Athens Then and Now

Athens – I am walking on a wide pedestrian road beneath the Acropolis within 200 meters of the remaining Themistoclean wall and the ancient cemetery to eminent Athenians. One side is lined with splendid neo-classical houses, none of them abandoned but most of them shuttered and locked up. This is the area where once upon a time Pericles, Themistocles and Alcibiades – to name three – trod, orated and debated non-stop. Back in those good old days we Athenians ruled supreme. Reason, logic and restraint placed us at the head of the queue, and genius also helped. I am climbing to the Pnyx, where Themistocles rallied his fellow citizens to defy the Persian juggernaut, and except for a couple of stray dogs, I am alone with my hangover. I walk between the hills of Persian Fire: The Firs... Tom Holland Best Price: $2.68 Buy New $11.61 (as of 06:15 EST - Details) the Nymphs and of the Muses, where Kimon, father of Miltiades, victor of the Battle of Marathon, is buried, and I visit a small Byzantine church where my parents were married. It’s all great and very moving stuff, very far off from the present mess.

Miltiades’s son, also named Kimon, was the handsomest man in Athens, and although a great womanizer and seducer, he always remained loyal to his wife. I believe both Kimons and Miltiades himself were at some time exiled by the Athenians, ever eagle-eyed for anyone who got too big for their breeches, but only the Spectator’s in-house expert on things ancient, Peter Jones, can tell us for certain. Those must have been the days: Miltiades wins the biggest battle ever, Marathon, one that J.S. Mill said made possible for Western civilization to take place, yet a few years later is In the Shadow of the S... Tom Holland Best Price: $7.16 Buy New $8.75 (as of 11:50 EST - Details) exiled by his fellow citizens for something trivial.  The battle took place in 490 B.C., and the British historian Tom Holland perfectly describes the way Athenian lightly armed hoplites – made up of upper class men and land owning gentry – jogged towards the heavily laden disembarking Persians, then sprinted the last few hundred yards before slaughtering the enemy and turning the Bay of Marathon’s azure waters into a bright red. Every time I’m near these sacred sights I think of those hoplites sprinting down to the sea and smashing into a much larger slave army that had never been told to beware the fury of free men when their freedom was in peril. It moves me like nothing else. Two-thousand years later, an American writer put the following words in a boxer’s mouth, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” but he could have been describing what happened in the battle of Marathon. (As well as the naval battle of Salamis, ten years later.)

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