Three Athens

Written on May 21, 2008 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Philosophy

Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui

Parthenon1 Everything can become liturgy, even weekly blogging. One arrives exhausted after an intense archeological day in Athens, and instead of going straight to bed one takes some minutes to write the Tuesday post. Oh, well, still another addiction to live with. Yet where else better than in ST can one say something ambiguous and solemn-ish like “there are three Athens”? If ancient oracles were alive, they would speak in blogs.

The first Athens is the modern town, much akin to other cities of the Eastern Mediterranean, like Beirut or Istanbul, with square white houses, 4 or 5 floors tall, each of them with its shiny solar panel over a flat roof / terrace: a most pleasant city, where good food and drinks, lively music, splendid bookshops and warm and welcoming atmosphere are easy to find everywhere; a city which after the 2004 Olympics has become modernized and comfortable to live in without losing its flair and exoticism, and where the EU joins the Middle East in a very natural and unforced way; a city, in short, which is the opposite of melancholy, the perfect antidote for moodiness.

There is also a second Athens, which can only be truly discovered when accompanied by a competent and enthusiastic archeologist for some days. The ancient city, where the Acropolis still reigns over the ruins of old temples, cemeteries, agoras and houses; where new statues, columns, steles, vases, are constantly being unearthed; where Mycenean layers rest undiscovered under Roman and classical strata; where old carved stones and new olive-trees combine to form the most magnificent park of the world to stroll around, watching where Pericles or St. Paul delivered their speeches or where Socrates taught.

And yet those two cities, fascinating as they are, are nothing beside the third one, the eternal Athens, which has no place other than our hearts and minds: the city which lives in our memories, which was transmitted along history until our days, haunting our imagination and shaping our vision of the world. The 5th-4th cent. BC Athens, where so many things were said which still sound with the same intensity as when they were uttered for the first time by a tragedian, a philosopher, or a rhetor. The most concrete elements of classical Athens have become abstract designations: the Academia, the Lyceus, the Stoa, they were physical places, gardens and porches, where philosophical schools gathered. Now look at the meaning these names have taken: the Academia is not any more a garden where Plato and his disciples met, it is the whole world of wisdom and science. Nor is the Lyceus the place of meeting for Aristotle’s peripatetic friends, but the place where young students from 14 to 18 are educated in rational and ethic ways (Lycée in French, Liceo in Italian). I don’t think Plato or Aristotle would be discontent with this expansion of their old schools, in fact. That is to be classic: to give an eternal meaning to very concrete labels and forms (or does anybody imagine Plato founding an Institute for Advanced Philosophical Studies?). Athens’ force is in its concreteness. In the way its forms became representative of universal images and concepts.

We look at the world, in a certain way, as an expansion of classical Athens. And even if charming modern Athens, along with all the imposing ruins from the ancient city, should be one day completely effaced from the surface of the Earth, the third, eternal Athens, would live as long as mankind existed. At least.

Sounded "oracly", the end of the post, didn’t it? Yet it was not just midnight oracle-blogging. This time, it was true.


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