Walking in the Footsteps of the Great Greek Philosophers

arch-at-Roman-AgoraSocrates wrestled with ethical questions, and today he is remembered as the first martyr to philosophy. For an hour we were students of his. Or so it seemed.

We had no sooner walked under the four-columned Gate of Athena Archegetis, entering the Roman Agora of Athens, when a high school girl approached us.

“Can I ask you some questions while we walk?” she inquired. We enthusiastically agreed thinking this must be a school project of hers. She asked my husband and I to define progress, how to judge it, etc., as we began walking.

In the first century BC, Athens was already part of the Roman Empire. The Roman Agora, built around 48 BC, was supposed to become the commercial center of Athens since the nearby Ancient Agora was too small and had become impractical.

The discussion on progress seemed to mesh well with the foundation ruins of the large rectangular open courtyard we were entering.

columns-at-Roman-Agorra As we gazed around at what once were full sized stoas (classical porticos or roofed colonnades), shops and storerooms, a woman in her early 20s sought us out. Introducing herself, she inquired about ethical topics while the young girl quietly walked away. For a brief moment we were confused, but continued answering questions as we were led further into the Roman Agora ruins. Soon a man in his 30s appeared from around a corner column and advanced toward us. Thinking we were about to become a victim of some sort of scam, I was reluctant to continue walking with him as he initiated a philosophical conversation sprinkled with questions. In the end, an elderly gentleman greeted us, at which time we fully understood what we had just experienced. We had philosophically completed the full circle of life: child, youth, adult and old age.

Tower-of-the-WindsA major landmark of the Roman Agora is the 40-foot high octagonal Tower of the Winds constructed of pentelic marble. It once had a bronze weather vane on the roof to indicate wind direction while sundials are carved on each side beneath scenes of the winds. The tower’s interior was a water clock that operated by water running down from the Acropolis. Unfortunately, this well-preserved structure was totally covered the day we visited, presumably undergoing restoration or preventive maintenance.Tower-of-Winds-covered

Although it is unknown exactly when the Roman Agora was destroyed, our Greek philosophy “teachers” left us pondering difficult questions and scenarios while we walked in the same footsteps of great Greek philosophers who most likely pondered much the same centuries ago.

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