The Olympic Flame is a symbol recognized to the depths of the world. A symbol that represents the noble concept of the Olympic Games and passes on from one generation to the next. Fire is a purifying element on its own and has marked the beginning of civilization on Earth. So its use in the Olympics is justified, since the Games highlight a global idea of Peace, Solidarity and Sportsmanship. And the Olympic Flame Lighting is an event drawing global attention every time.
There is great symbolism in each element composing the Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony. Above all, the fire itself and then the words spoken by the High Priestess, the sacred olive tree and the place where the entire ceremony is held. In a timeless circle, all these elements are connected and the true spirit of the Olympics carries on intact, inspiring the world all the way from antiquity and even today.
Prometheus and the Fire
According to the myth, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and the Gods on Mount Olympus. He did not use it for himself, but instead gifted it to men. This was the beginning of society as we know it. Civilization flourished, thanks to the unlimited possibilities that fire offers. Men were able to tame nature and use materials like metals to their benefit. Without fire, there would probably be no modern society. Fire gave birth to the omnipotence of man.
Olympic Flame Lighting: The Modern Concept & Ancient Background
Even though the idea of the Olympic Games dates back to antiquity, the same cannot be said about Olympic Flame Lighting. There is, however, a strong correlation between the modern Olympic Flame and the flame that was kept vibrant at the Altar of Hera in Ancient Olympia. During the ancient Olympic Games, this fire never stopped burning. It was a symbol of the athletes’ desire to win.
Based on the ancient ritual, Olympic Flame Lighting was first introduced in 1928 during the Olympic Games of Amsterdam. Without the Olympic Flame Torch Relay (which started in 1936 in Berlin), a simple fire was lit on site. Since the bond between the past and the present was so strong, this ritual was then enriched. And it was established as a herald to the forthcoming Olympic Games.
Ancient Olympia is the heart of the Olympic Games. In ancient Greece the athletes gathered and competed with each other, with sportsmanship prevailing. During the Olympic Games, warfare ceased in honor of the Gods. And the winners traveled back to their hometown, where a huge celebration was held. The walls of the city were knocked down, highlighting the power of the Olympian winners. This was the highest honor an athlete could receive, along with the wreath of laurel leaves and olive branch upon winning.
At the Temple of Hera, the priestesses head to the Altar and then the Stadium. They are dressed in archaic garments and the High Priestess first stops to the sacred Olive Tree on site. A young boy cuts an olive branch and hands it over, as a symbol of Global Peace. Upon reaching the Stadium, the High Priestess lights the flame at the cauldron. The sun rays reflect on the cauldron and ignite the flame. Then, the torch of the first runner is lit and the journey begins. The flame is going to pass through Greece and then follow a set route to the country that hosts the Olympic Games.
In the sacred land of Olympia, the High Priestess exclaims:
Let the sky, the earth, the sea and the winds sound.
Mountains fall silent
Sounds and birds’ warbles cease
For Phoebus, the light bearer King shall keep us company…
Apollo, God of Light and of the idea of light,
Send your rays and light the holy torch
for the hospitable city.
And thou, oh Zeus, send peace to all the people of the Earth
and wreath the winners of the Holy Game.”
Her invocation ends with a reference to the winners of the Olympic Games, urging them to try harder and harder. It is a noble game, requiring the highest spirit from all the athletes.
The Timeless Concept of Olympic Flame Lighting
The Olympic Games have been a prominent event for the people of the Earth since their beginning. They have shaped a world where Peace prevails, no war or suffering adheres. Strong athletes compete and the strongest one wins. There is unanimous acceptance of the winner and the value of the other athletes only adds to his glory.
In a world where everything is monetized and regarded as merchandise, the Olympic Games should be a beacon of the true Olympian Spirit. They should remind us all of the very essence of humanity. Where glory comes from hard effort and supremacy is the result of nothing artificial. Justice is a given and there is nothing getting in the way of evaluating the athletes in all fairness.
What is more, glory does not only lie to the winner of the game. Glory is within everyone participating in this prominent event. Paying tribute to the Gods and Nature, different people of the world unite and enjoy a unique spectacle.
Olympic Games of Tokyo 2020
Next Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony will take place in Ancient Olympia, on 12 March 2020. The Hellenic Olympic Committee, along with its international counterpart and the organizers from Tokyo have just announced the date. “Hope Lights Our Way” is the selected theme for the Olympic Flame Relay and it indeed incorporates the essence of the Olympic Games. Hope, a sentiment that needs to be revived and enhanced, no matter what. Without Hope, humanity stands no chance.
The Flame will reach Japan in late March and the forthcoming Olympic Games will commence on 24 July 2020. Another display of solidarity, with hundreds of countries taking part in this athletic celebration. A celebration that goes beyond borders and knows no boundaries. A superb athletic event, following the footsteps of the ancient world.