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A philosophical walk through Ancient Athens

Hi again,

As I'm sure you can tell by the Delphi stories, I’ve always loved Ancient Greece and the world of ancient philosophy. Last week, during the Easter break, I had the great pleasure of visiting Athens for the first time. I wanted to visit, not only to tread in the footsteps of the ancient philosophers, but to discover the real places behind the stories in Delphi the Philosopher. So, without further ado, let’s go on a walk…

Pnyx, Athens

We’ll start on this deserted stony hill, with a great view across the city and the Acropolis towering above it. This hill is called the Pnyx and a wide, rough plateau has been cut into the rock. It was here that, for hundreds of years, the members of the Assembly would gather to debate and discuss the affairs of the city. We can imagine Cleisthenes, and then Pericles – the great builders and rebuilders of Ancient Greece - speaking here. Boisterous responses would have surely been heard, with archers on hand to deter the overly boisterous. This bare rock has as good a claim as any single place to be the birthplace of democracy. There is little here now to mark its impact on the world – just hill walkers, a few children kicking a football around and determined tourists with notebooks.

Areopagus, Athens

Between the Pnyx and the Ancient Agora, where we will be heading next, is a great lump of rock called the Areopagus. It rises above the trees near the Acropolis but has none of its grandeur. The climb up is steep and covered in graffiti, iron walkways and tourists. It was hear that St Paul first delivered the message of Christianity to the Greeks. It must have been an intimidating atmosphere, with the temples of the Acropolis looming above him.

Ancient Agora, Athens

The Ancient Agora was in most senses, the heart of the city. A combined market, temple district and administrative centre, it was here that the ruling council of Athens would meet, as well as being the principal site to trade produce, people and ideas. It’s hard to overstate the impact of this place on the history of Western philosophy – these were the streets and squares where Socrates would stop passers by and ask his questions about the nature of justice, truth and virtue. It felt special to be there – I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Delphi was sneaking in behind me to see what was going on.

Stoa of Zeus, Temple of Hephaestus, Athens

Below the miraculously preserved temple to Hephaestus, a rectangular ruin marks the edge of the Stoa of Zeus. This was said to be Socrates’ favoured haunt. It certainly would have been very visible to passers-by. It is in the very heart of the Agora, opposite the Altar of the Twelve Gods, and just down the road from the public noticeboards next to the monument of Eponymous Heroes. You can just imagine the priests heading to the temple of Ares, or the Council members heading to the courts or Tholos, trying to avoid catching his eye. Of course, he did catch their eye and was put on trial in the Royal Stoa – which was just round the back. It’s location, unfortunately, has been decimated by a train-line that now runs straight through the site.