Saturday, March 18, 2017

Greece | Athens | Mouseion Hill | Hill of the Muses

Wandered up 485-foot Mouseion Hill for a panoramic view of the Acropolis. The hill got its name from the 6th-century BC poet and seer Musaios, who was supposedly buried on its summit. Because of its association with Musaios, reputed to be the son of the legendary minstrel Orpheus, it is also known as the Hill of the Muses. Part way up I passed by the Prison of Socrates, where, according to legend, the great philosopher was confined before he was forced to the drink the Hemlock.
 Prison of Socrates (click on photos for enlargements)
Socrates was an enigmatic character, to say the least. He was born not far from Athens in 469 B.C., the son of stonemason who aspired to be a sculptor. His mother was a midwife. Socrates too may have worked for awhile as a stonemason before finding his true calling as a free-lance philosopher and teacher. With thick lips, bulging eyes, and a pot-belly, he was a notoriously unattractive figure. He seldom bathed or washed his clothes and went barefooted most of the time. His wife, the shrewish Xanthippe, henpecked him unmercifully. He apparently managed to father three sons with her, all of whom turned out to be dolts, but his main interpersonal relationships seemed to be with young men. It is unclear if he served solely as an intellectual mentor to the young men who flocked around him to hear his teachings or if he also had sexual relationships with at least some of them. In Athens at the time it would certainly not have been unusual for a married man like Socrates to have young male lovers. Many married men, we are led to believe, preferred the company of young men or boys and only coupled with their wives for purposes of procreation. When they just wanted to get their rocks off they preferred other males. In any case, Socrates had ample opportunities to meet young admirers. One of his students, Xenophon, who had became smitten with Socrates at a young age, wrote that:
Socrates was always in the public eye. Early in the morning he used to make his way to the covered walkways and open-air gymnasia, and when the marketplace became busy he was there in full view; and he always spent the rest of the day where he expected to find the most company. He talked most of the time and anyone who liked was able to listen.
In this way Socrates acquired a large following, especially among the aristocratic young of the city who were thrilled by his charismatic personality and provocative teachings.His influence on the young and the ideas he was putting into their heads eventually aroused the suspicions of some important people. Finally a politician by the name of Meletus had the philosopher arrested. The charges read:
This indictment and affidavit is sworn by Meletus, the son of Meletus of Pitthos, against Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus of Alopece: Socrates is guilty of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, and of introducing other new divinities. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth. The penalty demanded is death.
At that time trials took place at some public forum, probably in the open air, in front of a very large jury. Important trials had a jury of 1,501 citizens; even private suits were heard by juries of from 201 to 401 members. The jury cast its ballots in secret and fifty percent of the votes plus one were needed for a conviction. We do not know the exact size of Socrates’s jury, but he was found guilty by a majority of sixty votes. At that time both the prosecution and the defense could suggest a punishment and the same jury that decided the case could choice which one they preferred. The prosecution demanded death. Socrates, rather cheekily, first suggested that the proper punishment for his supposed offensives would be a government pension for the rest of his life, since he was, in his own opinion at least, a benefit to society. Then, acting on the advice of Plato and other close friends, he suggested a fine of 3000 drachmas. The jury was not amused by his insouciance; more voted for the death penalty than had voted for his conviction.

The sentence may have been carried out here at the prison where he was supposedly held prior to the trial. Other sources suggest he died in another prison in the ancient Agora. In any case, in the presence of several close friends and disciples (Plato, who was ill at the time, did not attend) Socrates downed the concoction of poison hemlock. The bystanders broke down in tears. One of those present, his disciples Phaedo, left an account of Socrates’ reaction:
“Really, my friends, what kind of behavior is this? Why, that was my main reason for sending away the women, to prevent this sort of commotion; because I am told that one should make one’s end in a peaceful frame of mind. Calm down and try to be brave.”
Phaedo goes on:
This made us feel ashamed, and we controlled our tears. Socrates walked about, and soon, saying that his legs were heavy, lay down on his back—that was what the prison warden recommended. The man (he was the same one who had administered the poison) kept his hand on Socrates, and after a little while inspected his feet and legs; then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. Socrates said no. Then he did the same to his legs; and moving gradually upwards in this way let us see that he was becoming inert and numb. Presently he touched him again and said that when it reached the heart, Socrates would be gone. The numbness was spreading about as far as his groin when Socrates uncovered his face—for he had covered it up—a nd said (these were his last words): “Crito, we ought to sacrifice a cock to Asclepius. Make sure it’s done. Don’t forget.” “No, it shall be done,” said Crito. “Are you sure that there is nothing else?” Socrates made no reply to this question, but after a little while he stirred; and when the man uncovered him, his eyes were fixed. When Crito saw this, he closed the mouth and eyes. Such was the end of our comrade, who was, we may fairly say, of all those whom we knew in our time, the bravest and also the wisest and most upright man.
The citizens of Athens eventually had a change of heart. Meletus, who had brought charges against Socrates, was eventually tried and executed for his role in this sorry affair. Another of his accusers, Anytus, was exiled to a backwater port on the Black Sea, where he was eventually stoned to death by an angry mob. Meanwhile, a statue of Socrates by the famous sculptor Lysippus was erected in Athens. And of course, it is Socrates that we are still talking about today, 2500 years later.

Continuing on up the trail to the summit of Mouseion Hill, thoughts of Socrates still reverberating through my mind, it occurred to me that there are a few modern philosophers who might benefit from some time behind bars in Socrates’s Prison; for example, the notorious Post-Modern Neo-Nihilist and cyber-sphere blowhard  David Weinberger. At least Weinberger, famous in college for his Dionysian revelries and unbridled bacchanalias and infamous as a shamelessly slavish sycophant of the insufferable German doofus and dingbat Marty “I Invented Being and Time and If You Don’t Like It Bite Me” Heidegger, would have time while behind bars to rethink his rebarbative theory that Everything Is Miscellaneous. Socrates was forced to drink the Hemlock, but Weinberger continues to walk the streets of America a free man. Where is the justice in that? I might add that Weinberger is also an avowed foe of the otherwise beloved Dewey Decimal System and a perennial front runner on Bucknell University’s list of Worst Dressed Alumni. 
View of the Acropolis and the Parthenon from part way up Mouseion Hill 
 View of the Acropolis and the Parthenon from near the summit Mouseion Hill
As mentioned Mouseion Hill is also known as the Hill of the Muses. For centuries poets and song-writers, including Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, have come here to perform and seek inspiration. Also see One Irish Rover.
Van Morrison and Bob Dylan on the Hill of the Muses (not my photo)
 The trail continue on to the ruins of the mausoleum and monument of Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos 65–116 AD), a well-known prince of the Kingdom of Commagene, on the summit of the hill. It is not clear, but the monument may stand on the older grave of Musaios.
 See Commagene on the map (in pink)
Although born in Commagene, Philopappos spent much of his life Athens and was well-known as a benefactor of the city. He was a boon companion of the Roman Emperor Trajan and Trajan`s successor as emperor Hadrian. After he died in 116 his sister Julia Balbilla and prominent citizens of Athens erected this monument in his honor on the summit of Mouseion Hill.
Ruins of the mausoleum and monument to Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos

2 comments:

  1. “an avowed foe of the otherwise beloved Dewey Decimal System”? This Weinberger character sounds like a real douchebag.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You don’t know the half of it . . .

    ReplyDelete