In a Wikipedia article about the Olympics, I read the following sentence (my translation)

Finally, the pleasure of participating is alien to the Greek ideal, for which only victory is worth winning, "The crown or death", as the athletes ask Zeus. [note a]

A reference is given to the "The crown or death" sentence, namely Moses Finley et H.W. Pleket, The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years ». In the French edition, such a sentence appears page 39 [note b].

I can't find that sentence and I don't have access to such a book.

Could somebody give me the Greek words for "The crown or death" (στέφανος ἤ θάνατος ???) or an online reference citing the oath ? What literary or archaeological evidence do we have of this oath?

[note a] Enfin, le plaisir de participer est étranger à l'idéal grec, pour lequel seule vaut la victoire, « La couronne ou la mort », comme le demandent les athlètes à Zeus

[note b] Moses Finley et H.W. Pleket (trad. Cécile Deniard), 1000 ans de Jeux olympiques : 776 av. J.-C.-261 apr. J.-C. [« The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years »], Paris, Perrin, 2004 (édition originale 1976)

1 Answer 1


The particular words you were looking for are ἢ στέφος ἢ θάνατον ("either the crown or death," in the accusative case; θάνατος would be the nominative case if detached from its original context).

As for the provenance, the source seems to be the epitaph of a boxer named Agathos Daimon or Kamelos. The Ancient Olympics site gives the Greek text of the epitaph:

1 Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων . ὁ καὶ
2 Κάμηλος . Ἀλεξανδρεὺς
3 ἀνὴρ . πύκτης . νεμεο-
4 νίκης, ἐνθάδε πυκτεύ-
5 ων ἐν τῷ σταδίῳ ἐτε-
6 λεύτα . εὐξάμενος
7 Ζηνὶ . ἢ στέφος . ἢ
8 θάνατον. ἐτῶν
9 λ̅ε̅ . Χαῖρε.

Their translation (a Dutch translation is available onsite too):

Agathos Daimon alias ‘Camel’, an Alexandrian, boxer, victor in Nemea. He died here in the stadion in the fight after promising Zeus either victory or death. Aged 35. Farewell.

The source given is BCH (= Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique) 88, p. 186, which can be consulted here (also contains a French translation of the inscription).

  • Thank you very much !
    – suizokukan
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 16:16

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