The Acropolis

In Greece on June 1, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Archipelagos 019

When the security guard roamed off, I took my chance to lean against the wall and look down. Fifty feet below, the sheer cliff broke off into gravel paths, then trees, then a labyrinth of streets. From my vantage point, the streets and squares were swallowed by a mishmash of rooftops, the metal glinting, the terra cotta burning bright, so that Psiri seemed to undulate into the distance, its thousands of shimmering roofs forming a chainmail of fragmented light, halted not by the mountain ranges or the sea, but by the jaundice-colored smog that hazed the horizon. I walked the entire perimeter of the wall, watching the crushed city scroll past, until I looked down and saw the steep terraced steps of a theatre – the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, one of the oldest theatres in the world, its wooden stage swirled in pentelic marble seats. Through the eyelets of the Odeon’s massive stone arches, I looked at the clutter of Athens and felt, for the first time, the city’s age – 3,400 years, the continent’s oldest metropolis, the birthplace of Western law, science, art, medicine, commerce, philosophy. Here, people spoke the roots of half our modern words. On this hilltop, humans first pondered logic and absolute beauty. And for three millennia, we have aped their movements, echoed their thoughts. We have tried to make improvements. Now the world’s population is 60 times larger. Our people can live twice as many years. Our water must be filtered. Baboon hearts can replace our own. All life can be erased by opening a briefcase.

Sarajevo destroyed by four years of siege, half as long as Troy.

Half the Balkan nations yearning to join the European Union, just as “barbarians” begged to become Athenian citizens.

The world economy swinging like a pendulum, people everywhere praying for a bailout. Wasn’t the Peloponnesian War fought around the coveted silver mines of Amphipolis?

Three millennia later, are we any better off?


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