For the next two weeks I’m in Greece. I have pre-written a bunch of these, which I will touch up before they launch. These are the wonder of technology. I plan to bury you in instagram photos of Greek Hoplites, ancient ruins, battlefields, and scenes from Fell Sword and Dread Wyrm… and I thought that the blogs would provide some context for what I’m seeing every day, a sort of ‘virtual Pen and Sword Tour.’
Day one, and again, Day 8 and 9. Athens.
Athens is one of my favorite places in the world. It is difficult to fully describe why I love Athens, as I agree with its detractors that it can be endlessly frustrating, dirty, ungenerous…
Who cares? I go to Athens much as Medieval pilgrims visited Jerusalem. As an aside, I am reading a book right now, called ‘Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages’ by Nicole Chareyron.
I think what makes Chareyron’s book so moving is the ‘reenacting’ nature of the Medieval pilgrim experience. It is quite clear that while they were in Jerusalem, they felt a literal, visceral connection to the life of Jesus Christ, and were, in some strange way, taking part in it.
To be honest, it’s not that strange to me. I dress up in the clothes of the past and visit places; Fort Ticonderoga leaps to mind (Ticondonaga in the Traitorson books), or the Castle of Montorio outside Verona in Italy, and I am… connected. I also find it fascinating that there were staged ‘reenactments’ on the guided tours of Jerusalem; a woman with a baby sat by a creche in Bethlehem. Pilgrims commented about how it was obvious that this wasn’t really Jesus; some pilgrims even noted that it was impossible that a certain paving stone on the tour is where Jesus tripped and fell with the cross, and the level of the Ancient city was so obviously many feet below the streets they were walking on…
…And yet, there it was. They were ‘in Jerusalem’.
And so it is for me, in Athens. When I sit, tonight, in the roof bar of the Attalos Hotel and look at eye level at the Parthenon, I will tear up. While I know in my head that this magnificent temple is not a symbol of liberty, but rather, the extortionate tyranny of the Athenian Empire… it IS my favorite symbol of the birth of democracy. It has so many layers of meaning I’d be hard put to list them all in an essay. It is also a fantastically beautiful piece of architecture; the western world has spent several millennia emulating it. There’s a full scale version in Nashville, TN.
It’s not just the Parthenon.
From the Roman Agora to the Ancient Agora; from the temple of Hephaestos; the New Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, the Benaki Museum, from the Plaka to the Pnyx to the Areopagus, (known in our family forever as the ‘Aerial Hagus’); Olympic stadiums old and new, slums, high rises, the beautiful metro system, the characterful cab drives, the incredibly random opening and closing times, the excellent food, the mediocre wine, the legions of shops that sell remarkable items like icons and Orthodox chruch vestments and hanging lams and censors, the Byzantine churches, the superb landscape around the city…. the meat market, the hardware stores, the excellent coffee, the terrifying driving…
Athens is a marvel, and to me, it is alive beneath my feet. I think that when I stand at the new Acropolis Museum, outside, on the plexiglass, with the open, live digs of the Medieval and ancient town beneath me, I am nearly in historical heaven. Saint Paul preached here; Pericles gave his orations, Socrates walked, talked, and annoyed; Nerio Acciaioli made himself Duke of Athens (William Gold’s arrogant friend). Arimnestos — the real one — probably received the plaudits of the Athenians here. Aristides and Themistokles struggled for the future of Athens, Phrynicus and Aeschylus and Aristophanes all performed their works here.
Like those pilgrims in Jerusalem, I can see it and feel it and smell it as I go about. I don’t even have to wear my magnificent new thorax (a bronze breastplate) or drink from my mastos cup.
But… I probably will….