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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class- Holidays in Greece Series at GreekPod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Greek holidays and observances. I’m Michael, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 25, The Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony. In Greek, it's called [τελετή αφής της Ολυμπιακής φλόγας].
Every two years, the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, known as [Ολυμπιακοί αγώνες], bring worldwide attention to a small area in Greece: the archaeological site of [Ολυμπία]. A few months prior to the games, the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony takes place at Olympia. This day, though, is not an official celebration or a public holiday in Greece, despite its great cultural importance.
In this lesson you will learn everything about this special ceremony.
Now, before we get into more detail, do you know the answer to this question-
Do you know what flammable material is used as tinder in the torch?
If you don't already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
The Olympic flame or [Ολυμπιακή φλόγα] has its roots in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept lit during the entire Olympic Games. Many people think that today’s ceremony is a revival of this ancient ceremony, but the truth is different. Back then, lighting a fire was difficult and time-consuming, so all ancient Greek cities possessed their own inextinguishable fire, which was taken care of by the priestesses of the goddess Hestia or [Εστία]. So, during the ancient Olympiads, all of the flames which were lit at the altars of the temple came from the fire of Hestia.
Today’s ceremony includes simple dance and music rituals. The lighting takes place at the temple of Hera or [Ήρα], where the High Priestess or [πρωθιέρεια] pleads with Apollo, the god of the sun, for help in lighting her torch. Τhen she places the torch on a parabolic mirror, where the concentrated rays of the sun inflame its flammable material. Finally, the High Priestess gives the flame to the first torchbearer, and this is how the torch relay starts that will bring the flame to the host city.
The moment of the invocation is the most emotionally charged moment of the ceremony. It’s the moment when the High Priestess begins by pleading with nature for "sacred silence" or in Greek [«ιερά σιωπή»], in other words the cessation of all sounds, even the sounds of birds. Then she asks Apollo or [Απόλλωνας] to send his rays and light the torch for the host city, the name of which is also mentioned. Finally, she asks Zeus or [Δίας], the god of gods, to bestow peace to all men on Earth and to crown the winners with wreaths.
In 1984, one day before the lighting ceremony of the Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, the face of the High Priestess [Κατερίνα Διδασκάλου] was covered with rashes from stress. She was given an injection and on the following day she performed her role as normal.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question-
Do you know which flammable material is used as tinder in the torch?
This material is none other than pieces of film from silent movies! This idea belongs to [Αθανάσιος Κριτσινέλης], a member of the Hellenic Olympic Committee and the person responsible for the ceremony, who thought that these would be the most suitable materials, due to the extremely flammable nitrocellulose that they contain.
How did you like this lesson? Did you learn anything interesting?
Have you ever watched the Olympic flame lighting ceremony?
Leave us your comments on GreekPod101.com, and we'll see you in the next series.

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Have you ever watched the Olympic flame lighting ceremony?