The glories of ancient Athens are often praised, and justifiably so. Yet the greatest accomplishment of these remarkable people may have been the way they overcame the tremendous obstacles that lay between them and those memorable achievements. Here we explore the lives of some of those exceptional people, discovering a little more about the struggles they faced, their relationships with other people, and how they worked together to achieve those golden accomplishments.
Socrates has universally been regarded as one of the world's greatest philosophers. But less attention is given to the fact that he was a stonemason by trade, as his father was before him. How did he rise from that common start to being the guest of honor at many dinners, where he engaged rich and famous men of Athens in philosophical dialogue? As it turns out, he had some personal relationships that helped him on that journey upward. Pericles indirectly aided him in this way.
Pericles was the great leader of Athens during its Golden Age, guiding it through crises of many kinds. Yet when he was eleven years of age his father was cast out of Athens for being too powerful in his own right. So Pericles became a cautious young man, afraid of being cast out himself if he went too far. It took many years for him to work his way out of that concern over public visibility, and he only accomplished it with the help of those who were close to him.
Ancient Athens People
Aspasia was one of those people who was there for Pericles. She came to Athens at the age of twenty, a beautiful young woman with a certain amount of baggage. The main one was that she worked in the sex trade. As a hetaira, the equivalent of what the Japanese call a geisha, Aspasia was highly educated and skilled with musical instruments. She accompanied wealthy men to lavish dinner parties and entertained them with witty conversation, music and sometimes sex. So how did she manage to rise from that position to be the love of Pericles' life? It was a mixture of ability and opportunity that brought her there.
Alcibiades was the young ward of Pericles, and had Socrates for a mentor, so it was natural that he grew up to be a dominating general. Several times in his life he faced cruel turns of fate, but he had such a powerful nature that he always overcame them. It is true, however, that he contributed some of those problems himself -- such as the affair he had with the queen of Sparta which outraged the Spartan king. Socrates guided Alcibiades as long as he could, even pulling him from the young maidens at the house of Aspasia when he was called to duty. Alcibiades became a major force in the battles of the Peloponnesian War.
Socrates pulls Alcibiades from the house of Aspasia
Around those exceptional people swirled many others who contributed in remarkable ways to the rise of Athens and its Golden Age. Among them were Peisistratos -- the early leader of the city, Aeschylus -- first of the great playwrights, Phidias -- the sculptor who supervised the building of the Parthenon, Miltiades -- the victorious general at Marathon, Themistocles -- who built the port of Piraeus and the massive city walls of Athens, Plato -- the student of Socrates who founded a great school of philosophy, and many others.
These people, their struggles, their victories and the epic events through which they led their city are explored in rich detail in the book Ancient Athens: Five Intriguing Lives.
Beginning with the founding myths of the city during Minoan times, the story of Athens continued alongside the leaders of its early democracy, accompanied the generals who turned back the Persian invasions, followed Pericles and others through the internal conflicts for city leadership, walked the theatre stages of Sophocles and Euripides, accompanied Socrates as he continued to teach even when put on trial, and experienced the erotic processions through Athens in which the whole city joyfully participated. All of these magically arise from the pages of the book.
Much of the value of Ancient Athens comes from historian Sanford Holst's explorations of Greece and the Mediterranean over the past forty years. Intriguing details are drawn from his extensive research and these travels to ancient sites, often accompanied by leading experts in the field. His talks at universities around the world led to his being elected to the prestigious Royal Historical Society in England. And his books contain new photos taken on-site, along with many of the finest images, maps, paintings and sculpture records created over the years.
well written and expertly researched. You truly do fall in love with Athens,
and the illustrations really help to paint the picture. I enjoyed walking
down the streets of Athens and getting a feel for the everyday lives of its
people over the years. The personalities, values, loves, fears, and
motivations, of the citizenry really come through in this telling—more
than any other accounts I have read.”
this engagingly written narrative, Holst describes the character and
ambitions of five key individuals, their family histories, and their
relationships with each other, as well as with diverse friends and enemies.
He shows how these complex but determined personalities combined to shape
both Athenian democracy and the development of Greek theatre and
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This page updated on January 4, 2017.
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How much of Classical Athens can we still see today in the City and in the Arts? And what is the fascinating history behind each of those during the Golden Age of Greece? Discover all these things here in beautiful detail.
Today people still go to Delphi to see where the Oracle made her pronouncements, and where the other cities donated buildings and gifts to her mentor at the Temple of Apollo.
See Delphi Greece Oracle.
Discover some things you may not have known which can be found on the Acropolis of Athens. Treasures from its Golden Age. The map and notations you find here can be particularly enlightening.
Feel free to comment about anything you see here, or your own trip to Greece.
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