In ancient Athens, contributing to politics -and in extent to your country- was considered the norm and highly desirable. Being apolitical and selfish was frowned upon. All good citizens aspired to be politically active.
It was rare for someone to demonstrate apathy towards what was happening in their state and remain indifferent to common/public issues. The overwhelming majority of Athenians participated in politics to a greater or lesser extent.
Anyone who was interested only in his own affairs and refused to take part in the current affairs was by definition considered a weakly presented member of Athenian society, and therefore a person of low intelligence, apathetic, and almost worthless.
If you did not demonstrate social responsibility and political awareness you were considered uneducated and ignorant. Those who did not contribute to politics and the community were known as “idiotes”, that being the term for a person that chose to remain a private citizen. The opposite of an “idiotes” was a “polites”, an active citizen. It still is…
Most archaeological sites in Athens are ruins of temples, commercial, or public buildings. But the strange, ancient structure that stands in Athens’ Roman Agora, had a scientific purpose. Today, let’s talk about the exceptional and unique Tower of the Winds.
When it was constructed at the end of the 2nd century BCE, it included sundials, a weather vane, and even a water clock. We can presume that this 8-sided tower was effectively the first known meteorological station in the world.
A marvel of science and engineering
The Tower of the Winds was a concept conceived and created by a brilliant scientist and astronomer, Andronicus of Cyrrhus. The tower was made almost entirely out of white marble, quarried from Penteli mountain. The same type of marble was used to create the Parthenon. The use of Pentelic marble is rare to find in any structures other than temples.
Built to measure time, the tower is also known as horologion, meaning timepiece. The interior of the structure contained a complicated internal metal mechanism. That metal mechanism called clepsydra, was technically a water clock. The clepsydra was driven by water flowing down from a subterranean spring under the Acropolis. This mechanism was essential for use on cloudy days or at night when the sundials of the tower were ineffective. The spring, situated on the north slope of the Acropolis, remained unknown for centuries, up until a few years ago when archaeologists located and excavated the ancient spring. To everyone’s surprise, water still flows from the same spot!
Indicating the cardinal directions (N-S-E-W)
On the top part of the Tower of the Winds, beneath the friezes, are eight vertical sundials where the shadow was cast on hour lines. Those lines, while faint, are still visible today. The building was originally topped with a bronze weather vane depicting Triton his hand pointing in the direction from which the wind was blowing. Triton was god of the seas and oceans -as were his parents: Poseidon and Amphitrite.
Each of the eight sides of the Tower of the Winds faces a point on the compass. Four sides to the cardinal points of the compass (north, south, east and west) and four sides to the primary inter-cardinal points (north-east, south-east, south-west, north-west).
Each of those sides depict each of the 8 ancient Greek wind gods, giving the tower its name. The leader of the 8 wind gods was Aeolus (the main god of the wind). Those 8 gods (called Anemoi in Greek) were:
Fun fact: It is from this model of the Tower of the Winds in Athens, that the custom of placing weather vanes on steeples as wind indicators, is derived (at least in the West).
The ‘Tower of the Winds’ was constructed in such a stylish and elegant manner, that it inspired many Western architects over the centuries. Buildings that are based on the design of the Tower can be found scattered all over Europe -especially in England. My personal favorite example of a building inspired by the Tower of the Winds, stands in Oxford. It really is worth visiting the old Oxford Radcliffe Observatory building. The prominent octagonal tower on top of the Observatory is a wonderful scaled up version of the original tower in Athens.
The ancient Athenians were particularly proud that their city officially secured the most basic component of freedom of expression: the right to freedom of speech. The value in the freedom of speech was in the manner in which you addressed your audience. It is that combination of freedom and respect that was -and always should be- a vital element of democracy… Any lack of respect towards the audience was considered non-democratic by the Athenians. An Athenian citizen was expected to display a morally acceptable behavior towards his fellow citizen.
Without civility, Democracy does not work
Freedom of speech was the constitutional right of all citizens- be they rich or poor, nobles or peasants, powerful or powerless. All male Athenians that had completed their military service were granted the right to address the Public Assembly -also known as Ecclesia. The Ecclesia was considered to be the most important body of Athenian democracy. The person that addressed it was regarded as sacred, and the speaker’s rights were protected by Law. The President of the Assembly, also known as Proedros, had the power to inflict penalties to anyone that interrupted the speaker. An Athenian citizen was expected to show politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech.
The speaker had to follow certain rules. Aeschines (an Athenian politician and orator of the 4th c. BCE) provided us with valuable information on this subject: If the speaker didn’t follow seven basic rules, they could be punished.
Rules of Public Speaking in the Athenian Senate and Assembly
Do keep to the subject being discussed.
Do treat each subject separately.
Do not address the same subject twice in the same day.
Do not be insulting and invective towards a fellow citizen.
Donot use slander against a fellow citizen.
Do not interrupt the proceedings by standing up or shouting or speaking on anything irrelevant.
Do not make physical contact with the presiding officials or interfere with their duties.
Aeschines, Against Timarchus 
The Board of Presidents were authorized to impose a fine of up to 50 drachmas* to anyone who violated the above rules. The President also demanded any citizen in violation of the rules to step down from the speaker’s podium.
(*Note: A drachma was equivalent to a day’s salary… So 50 drachmas was a lot of money at that time.)
Wow… How times have changed since then! Don’t you think we’re missing some common sense with a healthy dose of good manners, today? Which of those rules do you believe we need the most? Given the social media age that we now live in, I believe #4 is the one we need more today!