The Olympic Flame arrives at the Parthenon

Seen beside the Parthenon, the Olympic Flame shows its true dimensions. The ancient monument, an example of artistic excellence and symbolism, undoubtedly Athens’s crowning glory and part of the world’s heritage, received the Olympic Flame on Thursday night, August 12, 2004. On a base set up in front of the Parthenon at a safe distance away from it, silver medalist Niki Bakoyianni, running up the steps as lightly as Artemis, lit the flame after it was passed to her by Carl Lewis at the foot of the Acropolis. The Parthenon, beautifully lit in a way that highlighted its unique architecture, the remaining sections of Pheidias’ art on the frieze, the pediment and the metopes, looked down on Thursday night’s events with the awareness of the eternal before the ephemeral, even at this very important time, when, after an unprecedented tour of five continents and all of Greece, the flame arrived home to launch the Olympic Games of 2004. When you read these lines, the flame will be burning in the main Olympic stadium, and even though the Greeks feel bitter that their two leading athletes will not be competing, they know that the olive wreath goes to the athlete that wins fairly and sees his or her country’s flag raised, and not to those who use other, inappropriate methods. In these Games, back where they were created 25 centuries ago, and 108 years after the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece has much to offer, beginning with emotion and a smile, shared in the opening ceremony through music, dance and the visual arts, where everyone who attended will be able to say, «I was there when they lit the Olympic Flame.» We have athletes who have given us joy in the past, with gold, silver and bronze medals, and who will do so again in their own homeland. Any improprieties do not belong to the spirit of Olympic rivalry, therefore they should be pushed aside. The sporting festival continues… The wise Parthenon knows this very well, as it looked down on Thursday night as Prime Minister Costas Karamnlis wished all the athletes good luck and sent a message of peace to the world. The speeches by Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis, the Athens 2004 president, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, and the president of the Greek Olympic Committee, Lambis Nikolaou, were in the same spirit. «The flame shines down on healthy competition, to link people in brotherhood in the spirit of peace.» Let us hope so, for when the spectators and cameras left the rock, and the Parthenon was left alone with the flame, one imagines that if walls could speak, these ancient stones might have made a wish that the marble friezes kept in the British Museum might one day be returned to Greece. Certainly many of the Greek officials there that night were thinking the same thing, although no one said anything. But that day will come, a sunny day in Attica, when the new Acropolis Museum is built. Then the Parthenon, which now watches and waits, along with all the civilized world, will be vindicated.

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