Another post about Hestia today, and another requested one s I got a reply to yesterday's post that I wanted to answer. Of course, as the title says, this post is also about Hera--but in this case, the two Goddesses are connected.

"I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now, and there's something I've been thinking since I was in Olympia two years ago and I don't understand... If fire is always associated to Hestia, why do they light the olympic flame in Hera's temple?? Specially having a Hestia temple there too... I hope you can give me an answer!"

Back in ancient Hellas, most religious activities surrounding the household revolved around the central hearth, which was seen as the physical manifestation of Hestia. The male head of household, the kurios, presented slaves, children and his new wife to the heart fire so they became part of the oikos and fell under the protection of Hestia and the other household Gods.

While Hestia has little mythology to Her name, Her worship was a vital part of ancient Hellenic religion. For one, Her flame connected every single Hellenic oikos to each other and the state. All the household fires were lit with a flame from the prytaneion (Πρυτανεῖον), the structure where state officials met and where the city kept a fire for Hestia burning day and night. Every single heart fire in the city or town was linked to that central one, and that central fire was linked to the city from where the settlers of the new village, town or city came. This network of fires, which were never allowed to go out, brought all Hellenes together.

As it did for the household, the sacred flame of the games served as a unification symbol; the games came with a truce and it brought all city-states together. The Olympic flame commemorated the theft of fire from Zeus by Prometheus, and the unification of humanity.

A receptacle called the 'skaphia' served as a parabolic mirror and was used to start the fire for the games. The use of the sun's rays to start the fire ensured the purity of the fire and also obtained the fire from a source associated with the Gods. The fire for the prytaneion was also obtained from the heat of the sun's rays, and was used to light the other fires of the sanctuary. This fire was available for lighting the torch for the games in the event that the sun was not available for lighting the game's fire.

We do not know where, exactly, the skaphia lit the sacred flame for the Olympic games, nor where it was 'stored' for the duration of the games. Personally, I assume it was kept at the temple of Zeus for His games, and the temple of Hera for Hers. Why the modern flame is specifically lit at the temple of Hera, I do not know. It's not part of any press release. Perhaps it is because the Heraion is the oldest peripteral temple at that site, and one of the earliest Doric temples in Greece. Perhaps it is because the temple held the table on which the olive wreaths for the victors were displayed during the Olympic Games. Perhaps it is because it is the temple with the most room for press and spectators. Perhaps it just catches the most direct sunlight. Personally, I think this is the reason:

The prytaneion at Olympia, current view
The heraion at Olympia, current view
It looks better on television.