by cheri sabraw
I visited Athens in May of 2010 to take a class on Alcibiades only two weeks after the fire-bombing of a downtown bank which killed three people, a violent act to let [then] Prime Minister George Papandreou know that some Greek citizens did not approve of his austerity cuts.
That act of violence was far different from the scheduled Greek demonstrations we were to watch unfold every day in the square that fronts the Parliamentary House–when men and women who had previously been lounging while playing cards under the trees or laughing and joking while drinking coffee would leap to their feet at the appointed time (usually mid-afternoon when most of us work), look up to our hotel, where from the T.V. cameras and a slick anchorman recorded their scheduled wrath.
I’m sorry to say that my impression of modern Athens was negative. Businesses did not open until late morning, graffiti covered much of the downtown and even the walls of the Plaka like an ugly tattoo, cab drivers complained at every chance, and loiterers flanked doorways, parks, churches, and historical sites–just about everywhere we walked. Add to those images the hundreds of homeless dogs on the streets. People were simply hanging out.
The contrast between modern Athens and ancient Athens is stark.
Being in the realm of ancient Greece and its stunning reminders of the genius, industriousness, and the pure beauty of ancient Greek drama, philosophy, mythology, literature, mathematics, and sport was an entirely different emotional experience.
One afternoon, we decided to drive to Cape Sounion which juts out into the Aegean Sea. There, according to Greek mythology, King Aegeus leapt to his death upon seeing his son’s ship sailing back from Crete flying a black sail. The father and son had agreed that should Theseus lose his life in his battle with the Minotaur, the signal would be the sail. The tragedy of Aegeus’s death is that his son had simply forgotten to change sail colors.
Cape Sounion is also mentioned in Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey.
As we approached the promontory, the temple looked like the strong bones of Pericles himself. I wondered if Lord Byron had really carved his name (and defaced) one of the Doric columns. Soon I would see it for myself.
The Greek drama continues today, June 30, 2015, long after Oedipus and Antigone. If the Oracle at Delphi is still in business (and agrees to pay her taxes), perhaps the Greeks can swallow their hubris, cut their pensions, tighten up their togas, and get to work, just like the rest of us.