“You naughty boy!” Zeus bawled unceremoniously at Prometheus. “So this is the thanks I get for creating you, and the rest. You get some great fennel stalk and hide fire inside it and steal it from me.
“This demands,” the über deity continued, “drastic measures.”
Zeus decreed that whole chaining-to-a-rock-and-having-your-liver-eaten thing. He was not accustomed to having his trinkets stolen from under his nose.
It is pretty, though, isn’t it, fire? Quite the perfect trinket to steal. And it’s useful. How many things can you say that about? Fire. It’s a classic.
A sparkly glorious thing, clean yet deadly, a vanquisher and an eternal light, it was bound to catch the attention of the Nazis. The perfect symbol to unite the Aryan race with those they would claim as their spiritual forebears, the Ancient Greeks.
Wurzberg-born Carl Diem was no stranger to the Olympic scene. He had masterminded abortive preparations for the 1916 Olympics, which were cancelled because of World War I; so he was going to make the most of organising those held in Berlin in 1936.
Diem wanted to tie Germany’s games firmly to their Ancient Greek roots. And so he found himself a high priestess.
Once appointed the priestess was packed off to Greece and the ancient temple of Hera, accompanied by 15 virgins in nice flowing robes. They used a concave mirror to focus the rays of the Greek sun and stole fire all over again.
And then came the chain of Aryan athletes which took the flame 3,422 kilometres to the Berlin stadium. Each runner ran one kilometre, through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and other countries which the Nazis would occupy, soon enough.
The whole thing was underpinned by German industry: the Zeiss Corporation, for example, made the lightning mirrors. The torches were made by German steel giants Krupp, who later armed germany for the Second World War.
This, friends, is how the flame tradition began. In the heart of the darkest of regimes.
But, like fire, it is a pretty idea; and when suitably adapted it has the advantage of being able to bring the Olympics to a street near you.
Which is what happened in a street near me today.
The British, like many before them, have patted the Nazi-initiated tradition on the back and toned it down. Lets’s not get too over excited about this, old chap, they have said. Rather than the perfect, lets choose our worthy to run. It’ll change the whole thrust of the thing.
When Speccy’s husband, a dedicated youth sports coach, ran, holding Prometheus’s plunder, I got squeakily excited.
Today was our turn to see it pass through our town. There we were, standing at the front, chatting to volunteer stewards who were vainly trying to keep revellers from spilling onto the road.
We love a good excuse to let our guards drop, we British. Any excuse to start smiling at each other and talking: it is the spirit of the Blitz. I knew the life history of the young Dad next to me by the time the flame hoved into view.
An ordinary bloke ran past: celebrity for a kilometre. He ran on a raft of rapturous applause, holding a flame which we have dampened a few times with our rain, but which does not dim as a symbol. Here was a fairytale ritual , created by the Nazis, enchanting yet another generation of enraptured crowds.
We cheered too. It was huge fun. And then he was gone, and we felt part of it all, and trailed home happily recalling every detail.
And the stolen fire ran on through the streets, away and towards a stadium where workman are adding -I trust- the very final touches.