Ostracism & Aristides

The most honorable man of Athens according to Herodotus: Aristides. His sense of morality, justice, and prudence, made him famous all over the Greek world.  He was reputed to be so fair-minded, that he was known to everyone as Aristides ‘the Just’ (dikaios). He was so scrupulously honest that, in spite of the wealth that passed through his hands, he remained poor.

Now, sometime in the early 5th century BCE, the Athenians began the practice of ostracism, a form of election designed to curb the power of any rising tyrant. Once a year, every spring, citizens wrote the name of whichever man they wished to see exiled on a piece of broken pottery (called in Greek ostrakon), and the leader with the most votes against him was forced to leave Athens for ten years.

As Aristotle explained, ‘The threat ostracism was meant to combat could also come from a man’s great personal prominence, if he became so prominent that he could appear to overshadow all others on the political scene and thus threaten the egalitarian principles of Athenian democracy, in which no one man was supposed to dominate the making of policy’.

But soon the Athenians realized that this procedure was problematic…

Aristides and the peasant. Painting by Ernest Hillemacher

On the balloting day for an ostracism, when the Athenians were voting in their Agora, an illiterate peasant approached Aristides and handed him a potsherd, asking him to scratch on it the name of the man’s choice for ostracism.

“Certainly,” said Aristides. “Which name shall I write?”

“Aristides,” replied the man.

Aristides, without revealing his identity, remarked  “Very well. But tell me, my friend… What harm has Aristides done to you?”

“Oh, nothing,” sputtered the peasant, “I don’t even know the man! I’m just sick and tired of hearing everybody refer to him as ‘The Just.’”

Aristides without hesitating he proceeded to inscribe his own name on the ostrakon, and, without uttering a word, gave it back to that man…

Pottery shards (ostraka) displaying Aristides’ name

Ten Ancient Greek Philosophers you should definitely know

  1.  THALES (624-546 BC) Born in Miletus. One of the ‘Seven Sages’. He is considered to be no less than the father of Philosophy. He believed that all natural phenomena should be explained using scientific methods, and even managed -using astronomical observations- to predict a solar eclipse!
  2. PYTHAGORAS (570-496 BC) Born in Samos island. He believed that the only way to discover the secrets of the universe is to use mathematics. Famous for one of the most fundamental theorems of geometry, as we all know. All musicians in the world should thank him too: he laid down the basic principles of music theory including scales, modes and harmonies.
  3. DEMOCRITUS (460-370 BC) Nicknamed as the ‘laughing philosopher’, he is super-famous for introducing his incredible ATOMIC THEORY. ‘Different arrangements of atoms give rise to the various macroscopic substances in the world’. Not bad for someone that lived 24 centuries ago…
  4. SOCRATES (469-399 BC) Socrates is so important that all the philosophers that lived before him are just called ‘pre-Socratic’. On a day that will live in infamy, the Athenian Democracy put him to death. Famous for his Socratic Method of Teaching, he believed that “The un-examined life is not worth living.”
  5. PLATO (427-347 BC) Plato was one of Socrates’ students and after the execution of his teacher, he created the most famous institution of higher learning in History: the Academy. Alfred Whitehead wrote: “The safest general characterization of the philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
  6. DIOGENES (404-323 BC) One of my favorites. Foul-mouthed, always ready to criticize hypocrites and show-offs he founded the famous Cynic school. Once he passed outside the house of an Athenian who was of  a notoriously bad character and had a sign installed over his porch: ‘NO EVIL MAY ENTER HERE’. Diogenes knocked on the door and asked that guy: “How did YOU get in?”
  7. ARISTOTLE (384-322 BC) The great G.Hegel once declared: “Since then no man like Aristotle has ever been born. Nor will ever be born. Aristotle was referred to as just ‘THE Philosopher’, the realization that a single mind created so much scientific work and ideas so influential, is still difficult to grasp. From the creation of logic to the method that we use to write essays in school it’s him that you should thank (or blame…)
  8. EPICURUS (341-270 BC) Born on Samos island his philosophical school and ideas became immensely popular in the Roman times. He believed that the aim of philosophy is not all these things that Plato and Aristotle told us. The important question that we should ask is how to achieve happiness. His answer was: by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. And for the Epicureans, the highest pleasure was obtained by knowledge, friendship, and living a virtuous and temperate life.
  9. EPICTETUS (50-120 AD) The personification of Stoicism. Born as a slave, he was to become a saint-like figure for the Greeks and the Romans. Poor, homeless he struggled with super-human energy and dedication to ease the pain of the sufferings of humanity through his teachings, reminding us that “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
  10.  HYPATIA (370-415 AD)  1000 years of Greek Philosophy end with a heroic woman from Alexandria. Head of the University and Library of Alexandria, Hypatia was a lone beacon of light to the fast approaching Dark Ages. Her areas of specialization, like conic sections and Diophantine equations, remain important for learning math, in applied mathematics, and as tools in physics and other disciplines in science.

all 10

 

Stoa of Attalos

The Stoa of Attalos is the only example of a fully restored ancient shopping arcade. It was built by and named after Attalos II, King of Pergamon, as a gift to the city that gave him his higher education.

It’s an impressive two-storey building, 116 m x 19.4 m (381 ft x 63 ft 8 in), with a Doric colonnade on the ground floor, and an Ionic colonnade on the upper floor. There were 21 shops at the back of both floors. Today it houses the museum of the Ancient Agora, and part of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Stoas were really important for the ancient Greeks and the Romans as it was there that they used to meet, walk, shop and do business. It was completely destroyed in 267 AD by a savage tribe, the Herulians but in the 1950s, thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Stoa of Attalos, using the original materials found on site, was fully reconstructed on the original foundations!

This reconstructed ancient building is also of great significance for modern European history as on 16 April 2003 the ceremony of the signing of the 2003 Treaty of Accession of ten new countries to the European Union was conducted there.

STOA OF ATTALOSs2