Musings of a Classicist on her first trip to Athens

When I was 18, I took a Greek Mythology course for my general ed classes and I fell in love with their stories. It didn’t take me long to determine that I needed more. When it was put to me to choose a minor to supplement my Journalist major, I jumped at the chance to learn more. And after that I dove head first into all things Classical.

Not long after the declaration of my minor, I sat in a Classical Archaeology class taught by Professor Paul Scotton learning about the amazing archaeological finds of the classical world. (For those of you who aren’t sure, the classical world I’m referring to is Ancient Greece and Rome.) My professor for that class was an active archaeologist who spent his summers in Greece discovering building ruins and helping decipher what the ancient buildings looked like. One innocuous day in class he was showing a map of Greece and he said something seemingly simple that stuck with me until today. He said “When you go to Greece… that’s right… not IF you got to Greece, but WHEN…” I don’t, sadly remember the names of the villages he recommended, but I remember this quote. (Professor Scotton, if you’re reading this, can you send me some village recommendations? I know we will be back in Greece soon!) And it was in that moment that I knew he was right. I HAD to see Greece with my own eyes some day.

Fast forward to 2019. Nearly eleven years after I graduated college, I finally set foot in Greece. Tim’s traveling for work, as he so often is, and when he said the trip was to Greece, I couldn’t say no. We landed in Athens on Sunday and I’ve had an amazing week immersing myself in the Greek culture, both modern and ancient.

On Monday morning, after a twenty minute walk to the train station, a 30 minute train ride and some expert navigation between city dwellers and tourists alike, my dear friend Kaitlin and I arrived at Hadrian’s library to get our tickets for the day. *Expert Tip* Located just outside the Monostraki train station, Hadrian’s library provides a no line way to buy your multi-site ticket for 30 Euros. (A steal because it’s 20 Euros for the Acropolis alone in the summer and for ten Euros more, you get entry to six other locations).

From just outside Hadrian’s Library, we caught our first glimpse of the Acropolis, it’s gleaming white temples shining like beacons. It almost felt like they were beckoning us to come worship Athena and the other Gods whose temples resided upon the hill that dominates the city. Half an hour later, we were nearing the entrance to the Acropolis as it stands today, a massive tourist attraction that can have up to two hour waits for tickets and entrance. Now, I don’t know how I was expecting to get to the top of the hill because if you say it out loud it sound ludicrous, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for the HIKE that it would take to get up there. *Expert Tip* Head to the Acropolis in the morning when it’s the coolest part of the day and you have the most energy. Then the rest of the day is literally, downhill coasting from there.

My mind raced as I entered the Acropolis. I fervently wished that the hoards of tour groups would dissipate so I could be alone on the hillside, but of course that was a fruitless desire. Being alone up there is probably never possible. But I did what I could, imagining the throngs of people rushing to pray to Athena and not to take that perfect selfie. Often people would stop on the worn marble steps to take photos of the absolutely breathtaking view of Athens below. I thought about what it would have been like for the Ancient Greeks. What a view they must have enjoyed when they ventured up here. Of course they didn’t have iPhones and Droids and DSLRs in their hands. They didn’t have cameras at all to capture the image for the future. What did they do? Did they stand there soaking it in? Trying to remember every second of the miraculous view? Or was it just home to them? A beautiful, but common view?

What was it like to climb these marble steps on a regular basis? What have these columns and statues seen? How I wish they could talk to me. To tell me their stories and immerse me in their life. Sadly, the ancient Greeks aren’t here for me to ask and the ruins can’t talk, but I can imagine. I imagine it was just as breathtaking back then. Even more so with the Parthenon dominating the landscape in her complete and total glory. Even covered in scaffolding on one side, missing a pediment and surrounded by cranes and workers, she was beautiful. I stood in awe for a good while, just wondering what life was like when she was at her peak. What glory she must have stood for. The sheer engineering and craftsmanship that went into building things like the Parthenon here and the Pantheon and Colosseum in Rome always leave me speechless. I firmly, and sadly, believe that no buildings we create in 2019 will be around in 2000 years. The Acropolis though, I hope she’s still standing because the future needs to know what an amazingly advanced civilization Ancient Greece was. Georgia, from the movie My Life in Ruins sums up my feelings in the most perfect quote.

“Listen to the sound of the wind blowing through the columns. That is the same wind tat mankind has listened to for centuries. It’s the sound of nature meeting human imagination.” – My Life in Ruins

So WHEN you come to Greece, brave the tourists, climb the Acropolis, marvel at the sheer ingenuity of the world’s ancestors, close your eyes and listen to the wind.

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