Ancient Olympics Comic

OLYMPIC FLAME

13 Jan 2015
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OLYMPIC FLAME:  SYMBOL OF THE CONTINUITY OF THE OLYMPIC GAMES

The Olympic Flame, one of the symbols of the ancient Olympic Games in ancient Greece, continues to survive until our days, showing in this way the continuity and the links existing between the ancient and the modern Olympics.

In general, the concept of "continuity" was fundamental to the way the ancient Greeks perceived the world. They deeply believed that everything was connected to each other through an evolutionary process. The Olympic Flame itself, burning continually in ancient Olympia, was actually an expression of this continuity.

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 - The Olympic Flame - The place where the Olympic Flame burnt

The place in which the Olympic Flame was kept was the Prytaneum, a small and less impressive building in relation to others existing in the Sacred Altis. The Prytaneum served basically political and administrative purposes, as the officials responsible for the sacrifices stayed there. So, in the Prytaneum there was the altar of the goddess Estia (Vesta), where the sacred Olympic Flame was burning as long as the ancient Greek Olympic Games were in progress.

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- The Olympic Flame - Keeping the Olympic Flame lit

Since lighting a fire wasn’t so simple in ancient times, keeping the Olympic Flame burning was quite a difficult task undertaken by the priestesses of the goddess Estia. Actually, in every ancient Greek city there was a space where they constantly kept a fire lit, serving worship and practical needs.

- The Olympic Flame - The connection between the Olympic Flame and the myth of Prometheus

The Olympic Flame is connected with the myth of Prometheus and the theft of fire from the gods. According to Plato, when the Olympian gods finished the creation of the living beings, they ordered the Titan Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus to donate qualities, virtues and powers in each one of them. Epimetheus then asked for Prometheus’ permission to let him make the distribution. Prometheus agreed so Epimetheus gave indeed to every living creature qualities and characteristics that would help it survive, breed and do not disappear. Starting from the animals he equipped others with power, others with speed or others with wings, claws, hooves, hair etc., so that all of them would be able to attack and defend themselves effectively. Epimetheus also determined the type of food for each animal as well as how many babies each species would give birth to, all these in such a way that there would be a balance in nature. However, when finally came the man’s turn, Epimetheus just then realized that he had already wasted all the qualities to animals and that there was almost nothing left that could protect humans. Without knowing what to do next, Epemetheus sat helplessly, until his brother Prometheus came to inspect his work. When Prometheus saw that the man had been left powerless without any weapons and virtues, he decided to steal the gods’ wisdom and arts, and to give them to people. For that reason he sneaked in Hephaestus’ and Athenas’ workshop. He stole the fire and the skill in the arts from Hephaestus and from Athena the wisdom, necessary in order to use the other two in an effective way. Prometheus not only donated those gifts to people, but he also taught them how to use them. However, Prometheus was punished for this act by Zeus, who bound him on the rocks of the mountain Caucasus. Every day an eagle was coming over there and was eating his liver, which however was healed during the night due to Prometheus’ immortal nature. His torture ended when Hercules untied and saved him.

- The Olympic Flame - The multiple symbolisms of the Olympic Flame

So, as for many other ancient civilizations, for the ancient Greeks as well the element of fire was something sacred, and even attached with magical and divine properties. It was also an indication of power, knowledge and culture. In a similar way the Olympic Flame was considered sacred too. The visitors and spectators of the Games could get the Olympic light of the Olympic Flame with torches and transfer it to their cities and homelands as a symbol of unity, love and power. Thus, although the Olympic Flame was shared it didn’t lose any of its original strength.

- The Olympic Flame - The Olympic Flame torch races

The ability to transfer the Olympic Flame gave rise to the organization of torch races. The torch races (something like today's relay race) had more ritual than athletic character, although it was considered as a sport out of the official program. In the ancient Olympia’s torch races it was established that young spectators would be the torchbearers in order to give them the opportunity to participate in the general spirit of the sports. The endpoint of the torch races was in front of the sacred altar of Zeus.

- Olympic Flame - The Olympic Flame is been extinguished but restored again

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With the rise of Christianity, the Olympic Games were abolished in the 4th or 5th century AD. As a result, many of the brilliant buildings of the Sacred Altis in ancient Olympia were destroyed. In addition, reasonably enough, the sacred Olympic Flame was extinguished, having already burnt for many centuries every time the ancient Greek Olympic Games were held.

In the modern era, the Olympic Flame, as a symbol of the modern Olympic Games, was lit again in the Games of 1928 in Amsterdam while the lighting of the flame in ancient Olympia happened for the first time in 1936. Since then, a glorious ceremony takes place for the lighting of the Olympic Flame. This ceremony symbolizes the historical connection that exists between the modern and the ancient Olympic Games.

- Olympic Flame - The ceremony of the lighting of the Olympic Flame

The lighting of the Olympic Flame nowadays announces and signals the Olympic Games. The Olympic Flame lighting ceremony is performed every two years (one for summer and one for winter Olympics) in Olympia, particularly to the altar in front of the temple of Hera. During the ceremony, a group of priestesses dressed in archaic costumes stands around the altar and the High Priestess lights the torch from the sun rays using a concave metal mirror, after having invoked the god Apollo. Afterwards, she transmits the Olympic Flame in a small clay vessel which contains flammable material and with the other priestesses they form together a procession towards the Stadium. There the High Priestess meets the first torchbearer, an Olympic champion, to whom she delivers the Olympic Flame by lighting  his torch, as she tells him the words "Tinella, Kallinike, Tinella", which means "Well done glorious victor".

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- The Olympic Flame - The Olympic Flame travels

After the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony, the Olympic Flames travels to many cities in Greece and then in cities of the host country, until finally it ends its route to the stadium of the Olympic Games during the opening ceremony of the Games. There Olympic Flame remains lit during the Games as a symbol of remembrance and transmission of the ancient Olympic spirit from which the modern Olympic Games have originated.

 

Dimi NtouranidouWritten by Dimi Ntouranidou

 

Graduate teacher of Greek literature (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Literary editor of publications, Responsible for writing articles about the ancient Olympic Games   

 

  
Images of the ancient Greek Olympic Games blog are taken from the Ancient Greek Olympic Games Comic. In the Ancient Olympic Games Comic you will find much more about the ancient Olympic Games while having fun reading a wonderful comic story. You can download a sample episode of the comic here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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