This is the sixth installment in an eight-part philosophical tour of the ancient city by the author. The entire series can be found here.
ATHENS — Since we began our little tour I have tried to take you to some of the less obvious sites around the ancient city, often at the periphery. But now I want to head right to the center of it: the Agora. This was a large public square, humming with human activity — shopping, gossip, dramatic performances, military and religious processions — and surrounded on all sides by buildings, including many of the key institutions of Athenian democracy.
Excavations since the 1930s have uncovered the Agora, an open green area, about 30 acres sloping down northwest from the rock of the Acropolis. What I most like about it is its feeling of space, the sense of absence that triggers the imagination and allows one to conjure the ruined city in the mind’s eye.
The reason for coming here on this particular day was entirely selfish: It was my birthday and I wanted to return to my favorite site in Athens and visit the ruins of the house of the source of my name: Simon the Cobbler. He also pretended to be a philosopher of sorts.
We arrived close to the entrance to the Agora as it opened. A railway line, built in 1891, bisects the northern edge of the site, emitting a low, pleasant rumble (not the anxiety-inducing squeal of the New York subway). The train line covers the remains of the Altar of the Twelve Gods and runs right alongside the Stoa of Attalos, rebuilt in the 1950s, which houses the small and rather lovely Agora Museum. With standard Athenian counterpoint, colonnades of bright white columns abut garish trackside graffiti. The contradictions reach further back: King Attalos of Pergamon was a student of the philosopher Carneades in the second century B.C. and the presumably grateful alumnus gave his university town the gift of a shopping mall, with 42 shops in the stoa rented out by the city. Everything was for sale in the Agora.
It was time for a birthday breakfast: Greek yogurt and a big stack of American-style pancakes soaked with honey. A very drunken Englishman (this was about 9 a.m.) sat just ahead of us, smoking a cigarette, and holding onto it with some difficulty. He turned around to look at us for a good long while and said to me, “You’re serious, aren’t you?” Hardly, I thought. He then started into a series of incoherent anti-German, pro-Brexit rants to no one in particular. The waiters seemed puzzled, but tolerated him nonetheless. Sometimes, I do miss England.
A group of about 100 schoolchildren were talking wildly over one another and waiting at the entrance for their bewildered teachers to buy them tickets. We slipped by them and into the site. We were standing on the Panathenaic way, the ancient processional path that led through the Agora and up to the Acropolis.
Early morning rain had given way to cool sunshine. Some trees were just beginning to blossom, and I buried my nose into flowers that seemed to have the scent of honey, though it could have been the remains of breakfast. But Persephone is definitely on her way back from Hades.
In a row running along the west side of the Agora are the footprints of the key institutions of Athenian democracy: the Metroon, the sanctuary for the mother of the gods and the city archive and records office; the Bouleuterion, where the 500 citizens chosen by lot each year to serve on the council, or boule, met every day; and the Tholos, the modest, round headquarters of the 50-strong executive committee of the council with space for at least some members to stay overnight to deal with any emergencies. Just up from these buildings was the open area of the Pnyx where the General Assembly, or ekklesia, of citizens met every 10 days to speak and to decide the law collectively.
Just above, on a small hill, stands the Hephaisteion, the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece and, for me, the most beautiful building in Athens. Though similar to the Parthenon, it is smaller, more complete and all the more enjoyable for being slightly ignored. On a visit here last summer, we watched a tortoise slowly lumber from view into the darkness of the surrounding bushes at the back of the temple.
The boundaries of the Agora were marked with marble stones about three feet high called horoi. These defined the horizon between public and private space, preventing the encroachment of the latter into the former. Two have been recovered, and each is inscribed with the simple phrase, “Horos eimi tes agoras,” “I am the boundary of the Agora.” I find the pronoun very interesting. It is not the impersonal address of a piece of legislation: This is the boundary, trespassers keep out. Rather, the stone itself speaks.
On the south edge of the site, right next to a boundary stone, and therefore just outside the Agora, are the excavated ruins of a small building with a plaque that says “Oikia Simonos,” “the house of Simon’.” Legend has it that this was the home and workshop of Simon the Cobbler, a good friend of Socrates. It is said that Socrates liked to hang out in Simon’s workshop and engage in discussions, free from the public glare.
It is ironic that Socrates might have liked to spend time with a cobbler. Socrates was famously shoeless, a habit widely imitated by some of his followers. So, whatever took place in Simon’s house, it wasn’t selling shoes. Also, as is clear from many of the Platonic dialogues, Socrates genuinely admired people with practical skills. Sadly, he had none himself.
There is some archaeological support for this legend. A number of hobnails were found during excavations, along with bone eyelets used for tying laces or straps. These are on view in the museum, along with the base of a black-glazed cup, or kylix, with the name Simonos scratched on to it. So, maybe the story has some truth.
So who was Simon?
The splendidly unreliable Diogenes Laertius gave Simon his own entry in his “Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers” and added that Phaedo of Elis was the author of a “genuine” dialogue called “Simon.” When Socrates came into his workshop and began to talk, Simon reportedly made notes of all that he could remember. And Laertius claimed that Simon was the first — before Plato — to introduce Socratic dialogues as a form of written conversation. There were 33 of them, described as “leathern,” doubtless because of Simon’s occupation. Titles include “On Good Eating,” “On Greed" and “On Pretentiousness.” Apparently, they were unpretentiously short.
There is another story connected with Simon that assumed significance for a more anarchic school of street philosophers who followed Socrates: the Cynics, or dog philosophers, so called because they were abusively called dogs and then took on the moniker as a badge of honor. It is said that Simon attracted the attention of Pericles, the most powerful leader of Athenian democracy in the classical period. Pericles promised to protect and support Simon if he came to work for him. But Simon refused because he preferred his parrhesia, his freedom of speech.
For the Cynics, only those people who achieved self-sufficiency (autarkeia) or independence of mind could truly exercise their freedom of speech. For a cobbler-philosopher like Simon to work for a powerful political figure like Pericles would have undermined that independence and completely compromised his freedom. Simon thus exemplifies the freedom of the Cynic, namely those who chose a life as free as possible from politics and power, who were cosmopolites, citizens of the world and not subjects to any particular city or state. And by tracing their ancestry through Simon, the Cynics could see themselves as having a direct lineage to Socrates.
Plato famously described Diogenes the Cynic as a “Socrates gone mad.” But this madness is testament to a libertarianism that refused the authoritarian picture of society described in Plato’s “Republic” and the “Laws.” Unlike Plato and Aristotle, Diogenes did not work for tyrants. Perhaps this is why tyrants loved him. Legend has it that Diogenes was the philosopher most admired by Alexander the Great. When Alexander met Diogenes, he asked him what he wanted. Diogenes famously replied, “I want you to get out of my light.”
I have been reading an interesting book recently called “The Tyrant’s Writ" by Deborah Tarn Steiner. It is a study on the relation of writing and tyranny in antiquity. We possess the understandable prejudice that literacy and democracy somehow go together, that a literate society is best able to resist oppression. That might be so, but it overlooks the way in which tyranny and writing are often conjoined — through the writing of laws and decrees, but also the stamping of coins, huge inscriptions on columns, the elaborate architectural construction of triumphal arches, not to mention the branding of slaves — that dictatorial regimes assert and exert control.
Ancient historians like Herodotus often associate writing with the behavior of “barbarian tyrants from the East,” notably the Persians, as opposed to democracy, which is much more concerned with speech.
The historians and dramatists of the classical period repeatedly stated that a democracy depends on the ability of citizens to speak freely and declare their will out loud. As Steiner wrote, “It is logos and not writing that exists at the heart of democratic Athens’s self-definition and the good speaker — not the writer — who keeps popular government on course.” Speech is the hallmark of the democrat, and written communication and legislation repeatedly appear in the depiction of the oligarch. Contemporary political parallels are too numerous and obvious to draw, but it might be noted that President Vladimir Putin of Russia is very fond of citing law.
The association between written law and democracy is much more problematic than one might at first imagine. Think here of the debate about the merits and demerits of a written versus an unwritten constitution, the United States versus Britain, for instance. Writing can thus be seen as opposed to liberty, as the very mechanism of enslavement. Real democracy perhaps requires no written constitution. What it needs are hard-won habits of freedom of speech, persuasion, collective decision-making and candor.
Of course, the freedom of speech by which Athens defined itself was famously betrayed by Athens itself. Socrates was charged with impiety toward the gods and corruption of the youth and summoned to face those charges in the Royal Stoa, here in the northwest corner of Agora very close to where I am standing.
We know Socrates’ fate. What — we might wonder — is ours?
In our virtual Agora, where the boundary stones separating the private from the public have all been removed, and where we live in a new and unprecedented tyranny of writing, of text and texting, and where cynicism has taken on a whole new troubling set of meanings, how is that fragile parrhesia of the ancients that defines democracy to be cultivated? And how might it be sustained?
Simon Critchley is a professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research and the author of “What We Think About When We Think About Soccer” and the forthcoming “Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us.” He is the moderator of The Stone.
Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.
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【大】【好】【机】【会】【在】【眼】【前】，【牛】【掌】【门】【咬】【牙】【继】【续】【执】【行】【商】【定】【的】【计】【划】。【只】【要】【斩】【杀】【了】【这】【批】【妖】【王】，【妖】【族】【尖】【端】【战】【力】【瞬】【间】【少】【了】【一】【小】【半】，【千】【载】【难】【逢】【的】【良】【机】【怎】【么】【容】【许】【他】【错】【过】。 “【已】【经】【迟】【了】！【傻】【乎】【乎】【走】【这】【条】【路】【线】【的】【时】【候】【就】【该】【想】【到】【自】【己】【的】【结】【局】，【现】【在】【才】【逃】【走】？” 【哈】【哈】【大】【笑】【的】【牛】【掌】【门】，【祭】【出】【法】【宝】，【第】【一】【个】【出】【手】。【轰】【隆】【一】【声】，【妖】【族】【队】【伍】【上】【空】【出】【现】【法】【宝】【飞】【来】
【叶】【玄】【闲】【躺】【床】【上】，【静】【静】【地】【躺】【着】。【这】【一】【刻】【他】【觉】【得】【很】【惬】【意】。 【很】【快】【云】【想】【依】【带】【着】【被】【褥】【进】【来】，【然】【后】【静】【静】【地】【在】【地】【上】【铺】【着】【被】【褥】，【那】【身】【材】【玲】【珑】，【显】【得】【极】【为】【的】【诱】【人】。 【叶】【玄】【在】【灯】【火】【下】【静】【静】【地】【看】【着】，【天】【色】【渐】【晚】，【房】【间】【发】【暗】。【氛】【围】【显】【得】【有】【些】【暧】【昧】。 【云】【想】【依】【地】【铺】【弄】【好】【后】，【看】【着】【床】【上】【的】【叶】【玄】，“【你】【真】【的】【要】【在】【这】【住】【一】【宿】？【看】【你】【年】【纪】【不】【大】，【家】【人】【不】
【顾】【非】【问】【侍】【卫】【这】【里】【在】【搞】【什】【么】【活】【动】【才】【知】【道】，【原】【来】【是】【一】【位】【大】【咖】【要】【在】【这】【里】【搞】“【演】【唱】【会】！” “【哪】【位】【打】【卡】【开】【演】【唱】【会】？” 【侍】【卫】【没】【回】【答】。 “【唐】【朝】【的】【娱】【乐】【业】【挺】【发】【达】【的】。” 【侍】【卫】【也】【不】【多】【话】，【带】【着】【顾】【飞】【穿】【过】【人】【群】【来】【到】，【碧】【波】【湖】【西】【侧】【的】【岸】【边】【停】【了】【下】【来】，【这】【里】【有】【十】【多】【名】【身】【带】【佩】【刀】【的】【将】【士】【守】【在】【小】【桥】【两】【边】。 “【顾】【公】【子】【请】，【我】【家】【小】【姐】【在】168图库助手免费下载“【杨】【大】【夫】，【求】【求】【您】，【想】【想】【办】【法】【救】【救】【她】【吧】。【她】【还】【活】【着】【啊】！”【魏】【衡】【拦】【住】【正】【要】【离】【开】【的】【杨】【大】【夫】，【噗】【通】【一】【下】【跪】【在】【地】【上】。 【她】【是】【还】【活】【着】，【可】【跟】【死】【了】【没】【两】【样】【啊】。【杨】【大】【夫】【心】【中】【暗】【道】，【却】【不】【忍】【伤】【了】【眼】【前】【这】【年】【轻】【人】【的】【心】。【岳】【青】【的】【生】【命】【体】【征】【已】【十】【分】【微】【弱】，【药】【石】【无】【医】，【虽】【然】【还】【没】【有】【断】【气】，【但】【很】【快】【就】【会】【彻】【底】【死】【亡】。 【他】【只】【不】【过】【是】【一】【个】【普】【通】【的】【大】【夫】，
【烈】【虎】【手】【中】【的】【武】【器】【泛】【着】【绿】【色】【的】【光】【芒】，【持】【续】【向】【着】**【手】【中】【的】【武】【器】【侵】【蚀】【而】【去】，【但】【是】【绿】【色】【的】【光】【芒】【始】【终】【只】【能】【有】【利】【于】【表】【面】【之】【上】。 【细】【血】【刀】【的】【光】【芒】【虽】【然】【不】【断】【受】【到】【来】【自】【绿】【色】【光】【芒】【的】【打】【击】，【就】【好】【像】【闪】【电】【一】【般】，【但】【是】【厚】【重】【的】【血】【色】【并】【没】【有】【受】【到】【影】【响】，【依】【旧】【是】【缓】【缓】【地】【流】【淌】【着】，【就】【好】【像】【平】【静】【地】【放】【置】【着】【一】【般】。 “【这】【是】【什】【么】【情】【况】？” 【有】【些】【懂】【行】【的】
“【等】【等】！【我】【只】【想】【跟】【你】【道】【别】，【过】【了】【今】【晚】，【我】【就】【要】【赶】【往】【月】【阴】【山】……【以】【后】【的】【日】【子】，【多】【保】【重】。” 【她】【驻】【足】【静】【听】，【待】【回】【头】【时】，【烈】【凛】【已】【经】【走】【远】，【左】【右】【而】【行】【的】【脚】【步】，【彼】【此】【之】【间】【的】【牵】【绊】【化】【了】【烟】【云】。 “【你】【也】【要】【保】【重】……”【想】【这】【么】【说】，【却】【终】【没】【有】【说】【出】【口】。 “【听】【到】【了】？【他】【要】【参】【加】
【文】【静】【的】【到】【来】【并】【非】【是】【什】【么】【好】【兆】【头】，【何】【诗】【梦】【已】【经】【预】【想】【到】【了】，【但】【没】【有】【想】【到】【她】【如】【此】【大】【胆】。 “【李】【威】【你】【到】【底】【选】【择】【我】【还】【是】【诗】【梦】，【今】【天】【就】【做】【出】【一】【个】【选】【择】。” 【这】【简】【直】【是】***【中】【的】【王】【炸】【牌】，【一】【旦】【打】【出】【了】【没】【有】【人】【可】【以】【阻】【挡】。 【原】【本】【愉】【快】【聊】【天】【的】【何】【震】【东】【一】【家】【脸】【色】【凝】【重】，【刚】【刚】【在】【他】【们】【眼】【里】【是】【一】【个】【好】【女】【婿】【形】【象】【的】【李】【威】，【居】【然】【是】【脚】【踏】【两】【只】【船】【的】