The flight to Greece was long and uncomfortable, which made arrival that much better. Flying into Athens, I could not help but think (and this thought would come up again and again while walking the city) what the Ancients would think about what their beloved city had become.
I wondered, as we wandered through the remains of the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis (and even later when sitting from my hotel’s roof garden eating some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had. Unbeknown to me, Greece has some pretty amazing tomatoes), if I would be able to see these sites with unadulterated eyes. We are taught about ancient Greek civilization in school, we see thousands of images of, say, the Parthenon via TV, postcards, and the web, and I was hoping that knowing what the Parthenon looked like wouldn’t cause me to say, “Oh, that’s nice. What’s next?” It didn’t. Seeing these buildings up close, these places of worship, transported me to the time of Socrates, Plato, Euripides. I stood soaked in sweat and in awe, as I remembered that today is my country’s Independence Day. This is where democracy started; what better place to celebrate my country’s birth than in the birthplace of democracy. Granted, we’re still tinkering with the philosophy, but this is where the nascent idea first materialized.
While we were walking through the ancient city of Agora (by this point, not really a city but stone foundations of what used to be a city), my imagination ran away with me. Instead of seeing statues made of stone, my mind’s eye pictured what it would be like if, 3,000 years from now, someone from a far off place walked the ruins of New York City. I feel like their thoughts would be similar to mine: I’m walking through what once was the apex of society; I can’t believe people lived without – insert crazy thing from future that everyone takes for granted, like we do with plumbing or air conditioning; how is it that certain things remain while others disappear.
I also wondered, yes, I wondered a lot while meandering down the slim city streets, when our civilization realized we shouldn’t destroy or condemn the old, the ancient and instead, make it immortal. Or at least build replicas for those structures. There was scaffolding over many parts of the Parthenon and signs that explained reconstruction (read: filling in the holes) started as recently as the late 1800s/early 1900s. But what about the years between? Weather, wars and crazy people have destroyed many buildings, but yet many remain. Why?
Gazing across Athens from atop the Acropolis, I pictured the monumental task of actually building the Parthenon (and all the other ancient structures around the world). I’ve watched hundreds of hours of National Geographic documentaries explaining how the Egyptians (slaves) built the pyramids and how Rome wasn’t built in a day. But it’s still inspiring that people with primitive technology could build such massive temples high above the city, these palaces carved into the cliffs.
Inspiring because when the human mind is pushed, the impossible becomes the improbable, the improbable the probable, the probable to the possible and finally the possible to the do-able. These ancient structures give me hope. We’ve made exponential strides in scientific and naturalistic discovery between the ancient Greek civilization and ours.
And while both societies believed they were the height of human development and of human thought, imagine what we’ll be able to accomplish in the future: instead of chisel and simple pulleys, we have jackhammers and cranes; instead walking, we have cars – and not to mention microscopes to see the tiny and telescopes to view the expansive.
We are piercing deeper into the known universe and exploring the unknown similar to the days of Aristotle. We’ll make our mistakes for sure – Aristotle once believed that a stick would turn into a snake – but knowing that 3,000 years ago, people were building mammoth sanctuaries like the Parthenon gives me hope.