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Olympic Hymn Penned by Greeks for First Modern Olympics in Athens 1896

The National Herald

The title page of the score for the Olympic Hymn by Spyridon Samaras with lyrics by Kostis Palamas, written in 1896 for the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. Photo: Public domain

LONDON, UK – The story of the Olympic Hymn was featured by Classic FM on July 19, ahead of the start of the Tokyo Games on July 23. “The official anthem of the Olympics is heard when the Olympic flag is raised and lowered at the opening and closing ceremonies,” Classic FM reported, adding that “the stirring choral anthem that marked the first-ever modern Olympic Games in 1896” was “composed by Greek opera composer Spyridon Samaras, with lyrics by the Greek poet Kostis Palamas.”

“It was written for the first summer Olympic Games in modern history, which took place in Athens and saw fourteen nations, and over 200 athletes, compete in the Greek capital,” Classic FM reported, noting that “it was Demetrius Vikelas, the first president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who chose both artists to pen this important work… first heard during the Opening Ceremony of the first installment of the games, which was formally called the Games of the I Olympiad.”

“For the following Olympics, nations took on the tradition of commissioning their own anthems for ceremonies, until 1956 when the hymn was used again,” Classic FM reported, adding that “in 1958, the IOC declared Samaras' Olympic Hymn the official anthem of the games, and it was sung, in its English version, at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley in the United States.”

Since that time, the Olympic Hymn “has been heard at every Olympic games during the Opening Ceremony as the Olympic Flag is raised, and during the Closing Ceremony when the flag is lowered,” Classic FM reported, noting that “the IOC decreed that the Olympic Hymn should be performed in Greek or English, or else in the host nation's language – as long as it was translated from the original Greek of Palamas' pen.”

“The piece itself is an optimistic, brass fanfare-fronted choral cantata in a major key,” Classic FM reported, adding that “it has an invigorating melody that embodies strength and hope.”

The lyrics “are also drenched in unfailingly uplifting messages of hope, bravery and victory, telling of the immortal Olympic Flame and how it can `unite', `inspire' and `bring honor' as it lights the way for nations and our sporting heroes, as they come together every (mostly) four years,” Classic FM reported.

The lyrics of the Olympic Hymn in English, as Classic FM reported, follow:

The National Herald

The first page of the score for the Olympic Hymn by Spyridon Samaras with lyrics by Kostis Palamas, written in 1896 for the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. Photo: Public domain

“Olympian flame immortal

Whose beacon lights our way

Emblaze our hearts with the fires of hope

On this momentous day

As now we come across the world

To share these Games of old

Let all the flags of every land

In brotherhood unfold

Sing out each nation, voices strong

Rise up in harmony

All hail our brave Olympians

With strains of victory

Olympic light burn on and on

O'er seas and mountains and plains

Unite, inspire, bring honor

To these ascending games

May valor reign victorious

Along the path of golden way

As tomorrow's new champions now come forth

Rising to the fervent spirit of the game

Let splendor pervade each noble deed

Crowned with glory and fame

And let fraternity and fellowship

Surround the soul of every nation

Oh flame, eternal in your firmament so bright

Illuminate us with your everlasting light

That grace and beauty and magnificence

Shine like the sun

Blazing above

Bestow on us your honor, truth, and love.”

The original Greek lyrics by Palamas follow:

Αρχαίο Πνεύμα αθάνατο, αγνέ πατέρα

του ωραίου, του μεγάλου και του αληθινού,

Κατέβα, φανερώσου κι άστραψε εδώ πέρα

στη δόξα της δικής σου γης και τ' ουρανού.

Στο δρόμο και στο πάλεμα και στο λιθάρι

Στων ευγενών αγώνων λάμψε την ορμή

Και με το αμάραντο στεφάνωσε κλωνάρι

και σιδερένιο πλάσε και άξιο το κορμί. (2x)

Κάμποι, βουνά και θάλασσες φέγγουνε μαζί σου

σαν ένας λευκοπόρφυρος μέγας ναός.

Και τρέχει στο ναό εδώ προσκυνητής σου (2x)

Αρχαίο Πνεύμα αθάνατο, κάθε λαός. (2x)

πατέρα του ωραίου, του μεγάλου και τ' αληθινού,

Στο δρόμο και στο πάλεμα και στο λιθάρι,

στων ευγενών Αγώνων λάμψε την ορμή! (2x)