How much do we really know about our democratic ideal and its Greek beginnings? Following IDSVA’s topological study across Athens, the discussions with professor George Smith touched on many relevant issues including the meaning of the Golden Age of Athens and Pericles’ consolidation of democracy through various means of questionable ethical standing. The question of the demos is as alive in Greece now as it was back then. Many Greeks today think this long standing ideal has degenerated into a political racket and put their faith in more radical forms of life as the rise of the anarchist movement testifies. It is Nietzsche’s concern to reveal the Greek cultural miracle as an issue fraught with contradiction and not simply as political currency in the unfolding of European identity. As Nietzsche says in the Gay Science, the Greeks themselves were contradictory, “superficial out of profundity.” After inventing democracy, they had to wrestle with their creation much like Michelangelo and his Moses.
The Hopeful Resistance of Street Poetry. Photo by Gabriel Reed.The Hopeful Resistance of Street Poetry. Photo by Gabriel Reed.Growing up in Italy, I had never visited my Greek cousins across the Ionian sea. One often does not know his neighbours because their vicinity stifles curiosity. Finally, I arrived in Greece and kicked myself for not having gone a million times before. Everything was speaking. Walking up to the Acropolis was an ascent amid Mediterranean brush and reddish brown soil until hunks of marble begin to emerge at the base of the structure. Being surrounded by massive columns and openings overlooking the city got me thinking of Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art where earth and world intersect and meaning is created: “What is truth, that it can happen as, or even must happen as, art?”
Greece is dealing with a crisis of world-historical proportions; in 2015 nearly one million refugees landed on its shores. The work by Ai Weiwei at the Cycladic Museum is an indispensable reminder that Europe—and the Western world—cannot remain indifferent to the humanitarian crisis that is shaking the foundation of our being. Furthermore, how can Greece recover under severe economic blackmail by the EU?
These heavy thoughts soon faded into the background as I gazed at the Acropolis lit up in the night sky and the sound of a bouzouki soared from the street below. The night in Athens retains the divine light of the day. It holds onto it and slowly releases its essence. Some words by Henry Miller came to mind from The Colossus of Maroussi: “Everything here speaks now, as it did centuries ago, of illumination, of blinding, joyous illumination. Light acquires a transcendental quality: it is not the light of the Mediterranean alone, it is something more, something unfathomable, something holy.”