As the Olympic Flame travels across the United Kingdom before it will reach London for the start of the 30th Olympics on July 27, it is interesting to hear what the Greek lady who lit the sacred flame in ancient Olympia on May 10 had to say about the ceremony, the games and herself.
In the leading role of High Priestess during the ritual lighting and hand over ceremonies of the Olympic Flame for the 2012 London Games this May in Olympia and Athens, Ino Menegaki "prayed" to the Gods of Greek mythology that the Sacred Light will give strength to athletes and spread the message of peace worldwide.
In a recent interview with Xinhua at the headquarters of the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) in Athens, the Greek actress called on all citizens of the world to value the Games, the diachronic principles of the Olympic movement, and try to be true to human nature.
"The yardstick of our lives should be 'as true as we can to ourselves'. We could give a series of interpretations on this, but allow me to say just that 'be true to our human nature'," she said in her own interpretation of the messages transmitted through the ceremonies ahead of each Olympics and the values of the Games.
As a protagonist in the Lighting ceremony held on May 10 this year at Olympia, the birthplace of the Games 2,500 years ago, and the Handover ceremony on May 17 at Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens, the venue of the first modern Olympics in 1896, Menegaki stuck to the script and the choreography.
Through words and steps inspired by ancient Greek literature and images on pots, as leading member of a team of artists playing the roles of priestesses and warriors with no weapons, she tried to stir and transmit to spectators worldwide the strong emotions the spirit of the Games can trigger. She did it.
Maybe because the talented renowned artist strongly believes herself in the value of sport and the Games in improving our personalities and lives. "I love the Games. I strongly believe in the value of sports," she stressed, pointing to the ancient Greek philosophy that through exercise one trains body and spirit, "since they are inseparable."
As a graduate of the Greek National Theatre Drama School, with most of her professional activity having been dedicated to Greek ancient tragedy, Menegaki's encounter with the Olympic Flame -- for the first time in 1996 as a priestess -- was somehow a part of a "natural process".
She walked a long course, making the right choices, that somehow led her to the role of High priestess, which she regards as a great honor for her and any artist, as she noted.
"Protagonist in Greek (Protagonistis) means first in the race, means you are the first to reach a place, the first to work. It is a great honor for anybody to be a protagonist," she said.
Each High Priestess seals the ceremony with her strong personality, which is a most significant factor in the choice made by the choreographer, beyond education, she added. But, still the ceremony is the result of hard team work. Menegaki considers herself as the "first among equals."
The ceremonies are the result of six months of rehearsals, six months of hard work with no payment for all participants. They are all volunteers investing their time, energy, souls for the Games. Does it worth it?
For Menegaki and all people involved it is a great honor rather than sacrifice. "I believe my life is in absolute harmony with this, so I could not say something different. What do I gain? Ah, I do not know what sort of meaning should we attribute to the word 'gain' in people's lives. It is something we should thoroughly think about. We gain through the least, with a flower that we will cut off and keep in our hand," she explained.
It is most probably impossible for anyone to describe and explain the feelings she has during the ceremonies, when she ignites the Flame using sunrays and a concave mirror amongst the ruins of Hera's Temple in Olympia, Menegaki said. Anyway, what is important is not what she feels, but how to transmit the emotions to the audience, she stressed pointing to the theatrical stage.
"When an actor plays, the significant thing is not to stir emotions for himself or herself, but trigger emotions and emotional cleansing -- Katharsis in ancient Greek tragedy -- for the audience. So, how I feel at the time, as a person, is not so important. As an artist, creator, interpreter what is important is to trigger emotions to the people watching," she said.
Menegaki feels a special link with China though. For the 2008 Beijing Games she acted as Estiada, the priestess who carries the pot with the Sacred Flame inside the ancient Stadium at Olympia just before the High Priestess lights up the torch and hands it over to the first torchbearer. She became the High Priestess for first time for the first Youth Olympic Games "Singapore 2010".
She speaks with enthusiasm about her visit to Beijing in 2008 after the Games, when she participated in a festival playing the priestess.
"I was given the opportunity to visit many places in Beijing. They gave me the opportunity to see the Great Wall, to see all significant monuments of this city. And it was a great experience for me. It made me feel closer to this great civilization. It moved me," she said.
Asked to forecast the future of the ceremonies and the Games, she noted that each ceremony -- which is always unique, always modest with minor new elements, always inspired by the ancient Greek history and culture, is the beginning of a race and an end.
"And now that we have completed this year's race with joy, I think soon we will start thinking about the future, about the next ceremonies," she said. If she would be given the opportunity to choose the next High Priestess, she would choose a good person most of all.
"It is the most significant. In Greek language the word person (anthropos) means looking up (ano throsko)," she explained referring to the ancient Greek philosophy again. It means that people should always try to better themselves, gain more and more knowledge, live with values.
As for herself, she will finish her Master's degree course on Olympic Studies at Olympia and spend more time with her pet dog named Zorro.