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Forever Friends: Damon and Phidias

Many know what the phrase “these two are Damon and Phidias” means, but very few remember the historical origin of these two names and how they were established as the synonym of an invincible friendship that defied death. The basic facts of this story are not imaginary; on the contrary, they are historically accurate. References are found in the works of historians such as Cicero, Valerius Maximus, Porphyrios, Diodorus, Sicilian and others: Damon and Phidias were two Pythagorean philosophers who lived or found to live in the Syracuse during the time of the tyrannical Dionysius the Younger, between 367 and 343 BC According to historians, Phidias was accused of participating in a conspiracy to overthrow Dionysius, and was sentenced to death. The sentenced man asked for a few hours of freedom to catch up with his unfinished business before he died.


Dionysius agreed to temporarily let Phidias go, keeping his close friend, Damon, in his place. In some sources, that was an idea of Dionysius himself, knowing that Damon would definitely come back. Other sources tell us that Dionysius proposed this solution, seeking to prove that the famous friendship that the Pythagoreans displayed among themselves was in reality fake.


Whatever the source, however, Damon accepted to take his friend’s place on his own will, and was not forced to. The rest of this story is more or less well known. Phidias left, but as the hour of the execution was approaching, he was nowhere to be seen. Dionysius started to mock Damon by telling him that his friend turned him into ‘an Iphigenia’, sacrificing him while he escaped and was already enjoying life. But right at the time when Damon was led to be executed, Phidias appeared running. He immediately demanded to take his friends place and be executed.

Then right in the presence of Dionysius, the two friends started arguing!
Damon said he had to be executed since his friend had arrived late. Phidias on the other hand claimed that he had kept his word and therefore his friend had to be released and he had to be put to death instead as he was the one who had done the offense.

Dionysius after witnessing this scene was so moved that he decided to pardon them and asked to be accepted as their new friend.

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Get to the top: The most idyllic hills of Athens

Athens is full of hills! They offer spectacular views of the city and the surrounding area  and 3 of them are actually archaeological sites of major importance!

So, here’s  seven of the most historical and beautiful hills of Athens:

Lycabettus

A favorite for both locals and tourists. Towering 300 meters (almost 1000 ft) ¬†above Athens it offers a unique panoramic view of a large part of the whole region of Attica. Hey… You can even see a couple of islands in the distance. The hike uphill is give or take 25′, but if you feel a bit lazy to walk all the way to the top, you can always use the Lycabettus Funicular. A hint for aspiring photographers: Owning¬† a telephoto zoom lens to capture the city from above, is ideal.

Areopagus

The big piece of rock rock that stands out on the north-east side of the Acropolis. Areios Pagos in ancient Greek means the Rock of Ares and  is well known to Christians all over the world as this is where Apostle Paul stood to address the Athenians back in 60 AD. Climbing up the slippery steps gets you in a position where you are directly above the Agora (Forum) of Athens. During the day it’s full of tourists that were up or just came down from the Acropolis. During the night it’s full of high-school kids enjoying a warm night under the stars with a six-pack and a guitar. Sounds a bit like a movie? The city lights look pretty cool from up there and it’s only 10′ away from Monastiraki square so many friends and couples find their way up there after sunset.

Hill of Pnyx

That was one the most important hill for the ancient Athenians (second to importance only to the Acropolis maybe) because this is where the body of citizens used to meet to discuss, vote and decide about affairs of the State. This is where direct democracy was actually happening. That was the first real (open-air) parliament. You can actually stand where Democracy was born! Some really important decisions -that influenced the history of the West- were taken there. You also have a solemn and imposing view of the Acropolis herself from up there.

Philopapus Hill

Yes. This is my personal favorite. You’re going to thank me for making you go up there… All photographs you’ve seen of the Acropolis on postcards, magazines, documentaries etc. they’ve been shot from the top of this hill. You get to the top and you have in front of you the perfect view of the Acropolis. It really is an unforgettable sight. Strike a pose for some of the most classic shots of your holidays. If you turn your back, the Saronic gulf spreads in front of you and the sun sets in the Aegean sea. What a view!

Lofos Strefi

If you’re looking for a location off the beaten track, you should be heading towards the bohemian, urban neighborhood of Exarchia and a hike up to the hill of Strefi. Frequented mostly by leftist, locals, anarchists and curious or bored students, the whole area is full of bars, small tavernas, rock-joints, a few junkies and too many bookstores. Exarchia lies on the gentle slopes of the hill of Strefi. A hike up there will offer you a much different view of Athens and the other six hills of this list.

Ardettos Hill

This is probably the shortest hill of Athens, quiet and full of pine trees. It’s famous for the highly impressive Panathenaic stadium that is built on the slope of that hill and the tiny hill of Agra. The biggest (and actually the only) marble stadium in the world. Home of the first modern Olympic games back in 1896.

The Acropolis

As everyone knows, the most important hill of Athens was and always be her acropolis. This word means citadel, fortress. Almost all cities had one. The acropolis of Athens is famous for one main reason: because of the Parthenon. This huge temple dedicated to Athena that the Athenians decided to construct entirely out of marble and what many scholars have described as the symbol of Western Civilization.

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I read books. I know stuff.

How wonderfully passionate are the many ways that Socrates and Plato try to convince us that the only safe way that leads us to happiness, is education. Plato dreamed of public libraries, public lectures, education being a basic element of a free city-state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau says: “If you wish to know what is meant by public education, read Plato’s Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education ever written.” [Emile, or On Education (1762)]

No wonder why the great Cicero was seen most times with a book in hand.

CICERO (1)

 

*Literal translation is, of course: “If you have a garden in your library, nothing will be lacking.” [Epistulae ad familiares 9.4]