Descending from the Acropolis, we discovered remains of a tiny church. Yep, this is the same day as the previous post. Nope, I don’t know what this church was. I’m not sure any of us knew it was there. Another surprise, perhaps.
From here, we headed to the Agora, which I especially wanted to see. In the Classical time, this is where men gathered daily to socialize and philosophize, as well as take care of business, and more. Yes, men. Not women. It was a social and commercial center. Socrates roamed here, sharing his ideas whether listeners wanted to hear them or not.
Based on what I’ve gathered from our courses, I can romanticize the Agora as a place where thoughtful people gathered to explore and share important ideas. I looked forward to coming here because I’ve been pondering and trying to synthesize all sorts of ideas of my own, and maybe this would be an opportunity for clarity or maybe to learn something new or see a new perspective.
Oh, I see your rolling eyes—and I raise you an I Don’t Care.
Today I’m thinking about the following:
- how Americans spend time
- how the Technological Revolution—i.e. automation—has reduced the need for human labor
- how most people view the loss of jobs to automation as a bad thing (I do not)
- how more and more Americans embrace entrepreneurship (life coach, anyone?)
- how there could be more time for kind and charitable acts, as well as artistic, healthful, and intellectual pursuits if people embraced a work-less culture
- how people admire workaholics, stress monsters, greedy people, and cheaters
- how an unprecedented wealth disparity came to be in the US, and how it not only continues but gets worse
- what it might be like if people valued learning and intelligence more than hoarding money, shopping, the latest digital gadget, watching reality tv (which is an oxymoron), or ranting on the Internet
Perhaps you can understand my high hopes for the Agora.
Despite unrealistically high expectations, and not gaining much new ground on my own thoughts, the Agora delivered a good experience. In part, I credit the greenery: There were enough trees, bushes, and grassy slopes to give it—or me—an air of peacefulness. Wandering paths in nature allow for quiet thinking. I could imagine the Agora being what I want it to have been.
But, actually, I can get the same feeling in any natural habitat, so I guess more credit needs to go to the ruins or, rather, the history that led to these ruins.
An especially nice ruin here is the Temple of Hephaestus (or Hephaistos—more on Greek spelling some other time), on the west side of the Agora, built in the 440s BC, about when the Parthenon was built. It’s said to be the best-preserved Classical temple in Greece, and I can believe that. While originally devoted to Hephaestus—god of metal-working, craftsmanship, and fire—it also served as a Greek Orthodox church for 1,100 years and a museum, which explains why it was well maintained.
The labors of Heracles (that’s Hercules to the Romans) and Theseus are sculpted in some of the metopes around the building, but I confess I don’t recognize the stories referenced here. Chime in, Barb, or anyone, if you do.
Edited to include some chiming by Barb:
If I’m interpreting my Blue Guide correctly, that charming tiny ruined early Christian church we stumbled upon was Aghios Dionysos the Areopagite (one of the Greeks to hear Paul’s address on the Areopagus and be convinced).
As for the friezes and metopes on the Temple of Hephaestus, hmm, hard to tell since they’re all so fragmentary. The one with the two centaurs messing around with what looks like a giant bolder is yet another Centauromachy, or Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, scene. But the other two? Heracles battling Antaeus maybe, for the one with one guy holding another upside down? The other? Doesn’t look like any of the Labors of Heracles. Heracles confronting the cowardly Eurystheus after completing one of the labors, maybe? I don’t know enough about Theseus’s so-called labors to attribute the scenes to him, but I would imagine they’re either both Theseus or both Heracles, since the scenes are right next to each other.
The Stoa of Attalos
The Stoa of Attalos, on the eastern side of the Agora, was originally a long row of 42 shops. Built by King Attalos II of Pergamon (159–138 B.C.), it was a gift to Athens thanking them for the time he spent there studying with the philosopher, Karneades. The Stoa was the main shopping center in Athens for a couple of centuries, until a hostile tribe burned it down in 267 AD.
In the 1950s, Athens rebuilt the Stoa, paid for, in part, by Rockefeller money. The new building uses the original foundation as well as ancient materials. Sometimes I don’t like reconstructions, but I liked this. A lot. Maybe it’s partial reconstructions I don’t care for, not being able to separate new from old in my mind.
This modern Stoa houses a museum with artifacts from the surrounding area, and I liked this, too, probably because it was fairly small, so not overwhelming. I especially enjoyed the ancient Athenian coins.
Check it out . . . ancient Athenian coins have a head on one side and a bird on the other. Not much has changed in coin design in 3,000 years, has it?
Next came Hadrian’s Library, so it’s back to Roman construction, including brickwork (remember our discussion of Opus Testaceum?) and mosaic floors, which are a favorite of mine.
The library enclosed a garden and pool, which reminded me of Hadrian’s Villa, with its similarly shaped but much larger pool and garden.
The guide book says we can see places where scrolls would have been stored, but we never figured that out.
We had our first Greek food: a late lunch of take-away souvlaki. The thick fog of cigarette smoke outside the eateries made me afraid to commit to eating at a food place, but with the door closed at the souvlaki place, it would have been fine. People really weren’t smoking indoors—at that establishment. Trust me, they smoke indoors elsewhere. We opted, though, to take our food away, eating in a not-especially-nice park with a nice statue.
Our souvlakia consisted of relatively thick grilled bread wrapped around shaved pork or beef (for Mike and Barb) or grilled mushrooms (for me), with purple onions, tomatoes, French fries (on the sandwich) and sauce (tzatziki for Mike and Barb, something else for me). They were delicious!