Race (prop. מֵרוֹוֹ, Ec 9:11; δρόμος, "course;" but in the A.V. the rendering, likewise, of אֹרִח, a path, and in the New Test. only of ἀγών and στάδιος). Races were evidently known to the Hebrews (Ec 9:11). In the New Test. there are allusions to the various gymnastic sports and games celebrated by the Greeks. So the term "race" is often used in comparisons drawn from the public races and applied to Christians, as expressing strenuous effort in the Christian life and cause;
and we are exhorted to strive after the rewards of the Gospel as strenuously as the athletes did in the public games (1Co 9:24-27; Ga 2:2; Ga 5:7; Php 2:16; Php 3:14; 2Ti 2:5; 2Ti 4:6-8; Heb 12:1). Among the principal public games noticed by the historians are the Olympic, which were celebrated every fifth year, the Pythian, Nemean, and the Isthmian. These exercises principally consisted in trials of strength and skill — in running on foot, wrestling, leaping, throwing the dart and discus, also in the horse-race and chariot-race. SEE GAME.
The stadium in which they took place was an oblong area terminated at one end by a straight line, at the other by a semicircle having the breadth of the stadium for its base. Around this area were ranges of seats rising above one another in steps. After the Roman conquest of Greece, the form of the stadium was often modified, so as to resemble the amphitheatre, by making both its ends semicircular, and by surrounding it with seats supported by vaulted masonry, as in the Roman amphitheatre. The Ephesian stadium still has such seats around a portion of it.
The most strict and laborious preparation was made for these agonistic contests. alnd the whole course of preparation, as well as the contest, was governed by strict and established rules. The athletes who contended for the prize were divested of clothing; every impediment was removed; the prize was placed on a tripod in the middle of the stadium, in the full view of the competitors; and the crown was placed upon the conqueror's head the moment the issue was proclaimed by the judges. Those persons who designed to contend in these games were obliged to repair to the public gymnasium at Elis ten months before the solemnity, where they prepared themselves by continual exercises. No man who had omitted to present himself in this manner was allowed to contend for any of the prizes; nor were the accustomed rewards of victory given to such persons, if by any means they introduced themselves and overcame their antagonists. No person who was himself a notorious criminal, or nearly related to any such, was permitted to contend; and, further, if any person were convicted of bribing his adversary, a severe fine was laid upon him. Nor were these precautions alone thought a sufficient guard against evil and dishonorable contracts and unjust practices, but the contenders were obliged to swear that they had spent ten whole months in preparatory exercises; and both they and their fathers, or brethren, took a solemn oath that they would not, by any sinister or unlawful means, endeavor to stop the fair and just proceedings of the games (Potter, Greek Antiq.).
The races themselves were (1) the foot-race, (2) the horse-race, (3) the chariot-race, (4) the torch -race, either (a) on foot or (b) on horseback. Of all these the first was the simplest and the best test of personal capacity. Hence the exercise of running was in great esteem among the ancient Grecians, insomuch that those who prepared themselves for it thought it worth their while to use means to burn or parch their spleen, because it was believed to be a hindrance to them and to retard them in their course. Homer tells us that swiftness is one of the most excellent endowments a man can be blessed withal:
"No greater honor e'er has been attain'd Than what strong hand or nimble feet have gain'd."
Indeed, all those exercises that conduced to fit men for war were more especially valued. Swiftness was looked upon as an excellent qualification in a warrior, both because it serves for a sudden assault and onset, and likewise for a nimble retreat; and therefore it is not to be wondered at that the constant character which Homer gives of Achilles is, that he was swift of foot; and in the Holy Scripture, David, in his poetical lamentation over those two great captains Saul and Jonathan, takes particular notice of this warlike quality of theirs: "They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions" (2Sa 1:23). SEE AHIMAAZ.
Such as obtained victories in any of these games, especially the Olympic, were universally honored — nay, almost adored. At their return home they rode in a triumphal chariot into the city, the walls being broken down to give them entrance; which was done (as Plutarch is of opinion) to signify that walls are of small use to a city that is inhabited by men of courage and ability to defend it. At Sparta they had an honorable post in the army, being stationed near the king's person. At some towns they had presents made to them by their native city, were honored with the first place at shows and games, and ever after maintained at the public charge. Cicero reports that a victory in the Olympic games was not much less honorable than a triumph at Rome. Happy was that man esteemed who could but obtain a single victory; if any person merited repeated rewards, he was thought to have attained the utmost felicity of which human nature is capable; but if he came off conqueror in all the exercises, he was elevated above the condition of men, and his actions styled wonderful victories. Nor did their honors terminate in themselves, but were extended to all about them; the city that gave them birth and education was esteemed more honorable and august; happy were their relations, and thrice happy their parents. It is a remarkable story which Plutarch relates of a Spartan who, meeting Diagoras, that had himself been crowned in the Olympic games, and seen his sons and grandchildren victors, embraced him and said, "Now die, Diagoras; for thou canst not be a god!" By the laws of Solon, a hundred drachms were allowed from the public treasury to every Athenian who obtained a prize in the Isthmian games, and five hundred drachms to such as were victors in the Olvmpiali. Afterwards, the latter of these had their maintenance in the Prytaneum, or public hall of Athens. The rewards given in these games have been thus rendered into English by Addison, from the Greek:
"Greece, in four games thy martial youth were train'd, For heroes two, and two for gods ordain'd: Jove bade the olive round his victor wave; Phoebus to his an apple-garland gave; The pine Palaemomn; nor with less renown, Archemorus couferr'd the parsley crown." (Anc. Med. Dial. 2.)
Compare with these fading vegetable crowns that immortal life which the Gospel offers as a prize to the victor, in order to understand the apostle's comparison (1Co 9:25; 1Pe 5:4). SEE CROWN.