Athens: From the Beginning

Athens celebrates its rich history and many accomplishments

The Acropolis: A Pinnacle of Architectural Achievement

The great Athenian leader, Pericles, built the Acropolis on a hill in Athens in order to celebrate a city worthy of the Delian League. However, in reality the Acropolis had been dedicated to the patron goddess Athena for much longer. The Acropolis was originally built as a fortress during Mycenaean civilization. Later the Acropolis was converted into a simple temple used to house a wooden statue of the goddess Athena.

In the 6th century B.C.E., the first Doric stone temple was built to Athena. Two more temples were built on the Acropolis during this period, but unfortunately all of these temples were destroyed during the terrible Persian sack of Athens. However, Pericles decided to use tribute money from the Delian League to rebuild, and the Parthenon, Erechthion, Propylaia, and the temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon became a cultural and religious center, with the feature being the 40-foot-tall statue of Athena made of ivory and gold.

Democracy is one of Athens's defining features

Athens is unique in many ways and for many reasons, but one of the most important of these is the system of governing. Athenian democracy, although opposed by some, is the most innovative system of governing ever created. Every Greek citizen, or free Greek male, can vote on laws. Additionally, the democratic Athenian justice system allows for trial by jury of 500 citizens, rather than a single judge from the ruling class. Greek democracy has proven more effective at building a military and governing its people than any other form of democracy.

This is not to say that democracy does not have its opponents. Socrates and Plato were both in favor of oligarchies ruled by the masses. However, the oligarchy instituted by the Spartans at the end of the Peloponnesian War was proven to be tyrannical and failed. In fact, Athenian democracy is the only non-tyrannical form of rule that is acceptable to Athens. While they have had their fair share of good leaders, democracy is the more acceptable choice for the Athenian people.

Comedy and Tragedy: Greek Plays and Politics

Almost everyone in Athens has seen an Athenian play. The rich history of Athenian plays must not be forgotten. The first major playwrights, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, all wrote tragedies. Tragedies featured a hero who encountered many challenges, often supernatural, and often dealt with interference of the gods, whether positive or negative. These plays included Oedipus Rex, the iconic story of the self-fulfilling prophecy, Medea, and Herakles.

Later, another form of Greek plays became more prominent. Aristophanes was the most famous comic playwright. Comedy was largely satirical, and made fun of many important events and figures. Comedy also often featured innuendos and other subtle jokes. Greek comedy and tragedy shared one important feature, however: they sought to make audiences truly think about political issues. Tragedy sought to do this by stressing the moral dilemma of the hero, while comedy did this through satirical jokes.

Religion: The Immortality of Our Gods and Culture

Athenian religion is one of the richest mythological traditions of the world. The Acropolis features temples to our patron goddess, Athena, and the king of gods, Zeus, the largest of which is 40 feet tall and made of gold and ivory. Athenian history is richly intertwined with mythology, starting with its very foundation by the fabled founding of Athens by Theseus, a great Greek hero featured in multiple myths. Theseus was said to have beaten many bandits on his journey to claim his birthright, Athens, however his most famous achievement was defeating the terrible Minotaur of Crete, which was kept in a labyrinth. Theseus was given a magic ball of yarn by the labyrinth's creator, Daedalus, and Theseus was able to kill the Minotaur and return with the six other men and seven women to Athens.

Another famous myth that involved Athens was the battle for the patronage of Athens. The legend goes that Athena and Poseidon both wanted Athens. Although they almost went to war over the city, Athena eventually decided that they should hold a contest for the patronage of Athens. Poseidon created a spring with his trident as his gift to Athens, but the spring was saltwater, so the Athenians realized that the gift was beautiful but useless. Athena instead created the olive tree, which provided the olives as a source of food, olive oil for cooking and burning, and wood for boats and houses. Athena's gift was deemed more useful, and she gained the patronage of, as it was then named, Athens.

Athens has the refined culture that Sparta lacks

Sparta has military might, that much is obvious. After all, their men stay in the military until they are 60 while the women do what should be the men's jobs, and ruin their reputations in the process. Of course, they require such a large army because their slaves continuously rebel, and they are continually dwindling in numbers of people to master their slaves. Nevertheless, so much military might has left Sparta hardly any time to create the beautiful art that Athens has created. They have no plays of any importance, they have no architecture that could even compete with the Acropolis. What do they leave behind? Basically nothing, as they all die in never ending wars and rebellions instead of thinking and creating as Athens does.

Athens has created plays, buildings, pottery and tapestries that are the envy of the world. They have an innovative governing system that allows for people rule and and trial by jury. They have thinkers including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle that changed the way people learned and thought forever, and made advances in political and scientific thought. Hippocrates made major advances in medicine. Athenian legacies will last forever, but Sparta will not be remembered for anything other than its warfare.