Followers of the ancient gods find `insult' in 2004 mascots

ATHENS, Greece - A group that preserves devotion to the ancient Greek gods is using a modern weapon — the lawsuit — against the mascots of the 2004 Olympics.

Their claim: that naming the figures after ancient deities "savagely insult" their religion. The group wants 3 million euros (dlrs 2.85 million) and a possible ban on the figures.

The mascots — called Athena and Phevos — are cone-shaped caricatures based on a 7th century B.C. terra cotta doll believed to be one of the first Greek toys. Phevos, another name for Apollo, was the god of light and music. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and protector of Athens.

Panaghiotis Marinis, head of the Greek Society of the Friends of the Ancients, objects to "two deities presented in the form of a doll intended as a toy, entertainment or fun."

"The two mascots ... savagely insult our religion and identity," said the lawsuit, which was filed June 12 and obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

"We want to see the gods as they are presented in statues, reliefs, etc. and not as parodies," it added.

Marinis asks the court to block the "offense" — an apparent attempt to pull the mascots off the shelves.

Marinis or other members of his group could not be reached for comment. Organizers of the 2004 Games said they were unaware of the suit and referred it to their legal department.

The mascot designs were picked from 196 entries submitted during an international competition for the Olympics — itself a contemporary incarnation of an ancient Greek festival.

The Olympic organizing committee "would not dare present as a two-dimensional caricature, cartoon or doll the figures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Mohammed, Moses, etc.," the suit said. "It would be like presenting Jesus Christ not with seriousness ... but with a suit and tie."

In December 1999, the ancient god devotees objected to a light show and other events on the ancient Parthenon to celebrate the millennium, which the group considered homage to 2,000 years of Christianity.