Stoa of Zeus
Philosophy in Ancient Athens
Delphi waited until there wasn’t many people around and then swiftly hopped over the Great Trench that ran through the heart of the Agora. It smelt particularly bad today. She remembered a time when she had seen a man read about this own arrest on the noticeboards next to the Altar to the Eponymous Heroes and had taken a few steps back in surprise. The Great Trench had been an even bigger surprise to him.
If she made it this far, she could probably make it all the way to the Stoa of Zeus. This was an area where the main temples of the Agora were – to Ares, Apollo, Aphrodite – and above them all on the hill, Hephaestus, the divine craftsman. It seemed appropriate to Delphi that his was the biggest here – Zeus and Athena had their own holy places, but this was a place for doing things.
The Stoa of Zeus lay just beyond, and it was where Socrates had liked to spend his time in the market. Each philosophical group, or like-minded thinkers, tended to gather in one place – some, like the Stoics, would even get named after where they gathered. Socrates’ area was more lively than most – more often than not, he would be interrogating his latest ‘expert’ in his never ending quest for knowledge. The image of Socrates in the Agora, surrounded by his friends and rivals alike, had left a huge impression on Delphi, as it would the rest of the world.
Stoa of Zeus: Fact box
A stoa is a kind of covered walkway. It would be a place that gave you shade from the sun, and market sellers probably set up their shops under the roof. It was also a great place to sit back and relax. This was one of the largest stoas, and was named after the king of the gods, Zeus.
Many philosophers liked to gather in the Agora – it wasn’t just a marketplace for products and slaves, but a marketplace for ideas too. It was where you came if you wanted to spend your time having a good conversation.
Philosophy literally means 'a love (philo) of wisdom (sophia)'. It's hard to define exactly, but philosophy is basically using reason and ideas to tackle big questions about the world.
Philosophy is said to have been invented in Greece, at least in the Western tradition. However, the first philosophers weren’t from Athens at all – the so-called ‘Pre-Socratic’ philosophers came from all over Greece and liked to discuss how the world is put together. It was Socrates that first widened philosophy to include topics like ethics (how to tell what is right and wrong), and Athens became a centre for philosophy after him. You can learn more about Socrates by finding the Agora State Prison, and more about the other famous philosophers by visiting the Academy, Lyceum and the Sacred Gate.
The Greeks hadn’t invented sewers yet – so there was a simple open trench that ran through the middle of the Agora which served as a general drain. Considering how hot it gets in Athens, the entire place must have been seriously smelly!
The temple of Hephaestus is one of the most complete temples that survives to this day and gives us a good idea of what the other buildings would have been like.
Watch the video to see what happened when Delphi sneaked in to Socrates' trial!
Where do you want to go next?
Climb up to the Temple of Hephaestus.
Follow the Great Trench towards the government buildings.
Sneak back to the central market.
Leave the Agora by following the Sacred Way, towards the Kerameikos district.