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The Parthenon – Portal To The Past

Athens - Acropolis: Parthenon (West Side)

Athens – Acropolis: Parthenon (West Side): wallyg / Wally Gobetz (see photo at flickr for excellent notes)

The Parthenon is a Greek temple designed by the architect Iktinos and built in 477-433 BCE. It sits on top of the acropolis at Athens.

A stunning example of Doric architecture, the pure marble sanctuary was dedicated to goddess Athena, originally containing at center a massive gold and ivory statue of the deity.

Later transformed into a church, then a mosque, it was damaged in 1687 from an explosion while the Turks were at war with the Venetians.

Today the Parthenon is recognized as a world heritage site.

Despite the best efforts of Greek officials to preserve this magnificent portal to the past, its very survival is threatened by acid rain and automobile pollution.

Myself, I haven’t visited the Parthenon in person. After graduating I had a couple of years to peruse travel videos, so have a pretty good idea what it’s about. Wikipedia has this interesting animation, showing what the Parthenon looks like—(probably) then and now.

Image – Wikipedia

Tastes have changed. To me it looks a bit gaudy. The old version I mean. Same thing with Egyptian reconstructions. Most people think of the windblown monochrome look that pervades today. But in the past, things were much more lively.

Related » Acropolis, Pericles



Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Socrates (470-399 BCE) was Plato and Xenophon’s Athenian teacher of philosophy who, while never writing a word, left an indelible stamp on the history of ideas.

The ancient Greek poet Aristophanes in The Clouds lampooned Socrates’ simple appearance and ascetic lifestyle. Despite this, Socrates for the most part was a well-liked character.

Socrates rejected the traditional Greek gods in favor of his daimon—apparently a kind of presence or inner voice that never told him what to do but always what not to do.

He made his impact, in part, by wandering the streets of ancient Athens, freely engaging in public discussions. An exemplar of the moral life, Socrates was particularly interested in ethical questions such as, What is virtueWhat are the correct means to pursue virtue?

His method involved logic and cross-examination, often aimed at those who regarded themselves as wise. Although he didn’t write anything, his “Socratic method” is illustrated in the dialogues of Plato. Several other ancient writers also wrote dialogues based on Socrates’ teachings, but the works of Plato best survived the ravages of time. Indeed, Socrates’ ideas and presence touched many ancient thinkers via dialogues they wrote with Socrates as protagonist.

These were numerous and popular enough for Aristotle to classify them in the Poetics… But apart from the works of Plato (1), only a few fragments survive of the dialogues of Antisthenes, Aeschines (2) of Sphettus, and Phaedon of Elis, and nothing of the dialogues of Aristippus (1), Cebes of Thebes, and many others. In addition to Plato, most of our own information about Socrates comes from Aristophanes (1) and Xenophon (1), both of whom also knew him personally, and from Aristotle, who did not.¹

The "obscene" medieval depiction of ...

The “obscene” medieval depiction of Socrates and Plato. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plato’s Socratic method is often said to cut to the marrow of uncritically accepted beliefs held by bearers of mere opinion and belief. As to the adequacy of the Socratic method, this remains open to debate.

Socrates was sentenced to death for charges of atheism and corrupting the youth (for apparently teaching them subversive ideas). He was offered a way out by Crito but chose to obey the laws of the state, finding more meaning in his death than he would from an escape attempt.

Tim Peters summarizes Socrates’ explanation, as outlined in Plato’s Crito:

Although they may execute me, the really important thing in life is not to live, but to live well.²

Gregory Aldrete comments that Socrates probably could have escaped, as the death sentence for notables in ancient Athens wasn’t always intended to be carried through. Along with this and the provocative manner in which Socrates chose to defend himself, Aldrete feels that Socrates’ death is really a suicide.³

If Socrates were alive today, where corruption is more openly talked about, would he have made the same choice? One can only wonder. Perhaps he would have adhered to his own ideals instead of those of the imperfect reality around him; or perhaps his vision of justice would have incorporated the imperfect realities of the world.

Impossible for us to say. But to some, Socrates’ surrender to the authority of the ancient Athenians may seem somewhat naïve, possibly self-destructive; to others, it was noble.

Related » Clairaudience, Meno, Republic, Skepticism, Sophists

¹ See “Socrates” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press 1996, 2000.

² See entire summary: (dead link, searching for equivalent)

³ See

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Bust of Solon / Бюст на Солон: Dimitar Denev

Bust of Solon / Dimitar Denev via Flickr

Solon (7th to 6th century BCE) was one of the so-called “seven wise men” of ancient Greece.

While serving as Archon, Solon more or less replaced Draco’s harsh legal code by introducing several humanitarian reforms.

Solon’s laws were inscribed on large wooden slabs or cylinders attached to a series of axles that stood upright in the Prytaneion.[53][54] These axones appear to have operated on the same principle as a Lazy Susan, allowing both convenient storage and ease of access. Originally the axones recorded laws enacted by Draco in the late 7th Century (traditionally 621 BC).¹

Spearheading the trend toward the Athenian democracy, he’s remembered for notable achievements such as abolishing slavery for unpaid debts and granting citizenship to foreign craftsmen working in Athens. He also ordered the release of all Athenians who had been enslaved.

Plato‘s great grandfather, Dropides, heard about the destruction of Atlantis through Solon, himself learning of the legend through Egyptian scribes.


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Tondo of the Aison Cup, showing the victory of...

Tondo of the Aison Cup, showing the victory of Theseus over the Minotaur in the presence of Athena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Greek legend Theseus is a national hero and the founder-king of Athens. He appears in the tale of Oedipus, among others. Theseus is probably best known for traveling to Crete and killing the Minotaur. Also popular is the tale of his escaping the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne.

Another hero figure in the annals of ancient myth, we’d do well to remember that hero stories can be inspiring but should not replace the intricacies of modern life. To over identify with an archetypal story can lead to all sorts of psychological and practical problems.¹

¹ See Stuff Jeff Reads’ excellent discussion on this topic »


On the Web:



List of Ancient Greek temples

List of Ancient Greek temples (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zeus is the son of the Titan Cronus and Titaness Rhea. He is the chief of the second generation Greek gods, and is usually arrayed with thunderbolts and an eagle.

By the time of Homer he became most powerful deity in the Greek pantheon. As an overseer of cosmic justice, he protects property, receives prayers and sacrifices, and punishes transgressors.

Because he was so influential, he ironically had a relative few polis (city) festivals in his honor. Polis festivals were generally reserved for lesser deities, like Athena or Apollo, who presided over a particular city.

Zeus had many offspring with several different goddesses, his most famous partner being Aphrodite. Also, he apparently had amorous relations with his young male cup-bearer, Ganymedes.

The mythologer Robert Graves says

The Zeus-Ganymedes myth gained immense popularity in Greece and Rome because it afforded religious justification for grown man’s passionate love for a boy.¹

Zeus (Crop)

Zeus (Crop) (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

According to NeoPlatonist thought, Zeus doesn’t sit at the top of the all-time divinity charts. Instead, the NeoPlatonists lowered his rank from his previous status as King.

Zeus’ Roman equivalent is Jupiter. Many scholars agree that the name Zeus has deep roots extending back into Vedic India. But they rarely suggest that the Greek form could radically differ from the Vedic form. This Wikipedia entry, for example, says “The god is known,” which arguably implies equivalence instead of potential difference. And that’s a real problem with academic studies of religion. The possibility of experiential difference is often ruled out (or simply ignored) among different religions and/or religious developments.

The god’s name in the nominative is Ζεύς Zeús /zdeús/. It is inflected as follows: vocative: Ζεῦ / Zeû; accusative: Δία / Día; genitive: Διός / Diós; dative: Διί / Dií. Diogenes Laertius quotes Pherecydes of Syros as spelling the name, Ζάς.[10]

Zeus is the Greek continuation of *Di̯ēus, the name of the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky, also called *Dyeus ph2tēr (“Sky Father”).[11] The god is known under this name in the Rigveda (Vedic Sanskrit Dyaus/Dyaus Pita), Latin (compare Jupiter, from Iuppiter, deriving from the Proto-Indo-European vocative *dyeu-ph2tēr),[12] deriving from the root *dyeu– (“to shine”, and in its many derivatives, “sky, heaven, god”).[11] Zeus is the only deity in the Olympic pantheon whose name has such a transparent Indo-European etymology.[13]

The earliest attested forms of the name are the Mycenaean Greek , di-we and, di-wo, written in the Linear B syllabic script.[14]

¹ The Greek Myths, Combined edition, London: Penguin, 1992, p. 117.

Related Posts » Aesculapius, Aliens and Extraterrestrials (ETs), Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Castor and Pollux, Demeter, Dionysus, Dyaus, Fates, Hera, Hercules, Hermes, Hesiod, Jupiter, Muses, Odin, Olympians, Orphic Mysteries, Persephone, Poseidon, Shapeshifter, Titans, Tyche

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English: Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece on a...

Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece on a rainy day from the Acropolis. The Arch of Hadrian is in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Athens is the largest city and the capital of modern Greece. It was a city state of Attica around the 7th century BCE.

Athens reached its economic and cultural zenith during the 5th century BCE while ruled by Pericles. Wikipedia nicely sums up just how huge this city was in the ancient world:

A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato‘s Academy and Aristotle‘s Lyceum,[3][4] it is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy,[5][6]

Indeed, Athens is home to much philosophical thought that remains relevant today. The Athenian democracy, for instance, in which women and slaves couldn’t vote, is the first formalized democracy recorded in human history.

In 146 BCE it fell sway to the Romans, later to become a province of Rome. By 1456 the Ottoman Empire engulfed Athens. In 1835 it became the capital of modern Greece and it was occupied by the Nazis during WW-II.

The contemporary city attracts hordes of tourists for its scenic locale and historical marvels of art and architecture like the Parthenon and the temple of Olympian Zeus.

In the summer of 2004, Athens hosted the XXVIII Olympiad, returning the Olympics to their place of origins (there were only foot races for the first 13 Olympics; other events like wrestling and the pentathlon were added later).

A previous modern Olympics was hosted in Athens in 1896, and an unofficial one in 1906.

Related Posts » Aristotle, Plato

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Acrópolis (Photo credit: Galería de Faustino)

Acropolis [Greek akron = point, summit + polis = city]

Initially, an acropolis was simply a fortified hill serving as a stronghold for Greek city-states. Later, the acropolis took on a religious function as a sacred citadel built on high ground within or near a town.

The most famous but by no means only acropolis contains the Parthenon and the Erechtheum at Athens, connected with Athena worship. In 447 BCE a massive statue of Athena stood within its center, the patron goddess of Athens. Although the original statue has been lost, a reconstruction stands in Nashville, Tennessee, within a full-size replica of the Parthenon.

In the 6th century the famed Parthenon was converted into a Christian church.

In 1975 an extensive restoration project began.

The aim of the restoration was to reverse the decay of centuries of attrition, pollution, destruction by acts of war, and misguided past restorations.¹