The Golden Age of Greece!
Some contemporary parallels!
As I finished this column, a thought flashed through mind like a lightning! It was Tagore, Gandhi and even Pandit Nehru and such great Indian leaders, as far as we can see, didn’t travel through Greece and Rome or studied or quoted from these two great civilisations, right? India as an independent country has much to learn and draw lessons for its very many new policies, education, culture and else. Greece has no parallel in these areas to teach the world. But this generation has much to learn from the past histories and draw lessons for the current times.
Greece gave the world democracy, citizen’s freedoms and liberty, ideas of republic and rule of law, besides much else. One Pericles speech is enough for the entire world, even for today in the fields of education, philosophy, logic, sports etc. Also in art and culture we can find much enduring values and beauty. Here is a brief account, though there is much else to study and learn lessons for our times.
Greek history is very long and in each age it impacted the world in some deep ways. First, the geography! If you look at the atlas you will see Greece is located at the end of the European geography, at the bottom of the Southern Europe, just below Yugoslavia. In fact, there was time when visitors to Greece used to take journeys overland. This has now become out of tune with the modern airlines competing for new air routes.
We travelled to Greece by the Gulf airline- Qatar airways. It took four hours to land in Doha, the Qatar capital, the most prosperous oil kingdom in the Gulf today. And after a small wait we caught another airline of the same company, the Qatar Airlines and reached Athens in another four hours. It was such a joy to travel by the latest aircraft A 320 class of the same airline. Once landed in Athens we caught the taxi – Mercedes Benz, a gift from perhaps the German -a part of the foreign aid that had lifted the debt-ridden economy from collapse. Once we reached the city, the driver of the taxi pointed out at a distance and said:”See the famous Acropolis and the Parthenon blazing already in the evening daylight and that was soon to be further lighted by the artistic way in which the entire city of Athens in night keeps the world-famous heritage sites in such splendorous brightness.
Once you are in Athens the Acropolis, the one historic hill never is far from you. Where ever you turn, your eyes are likely to be caught by this historic monument. In fact, the next morning, we planned to stay in Athens for some 10 days and so we were planned to see each and every notable monument. Our hotel, Melia, was situated not far from the Acropolis site and so the next day we started to walk towards the hill. We didn’t realize that the road we walked was in fact the modern road that was laid on the ancient sites. So, at some places they have left the old sites covered with a glass roof and so we can see down our feet that old sites, the walls and other structures covered with glass roofs. Very soon we reached the hill site and the road was rising as we walked and soon we were left with no further path and so we sat on a stone bench.
I told my granddaughter to touch the soil telling her that she was now on the sacred ground of a great civilization where such venerable figures like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle walked. On the first day in fact, we didn’t realize that the spot where Socrates actually lived and walked was not very far from us! In fact, we were now sitting on the outer walls of the Roman Agora. Agora in Greek means the public place where the city people gathered to transact business and spend time and conduct their government. Next to the Roman Agora was the Ancient Agro where Socrates lived. This was the first market place and this space needs to be written in much more detail and devotion.
It was sacred soil for me and as such I was emotionally agitated greatly touched by the historic moment and the historic points. Now, Athens history! Let us leave details. Athens became a powerful country only in the BC after finally defeating the powerful Persian Empire in 480 BC. Athens was first a confederacy with its headquarters in the island of Delos, far from Athens. It was in 461 BC, the treasury was transferred to Athens and then under the rule of Pericles from 461 BC to 429 BC Athens emerged as the most powerful and also the most artistic city in the world. Though Athens had this gift, it was militarily defeated by Sparta.
Sparta and Athens are studies in contrast, the school of the Spartan people gave to the world the concept of public schools which Plato advocated and yet in Athens is not practiced. Most of the monuments on the Acropolis mountain date from the period of Pericles. Pericles is another notable figure from the ancient Greece, and he gave a great speech after the defeat of the Athenian people at the hands of Spartans in the famed or ill-fated Peloponnesian Wars that lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC. The history of the War was written in a style that is still read in all public schools. The book was written in Greek by Thucydides.
Athens was an independent kingdom and an empire. But in 338 BC it was conquered by Philip II of Macedon and his son, the famous Alexander the Great favoured Athens over other city states.
In 186 BC the Romans defeated the Macedonians and Athens became a province of Roman empire and the Roman rule of Greece lasted to an unbroken period of three centuries. But Romans became very much impacted by the Athenian culture and though Romans took away the sculptures to Rome the Roman aristocratic class sent their sons to Greece for learning Greek philosophy, law and sports etc. Hellas, the way the ancient Greeks were called became an intellectual, cultural and political students of Greek institutions.
Ancient Greece had many glories but not the modern day history. Roman empire lasted some 2,000 years. That was also a remarkable history. Rome learnt many things from Greece. Of course not their political ideas and ideals of democracy. But the Roman Republic is also an evolution of the Greek ideals of government. There were slaves in large number in Greece and Rome. Citizenship is another concept we learnt only from Greece and Rome. For any modern day visitor to Greece and Rome, the ancient agora and in Rome the Roman Forum are physical monuments that inspires us to stand and reflect and ponder over for a long time to how man had lived and evolved into a modern and civilized citizen of the world! It was the Roman emperor; Justinian who closed the philosophy in AD 529.Then was a period of decline. Every country of any consequence tried to occupy the Greek people and in this Britain was not alone!
The most famous monument is of course the incomparable Parthenon. They charge every adult an entry fee of 12 Euros. Its monuments and sanctuaries are built in a special marble stone, called Pentelic marble, quarried from a special mountain outside Athens some few miles away. The Pentelic marble stone of such huge proportions must have been quarried by some huge effort and how they transported in the BC? The Parthenon marble structure, so huge and so artistic, gleam white in the midday sun and gradually as the sun fades, the stones assume a honey hue while at night the lights are on and brilliantly illuminate the whole night!
As the travel guide writes “a glimpse of this magnificent sight can’t fail to exalt your spirit. Yes, it is so right; this goes and man-jointly created artistic achievement. It’s hard to believe that such a grand monument was created in such an ancient time and all through the 2500 years the monument glowed and also faced so many assaults by invaders and ignoramuses.
There are other two equally beautiful structures, temples to five beautiful maidens, called Caryatids, the maidens holding their falling saris is so beautifully carved as if they were not carved in stones! They, the beautiful maidens seem to be so alive! So natural, so beautiful and so incomparable all through the years afterwards. What we see on the mountain today are not the originals. The originals are now displayed in the Acropolis museum. Also one on those was transported by Lord Irwin to the British museum. These marble maidens were created in 415 BC. Can we believe the dates? Yes, they are so ancient and yet so modern! The mountain part is planted by Olive trees and Greece is a country of vast Olive tree cultivation and olive oil extraction. Olive oil export is a great Greek export industry.
Much has been written about the unique artistic aspects of the Parthenon’s columns and the foundations. Convex and concave carving is said to make the Parthenon structure very unique in the history of art. Readers can read so many detailed writings and they must at least once in their lifetime to fulfill their own quest for knowledge and wisdom! Also, the names of the sculptors who carved these columns and the pediments, most of which have been now removed and displayed in a latest Acropolis Museum. This museum is worth roaming about and once you come out you are a different sort of a refined person, indeed!
There are modern cafeterias and also places to sit and look around the Acropolis hill and the walls that surround the old hill. It was a great day for us to have spent such a long and learning experience, a full day is worth spending in such surroundings.