Greek life

Sounio

My dear friend Allison and her family had plans to travel to Italy this summer, and bless, them, they stopped in Athens first.  It was so not on their way. Our visit was way fun and too short, but one of the sightseeing highlights was Cape Sounio and the temple of Poseidon, the god of the Sea.

This glorious temple was the last thing that the ancient Athenians would see as they sailed off into the Aegean. It’s perched on the cliffs of the southernmost point of the Attica peninsula. It was constructed in late 400s BC, around the same time the Parthenon was constructed and likely by the same architect who designed the Temple of Hephaestus.  Pericles ruled the city and it was the golden age of Athens.  King Menelaus of Sparta is rumored to have stopped here on his way back from Troy.  His sailing companion died en route and Menelaus landed at Sounio to give him a proper funeral.  Archaeological finds date back to the 6th century BC; in fact Herotodus mentions a festival that Athenians used to hold at this Cape.

Sounio is most beautiful at sunset; we went mid-day in between heavy rains. The dark grey clouds hovering over the water and surrounding the cape were almost as beautiful and dramatic as a calm sunset. The temple was constructed on the site of the remains of an even older temple, and there’s also a second temple to Athina just around the corner.  During the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans, the site was fortified with towers and walls to keep it from being overtaken by the Spartans.  The fortress was later seized from the Athenians by rebel slaves from nearby Lavrio.

img_9921What is super interesting is to learn is that there is a perfect isosceles triangle between the temple at Sounio, the Parthenon and the Temple of Aphaia Athena on Aegina Island, which is visible from Cape Sounio.  Mathematics were a very important part of ancient Athenian life — and geometry ruled the construction of the Parthenon — but this triangle proves that the location of various monuments was based on geometric shapes.  How they figured out these points and distances is hard to imagine, but it sure is fascinating.

img_9945We left Sounio for a ‘proper’ lunch in a traditional taverna in Vouliagmeni — lunch is always a good reason to wait out the rain.  It was our last day together, after two full days in Athens and late nights for food.  We spent the afternoon at the pool at their hotel, though the clouds and rain made it a little too cold to swim. Michael brought a deck of cards so there were a few rounds of go fish and crazy eights.  I kidnapped Allison her final morning for a walk reminiscent of our single girl days when we’d trek from TC Williams high school down to Old Town Alexandria and back.  They went onto Rome that afternoon.

Greek life

Aristotle’s Lyceum

Heard of the stoic philosophers?  Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus are a few of the most famous ones. The stoics got their name because their schools/sessions took place under the Stoa. Totally understandable; shade is a welcome gift in the Athenian (or Roman) heat.   The stoic school was founded in Athens in 300 BC, about 35 years after Aristotle returned to Athens from Macedonia and founded his peripatetic school of philosophy in Athens. Peripatetic comes from the Greek word for ‘walk,’  and if you visualize Raphael’s School of Athens, with Plato and Aristotle strolling along and debating, you’ve got it.  Aristotle liked to walk and teach.

The Lyceum, the site of Aristotle’s school, was discovered in 1996 in downtown Athens during excavation for what is now Athens’ Museum of Modern Art.  It was found thanks to descriptions from the writings of ancient philosophers — so it wasn’t a total surprise — which described Aristotle’s school as just outside the eastern boundary for ancient Athens.  Archaeologists first uncovered the gymnasium and a wrestling area and then buildings shortly after.  Visitors can see teaching rooms, the remains of a heating system, a reading room, and two rooms for the athletes to oil and powder their bodies.  Naturally, museum construction plans were altered so that the art museum could be built with the outdoor Lyceum museum right next to it, and it opened in 2009. They both sit right next to the Byzantine Museum, which has one of the prettiest outdoor coffee shops in all of Athens.

Aristotle modeled his structure after those of Plato’s Academy, the remains of which lie on the opposite-ish side of the ancient Athens border. Lessons for the ‘advanced’ students would take place during the early morning walk, while more beginner lessons happened during an evening walk.  Philosophy happened in the morning; rhetoric in the afternoon.  Aristotle taught here until 323 BC.

The Lyceum is beautiful, especially in the Spring.  The grounds that surround it are so well landscaped that it really is one of the most lovely spaces in the city of Athens. Demetri and I first visited at the end of May when the Spring flowers were in full bloom.  The photo above is from that day.  Then the Fisackerlys visited it last week on their Athens trip and in our quest to find them we walked in quickly too.  We returned yesterday with Ms. Scala, the head of Aspen Academy, and her son. It was considerably hotter than that April day, but the planting beds, filled with rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, and olive and pomegranate trees,  were thriving in spite of the heat.  The space itself is some 12,000 square meters and there’s a lovely little section with benches where you can sit and view the entire Lyceum.  In the late afternoon, there’s even a little corner of the benches that have some shade.

Demetri often wonders aloud about what things haven’t been discovered yet in this vast city of antiquities.  The Lyceum is a perfect example: if it wasn’t found until 20 years ago, what other astonishing treasures lie beneath the streets?