'...So that he maketh fire come down from heaven...'
12:37 PM ET 12/19/97
ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (Reuters) - Heavy clouds prevented the sun's rays from lighting the Olympic flame for the Nagano Winter Games Friday, forcing organisers to resort to emergency measures.
Despite incantations by a "high priestess" in white robes to the sun god Apollo, overcast skies and rain meant Greek officials had to use a flame lit Monday.
"Apollo, God of Light, send your rays and light the holy flame," chanted actress Maria Pabouki in vain during a chilly ceremony in sprawling ruins of the ancient stadium where the Olympic Games originated in 776 BC.
Escorted by 20 thinly-dressed acolytes, she then walked solemnly through rain puddles and the austere, fallen Doric columns of the Temple of Zeus.
"We resorted to using a flame lit Monday just in case. We always have a spare, especially in the winter," a Greek official told Reuters.
The flame was carried to the slow beat of a drum to a runner, the first in a long chain carrying it across Greece and Japan for the Winter Games in February.
"Quick, our jackets," one acolyte shouted as soon as the ceremony was over and the flame handed to the runner, a Greek skier who will relay it to a Japanese student. About 500 Japanese tourists and 100 Greeks huddled under umbrellas outside the muddy stadium watched the ceremony through the trees.
A dress rehearsal Thursday under equally bad weather, with the women wearing yellow rain jackets over their sleeveless, flowing Grecian tunics, also failed to produce a flame.
The 1936 Berlin Games were the first to use a flame from Ancient Olympia -- a sprawling site of ruined temples, athletic halls and a stadium which held 40,000 people, set in a lush green valley.
The flame has opened the Games ever since to underscore the continuation of the ideals of the ancient Greeks in modern times.
The Olympics, antiquity's most important festival, were held in honor of the father of the gods, Zeus, every four years and warring cities observed a sacred truce for their duration. They were abolished as pagan by Emperor Theodosius in AD 394 and revived in Athens by Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896.
"The traditional, mystical ceremony to mark the kindling of the sacred Olympic flame proclaim to the Japanese nation and the nations of the world that the Nagano Games are about to begin," Nagano mayor Tasuku Tsukada said in a speech at the ceremony. The Nagano Games flame will be relayed to Athens, where it will be handed over to Japanese officials at a special ceremony Monday.
"Baal was known as the god who answered by fire. It was reputed to be his specialty. He was the one, it was said, who generated the fire and storm that brought rain and fertility to the soil.
Ugaritic sources reinforce the picture:
"Baal's icons frequently depict him carrying a stylized lightning bolt. It was his primary weapon. In several Ugaritic texts Baal hurls fire from heaven."
(A Beacon in the Darkness, David Roper)
See "The Two Babylons: The Beast from the Earth."
See also Elijah