek financial crisis, the referendum last summer leading to capital controls and threat of a Grexit temporarily cast a shadow over the future of the Mediterranean country and the games.

“Already in June we had 140 people who were registered to run. Then came the big crunch with the banks closing and all of that and it stopped – just froze. And our visitations at the museum fell 80 percent for almost a month. But then they came back and they’re coming back very strong now and we’re well over 200 runners,” Miller said.

Asked if Greece is back in the game, Miller said the country has not reached its full potential. “Greece has so much going for it but is doesn’t utilize it. I made that little promotion how you should use antiquities to promote ancient Greece and modern Greece. I really believe it’s true,” said the bespectacled archeologist, who has been heading the Nemea excavations in the Peloponnese since 1974.

Miller had to struggle to keep the Nemea Museum and archeological ground open because the lack of guards, an issue he raised two years ago.

“What happened this year was as of the first of April, 16 new guards were hired – well 2 gardeners and one housekeeper – but a lot of new personnel and that meant we could keep the site open from eight in the morning till eight in the evening, seven days a week. And over the year, from the first of April, the rate of people coming has gone up over 35 percent,” Miller said.

“In other words, if you make the investment in personnel you’ll get a return on it and that’s what I hope the lesson is. But unfortunately these people who were hired, their contracts end at the end of October and we just don’t know what will happen.”

The Nemean Games take place before the Olympic Games. “It gives us a charge,” Miller said.

But he added that unlike the Olympic Games, the Nemean Games are for everyone. As noted by the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games ( their “goal is the participation, on the ancient earth of Greece, of anyone and everyone, in games that will revive the spirit of the Olympics. We will achieve this by reliving authentic ancient athletic customs in the ancient stadium of Nemea”.