Friday, June 6, 2014

In search of Socrates

I was surprised by how little philosophy-based tourism there is in Athens. Not that philosophy-based tourism is likely to be big business anywhere, but Greece uses its claim to be the birthplace of Western philosophy in its marketing campaigns, packs of playing cards bearing quotes from and pictures of Greek philosophers are widely available for sale, and surely quite a few students are taken to Athens on educational trips. In short, you would think that philosophy-related sites would be something that some visitors would want to see and that, consequently, they would be marked and signposted. But they aren't.

If this site is to be believed, then fans of Plato are likely to be disappointed:
Plato’s property – the actual site of his school – lay apart from the walled Academy precinct, somewhere between the currently visible gymnasium and the low hill to the northeast, Hippios Kolonos. Maps drawn as early as the late 18th century record this understanding of the area’s ancient topography. Today, however, some confusion can arise for visitors, who will find misleading, decades-old signs posted by the Culture Ministry that identify late Hellenistic and early Roman foundations as belonging to “Plato’s Academy.”
In addition, these archaeological remains, some of the most important for Athens’ heritage as the birthplace of Western learning, now lie completely neglected except by the occasional gardener. Eroding walls, rusty fences, haphazard collections of ancient stones, and a lack of explanatory signboards characterize a place that should be a world heritage site.  
This site paints a similar picture:
The part shown in the top photo is probably the best preserved, but when we visited on a Suyday of May 2009, there were a group of foreigners (non-Greeks) drinking beers, and as they looked pretty drunk, we decided not to get close.Some of them looked weary that I was taking photographs. 
There is better news for Aristotle fans here, with the site of the Lyceum apparently set to open this year (or was it last year?).

But Socrates is still relatively badly served. There are some pictures of where he probably died here, but the place is more overgrown now. There is more useful information about how to find and identify Socrates' cell here. In the museum at the Ancient Agora is a case containing what might be a statuette of Socrates found at this site, along with little bottles used for hemlock.

There are also discs used to vote guilty or not guilty, a stone with slots for inserting the discs, and a water clock used for timing speeches made at trials.

The prison cells are now labelled, but there is no mention of Socrates there, and in the museum, where he is mentioned, there is no information about who he was. Odd.  

Anyway, if I got my bearings right the following are pictures of what remains of his cell, which consisted of two rooms:

This last one is taken from outside the fence around the ancient agora, so you could see this without paying to get in. The cell lies between the roofed structure just above the middle of the picture and the floor you can see in the foreground. 

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