Field Study for class with Stavros, the most intense speaker you will ever hope to have the pleasure of meeting. Stavros is our professor for our course that travels to various places in Athens to have our class on site. Needless to say, it is my favorite class. This field study was separate two day trips to different locations in Attica, the region in which Athens resides. Basically we had class on a beach, climbed around some ancient fortresses, and listened to philosophy on the site of Plato’s Academy. Pretty solid, I’d say.
In 490BC the Persian War began with the Battle of Marathon in efforts to stop the Grecian sea monopoly. 2500 years later my peers and I sat on the beach of the Gulf of Marathon as Stavros animatedly explained to us the Athenian strategy that lead the mere 10,000 soldiers to victory over the 55,000 Persians. To sum up how much the Athenians rock: they had trained warriors while the Persian army consisted of untrained slaves, they freaked the Persians out by screaming and running at them, they lead the remaining Persians into a hidden marsh and slaughtered them. Pretty insane. Then comes the part we are familiar with. A man is sent to Athens to deliver the message of victory and word of warning to the city of Athens. Instead of taking the long, flat way around, he ran through the mountains for 26.2 miles taking few breaks until he reached the city center delivering the message “We are victorious!” before dying (how/why this has turned into a good idea to people still baffles me).
Next stop, Thorikos. This was a wealthy town occupied beginning in the 6th century BC. There is a small, early theater here but there is also the ugly truth that is revealed on this sugar-coated site. The vast wealth was a result of the rich lead and silver that was mined by child slavery. Sadly, this continued even into the 3rd century AD. Contrary to popular belief, the Classical world was not just democracy, philosophy, and togas. It had a dark side just like any other era. However menacing this may sound, we can always be reminded of the hope that perpetuates this terror. The hope that there is always something greater at work. As we looked at this mine that once held sick dying children, we saw two doves; the presence of hope manifested in the symbolic bird.
This rainy day began with two fortresses, Phyle and Eleftheres. To be honest, I don’t know very much about these two because my hands were too chilly to take notes and I mostly just wanted to climb on stuff. But they were both 4th and 5th century BC constructions and were in invade by and from the Spartans. Eleftheres was also said to be one of the mythical birthplaces of Orpheus and Dionysus Eleftheres (the identity that means “bringer of freedom”). These two locations sort of functioned as giant playgrounds for us (the more we travel as a group, the more childlike we become). We all felt pretty cool climbing trees, rocks, grassy hills, and scaling walls.
Eleusis. This is the religious center of the Ancient Greek world. When Demeter’s, the goddess of harvest, daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by Hades, she wandered around the world mourning her loss. Demeter eventually came to Eleusis and became a nanny for a mortal boy. She taught him the ins and outs of agriculture and boom, the Eleusian mysteries were born. Well, not exactly, but it’s a mystery so stories are all we have to go off of. No one knows what happened during the initiation into these religious mysteries, but they had a heavy focus on dying to the material world and dying to yourself symbolically in order to truly understand and live life. That, at the very least I can get behind. Even though the Ancient world is filled with ridiculous, mythical stories, they still hold whispers of truth. Even when you are in search of a lie you are confronted with undeniable truth.
Our last location for our two day adventure across Attica was the site of Plato’s Academy. The few foundations left don’t look like much, but it is pretty incredible to have class where the first ever university once stood. Founded by Plato in 387 BC, it brought thinkers from around the known world such as Aristotle in order to collaborate on ideas and have access to research. It is ground that has been dedicated to growth, creation, and cultivation of the human mind. So yes, this plot of land is kind of special.
“The Study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is. ”
― Thomas Aquinas