A Bit About the Olympic Flame & Torch

I have a rather politically incorrect confession to make. As a boy in the 1970’s, I fried ants. Not fried like you would make French fries. No, I used a magnifying glass and the power of the sun to incinerate thousands of the little buggers on sidewalks and roadways throughout my youth.

I am sure that somewhere in the subterranean world of ants there is a wanted poster with my boyhood picture on it and a description of a heat ray.

I make this confession only after learning that the ancient Greeks probably fried ants too. This is of course not an historical fact, but rather a deduction, since it seems that those crafty Greeks used a similar method (sun + glass) to light the first Olympic flame. In fact, the current Olympic flame, which is bound for Torino, Italy, was also ignited with light.

Here is the story. The tradition of the Olympic flame and its associated Olympic torch developed from Greek polytheism. In ancient Greece, a permanent flame burned in the sanctuary of Olympia, venue for the ancient Olympic Games. Since the flame was part of the worship of the gods, it need to be pure and it would seem the Greeks thought that just whipping out a Zippo would be beneath the dignity of the gods. Instead, these Greeks used a skaphia, which according to people way smarter than I am, is the ancestor of the modern parabolic mirror. The skaphia concentrated the sun’s energy and then reflected it outward, creating an intense heat ray which would have made Flash Gordon jealous. This heat ray was concentrated on the center of a torch and, voila, the torch burst into flame.

The modern tradition of an Olympic torch borrows from two ancient Greek traditions. First, the torch relay harkens back to torch relays called, lampadedromia, or flame races. At one of these flame races, a bunch of teams would relay skaphia-ignited torches to some god’s personal alter. The team that got the torch there first had the honor of renewing the god’s fire.

Second, the Greeks had a custom of calling a truce during the Olympic Games. Messengers would run all over the place telling folks where and when the games would be. Every city state was obligated to stop all combat operations so that athletes and spectators could travel to the games in relative safety.

The Olympic Torch relay than reflects both of these traditions.

According to the folks at the International Olympic Committee, “in the context of the modern Games, the Olympic flame is a manifestation of the positive values that Man has always associated with fire. Like the messengers who proclaimed the sacred truce, the runners who carry the Olympic flame encourage the whole world to put down their weapons and turn towards the Games.”

The torch now bound for Torino, was lite using a parabolic mirror. Actresses pretending to be prietesses for the goddess Hera did the honors.

Thank you for reading.

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