Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Athens in Pieces: The Tragedy of Democracy

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 27, 2019

Our next location is a mere 100 steps from where I’m writing these essays. I pass it every day on my way to and from the library. It is the Monument of Lysicrates, built around 334 B.C.E., just about the time Aristotle returned to Athens to found his Lyceum. I always pause there, take in the view and watch the many seemingly well-fed and contented cats scattered around the place. If you let your eyes drift up from the monument, your vision is seized by the vast sacred rock of the Acropolis. It is skin-pinchingly sublime.

Indeed, New Yorkers might experience a feeling of déjà vu or double vision with this monument because you can find not one, but two copies of it atop the San Remo apartment building on Central Park West, just north of the Dakota, where John Lennon lived and died. The monument was also widely copied elsewhere.

The original Monument of Lysicrates is composed of a 9.5-foot-square limestone foundation topped with a 13-foot-high cylindrical edifice. There are six Corinthian columns, thought to be the earliest surviving examples of that style, made from marble from Mount Pentelicus, about 15 miles northeast of Athens. These support a sculpture divided into three bands that carry an inscription commemorating Lysicrates — a wealthy patron of the arts of whom little else is known — and a frieze depicting the adventures of the god Dionysus and some pirates whom he transformed into dolphins. The god sits caressing a panther as some satyrs serve him wine, while others, with torches and clubs, drive the pirates into the sea.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Athens in Pieces: In Aristotle’s Garden

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 18, 2019

Aristotle had slender calves. His eyes were small. And he spoke with a lisp, which — according to Plutarch — was imitated by some. He wore many rings and had a distinctive, rather exotic style of dress — a kind of ancient bling.

I tried to piece together a picture of him as I arrived with my partner at the site of the Lyceum, Aristotle’s answer to Plato’s Academy, where I had visited the week before.

It is said that Aristotle was a difficult character — somewhat arrogant, thinking he was cleverer than everyone else (quite possibly true) and even criticizing his master of many years, Plato. He was a perhaps a bit of a dyskolos, a grouch, cantankerous, a curmudgeon.

Aristotle was not much loved by the Athenians. This might have been because he was a tricky customer or because he was a metic: a resident alien, an ancient green card holder; Greek, but decidedly not an Athenian citizen. Given his close ties to the Macedonian aristocracy, which was extending and tightening its military and political control across Greece, perhaps the Athenians were right to be suspicious of Aristotle.


Monday, February 11, 2019

How Greece's PM hopes to solve his election riddle

by Renee Maltezou


February 11, 2019

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been implementing his re-election strategy to the letter over the past six months, steering Greece out of a humiliating bailout and resolving a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia.

So far, it isn’t paying off. With a general election no more than eight months away, his Syriza party is far behind in opinion polls.

That is despite two signature projects since last summer, evidence that the economy is climbing out of years of depression and willingness at last among investors to lend.

Tsipras was elected as a firebrand leftist in 2015 on a promise to reject the austerity required in the bailout.

He later caved in to the lenders’ demands and has reinvented himself as a conformist. Now, after years of austerity many ordinary voters cannot afford to keep the lights on, others are deeply indebted, and almost one in five Greeks is unemployed.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

New hopes for reopening of famous Greek Orthodox seminary on Turkish island

by Kareem Fahim

Washington Post

February 6, 2019

American presidents, religious freedom advocates, the European Union and Orthodox Christian leaders have for years issued desperate appeals to Turkey’s government to reopen a shuttered Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off Istanbul, but to no avail.

Before it was closed in 1971, the Theological School of Halki stood for more than a century as the primary center of scholarship and clerical training for generations of Greek Orthodox leaders. Now, stripped of its educational role, its classrooms — emptied by arguments over politics, nationalism and minority rights — are kept pristine in the stubborn hope the students will someday return.

The latest attempt to sway the Turkish government has come from Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who called this week for the seminary to be reopened during a two-day visit to Turkey. His cordial meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — despite a long history of conflict between the two nations and worrying recent flare-ups — has raised hopes among Orthodox leadership and members of Turkey’s ethnic Greek minority that a resolution to the deadlock over the seminary may finally be at hand.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Tsipras seeks to mend Greece’s fractious relations with Turkey

by Ayla Jean Yackley & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

February 6, 2019

Alexis Tsipras became the first Greek prime minister to visit an Orthodox college that Turkey has kept closed for half a century as the two countries’ leaders pledged to do more to resolve several territorial and political disputes.

Mr Tsipras’s visit on Wednesday to the contentious seminary on a wooded Istanbul island was the symbolic high point of a two-day trip to Turkey and the Greek leader encouraged Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reopen the facility.

The closure of the Greek Orthodox school is one of multiple irritants between the two countries, whose relations became so bad in the mid-1990s that they were driven to the brink of war.

The two leaders have more recently found reason to mend fences, with Mr Tsipras’s visit to Turkey this week his fourth in as many years. But the obstacles to genuine warm relations are substantial.


Athens in Pieces: The Stench of the Academy

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 6, 2019

The weekend traffic in the center of Athens was awful on the late January day I decided to visit the site of Plato’s Academy. Each of the narrow, slightly dog-legged streets in Plaka, the old city, was completely jammed, because recent angry protests, some of them violent, had forced the closing of roads around Syntagma, or Constitution Square.

Still, pedestrians were out in impressive force, filling the streets, intent on enjoying their Saturday shopping. Athenians take their weekends very seriously. Pantelis, my cabdriver, threaded his way delicately around people suddenly lurching, seemingly semi-oblivious, into the street and the constant chorus of motorcycles appearing out of nowhere and disappearing noisily into the distance.

Once past the clogged junction at Monastiraki Square, we pushed more easily along Ermou Street and headed northwest. We came to an area scattered with warehouses and former factories. The cab stopped by a huddle of abandoned buses. Ahead of us was what looked like an open area of greenery. Pantelis pointed and said, “Akadimia Platonos.” This must be the place, I thought.