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By Liz Leafloor, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
Throughout its 2,500-year history, the ancient ruins of the Acropolis in Greece managed to survive many earthquakes where other, more modern constructions have fallen. How is this possible? Experts now conclude it comes down to skillful construction and accomplished engineering.
Kyriazis Pitilakis, Professor of Civil Engineering Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki tells news site Greek Reporter, “This is an incredible construction, using ingenious solutions to insurmountable engineering and construction problems.”
Scientists and engineers, puzzled by how the ancient buildings survived the many regional earthquakes, examined the construction of the famous Parthenon and the Athenian citadel in total. Based on their findings, they concluded that the buildings were designed specifically in order to be protected from earthquakes.
At a workshop on “Contemporary Interventions in the Athenian Acropolis Monuments” organized by the Department of Civil Engineering, Pitilakis said “The modular columns, other than the fact that they were made to be constructed and transported more easily, they are designed so that they have excellent seismic performance properties.” In effect, the columns were built to withstand earthquakes.
It would seem the ancient engineers knew what they were doing in terms of ensuring their creations would last, which is part of the reason we still see them gracing the high, rocky outcrop in Athens.
The Acropolis of Athens, proclaimed the “preeminent monument” on the European Cultural Heritage list of monuments, is a sprawling citadel composed of many structures, including the famous Parthenon. Evidence suggests the site was inhabited as early as the fourth millennium B.C., and it has suffered damage due to wars and fire in its long history. Incredibly, the Parthenon was being used to store gunpowder, and a cannonball strike caused a blast that severely damaged the structure in 1687.
Pitilakis explained the importance of the enduring historic site in Athens, saying “The Parthenon condenses all that Greece is and all that it has offered to the Western World in the best way. It stands as a symbol of European culture, a symbol of the principle of measure, of art, technology and human capability. This is because that other than the highest artistic creation, it is also a marvel of mechanical engineering.”
Efforts began in 1964 by the Greek government in restoring the Acropolis, and teams of archaeologists, architects, civil engineers and chemists work to preserve the important cultural and historical icon.
The World Cultural Council writes of the award-winning restoration by the Athens Acropolis Preservation Group of Greece, observing, “Most of the marble comes from the Greek islands, where there is an age-old tradition of working marble; they now continue the work of their ancestors, using the same methods and same tools, not indeed to create but rather to save a masterpiece which belongs not only to the Greeks but to all humanity.”
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The symbolism of the Phoenix, like the mystical bird itself, dies and is reborn across cultures and throughout time.
Ancient legend paints a picture of a magical bird, radiant and shimmering, which lives for several hundred years before it dies by bursting into flames. It is then reborn from the ashes, to start a new, long life. So powerful is the symbolism that it is a motif and image that is still used commonly today in popular culture and folklore.
The legendary phoenix is a large, grand bird, much like an eagle or peacock. It is brilliantly coloured in reds, purples, and yellows, as it is associated with the rising sun and fire. Sometimes a nimbus will surround it, illuminating it in the sky. Its eyes are blue and shine like sapphires. It builds its own funeral pyre or nest, and ignites it with a single clap of its wings. After death it rises gloriously from the ashes and flies away.
The phoenix symbolizes renewal and resurrection, and represents many themes, such as “the sun, time, the empire, metempsychosis, consecration, resurrection, life in the heavenly Paradise, Christ, Mary, virginity, the exceptional man”.
Tina Garnet writes in The Phoenix in Egyptian, Arab, & Greek Mythology of the long-lived bird, “When it feels its end approaching, it builds a nest with the finest aromatic woods, sets it on fire, and is consumed by the flames. From the pile of ashes, a new Phoenix arises, young and powerful. It then embalms the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh, and flies to the city of the Sun, Heliopolis, where it deposits the egg on the altar of the Sun God.”
There are lesser known versions of the myth in which the phoenix dies and simply decomposes before rebirth.
The Greeks named it the Phoenix but it is associated with the Egyptian Bennu, the Native American Thunderbird, the Russian Firebird, the Chinese Fèng Huáng, and the Japanese Hō-ō.
It is believed that the Greeks called the Canaanites the Phoenikes or Phoenicians, which may derive from the Greek word ‘Phoenix’, meaning crimson or purple. Indeed, the symbology of the Phoenix is also closely tied with the Phoenicians.
Perhaps the earliest instance of the legend, the Egyptians told of the Bennu, a heron bird that is part of their creation myth. The Bennu lived atop ben-ben stones or obelisks and was worshipped alongside Osiris and Ra. Bennu was seen as an avatar of Osiris, a living symbol of the deity. The solar bird appears on ancient amulets as a symbol of rebirth and immortality, and it was associated with the period of flooding of the Nile, bringing new wealth and fertility.
Greek historian Herodotus wrote that priests of ancient Heliopolis described the bird as living for 500 years before building and lighting its own funeral pyre. The offspring of the birds would then fly from the ashes, and carry priests to the temple altar in Heliopolis. In ancient Greece it was said the bird does not eat fruit, but frankincense and aromatic gums. It also collects cinnamon and myrrh for its nest in preparation for its fiery death.
In Asia, the phoenix reigns over all the birds, and is the symbol of the Chinese Empress and feminine grace, as well as the sun and the south. The sighting of the phoenix is a good sign that a wise leader has ascended to the throne and a new era has begun. It was representative of Chinese virtues: goodness, duty, propriety, kindness and reliability. Palaces and temples are guarded by ceramic protective beasts, all lead by the phoenix.
The mythical phoenix has been incorporated into many religions, signifying eternal life, destruction, creation and fresh beginnings.
Due to the themes of death and resurrection, it was adopted a symbol in early Christianity, as an analogy of Christ’s death and three days later, his resurrection. The image became a popular symbol on early Christian tombstones. It is also symbolic of a cosmic fire some believe created the world and which will consume it.
In Jewish legend the phoenix is known as the Milcham – a faithful and immortal bird. Going back to Eden, when Eve possessed the apple of knowledge, she tempted the animals of the garden with the forbidden fruit. The Milcham bird refused the offer, and was granted for its faith a town where it would live in peace almost eternally, rebirthing every thousand years, immune to the Angel of Death.
The Phoenix is also an alchemical symbol. It represents the changes during chemical reactions and progression through colors, properties of matter, and has to do with the steps of alchemy in the making of the Great Work, or the Philosopher’s Stone.
Modern additions to the myth in popular culture say the tears of the phoenix have great healing powers, and if the phoenix is near, one cannot tell a lie.
Continually morphing and remorphing, the phoenix represents the idea that the end is only the beginning. Much like this powerful myth, the symbol of the phoenix will be reborn over and over again in human legend and imagination.
Heaven Sent – American Museum of Natural History
Phoenix – Monstrous
The Phoenix in Egyptian, Arab, & Greek Mythology – OnMarkProductions
Phoenix Symbol – Signology
Phoenix (Mythology) – Wikipedia
Magnum Opus – Wikipedia
By Liz Leafloor
Aristotle probably would have liked Titanic. He might have even compared it to Sophocles’ Theban Plays, celebrating Jack and Rose as one might appreciate Antigone and Oedipus. We can’t be sure, of course, but in all likelihood Plato’s student would have praised the late 90’s sob story as an exemplary specimen of tragedy. Maybe that’s the reason Aristotle’s treatise on Poetics runs into a few icebergs of its own.
His first Titanic-sized mistake was equating poetry to science. Aristotle tried to dissect plays and the art of tragedy as if they were a pickled frog in high school biology class. He applied his consistently rational mind to a sphere of ideas which are usually assigned to the emotional and, at times, even irrational.
In Poetics, Aristotle outlines what he sees as the essential components of tragedy, along with a few interesting literary devices that can be thrown in to spice things up. These legislations on literature went on to have a significant influence throughout the ages and, in fact, remained prevalent and often unquestioned until the 19th century.
Of course, some of his ‘rules’ do work… but when fully applied, you end up with a James Cameron cry fest.
Before anything else, Aristotle defines ‘tragedy’. It is something, says he, that evokes pity, fear and emotion in us. It is a katharsis, a cleansing of feeling. Interestingly, we can only feel so much for these characters because of another attribute of tragedy; mimesis, or the idea that the actions that occur are possible and relatable. It doesn’t have to be realistic, per se, but it has to be something we can imagine…
This is important precisely because the events are not actually happening, but still inspire deep emotion within us. Therefore, we can cry and feel better without having to contemplate too much the real tragedies that exist all around us.
Now for Aristotle’s rules on what makes a tragedy as “good” as Titanic.
His first posit regards plot, or mythos. Plot is more important than Character, according to Aristotle, as it drives a course of actions that captivates the audience, no matter what teenage heart throb is the mouthpiece.
These series of events must occur in order and in a sequence that makes sense, argues Aristotle. There must be a beginning, a middle and an end. The ship can only start sinking once it has hit a block of ice. In addition, a tragic story must move from happiness to desolate sadness, such as a sunken vessel and a dead lover.
The actions have to be complete and fully contained within the story. We don’t care where Rose went to school or if Jack has a pirate tattoo. All the essential plot points occur within the tale, with nothing unnecessary added nor anything important missing. This is also crucial for the Unity of the plot. It should be something that nicely ties together with a big bow at the end.
Aristotle’s next regulation concerns the magnitude of the art itself. It must, he assures us, be consumed as a unity, within the eye’s spectrum or an audience member’s patience. The never ending works of Wagner and crop circles, only visible from the sky, would hold little value for this philosopher. The two and half hours it takes for the Titanic to capsize, however, fits the bill perfectly.
Then Aristotle throws a bone to the writers of the world. He gives them the “rule of possibility”, allowing them to write whatever they want if it makes the story more compelling. Aristotle believes, after all, that poetry is more significant than history because it speaks more universally.
Did Rose and Jack actually walk the boards of that famous ship? Probably not. But does their moonlight traipse tell a nice story of class struggle? Sure, why not.
Then there are the clever ways of stirring up the plot’s pot. Elements such as ‘Recognition’, where someone discovers some great unknown, can change the course of action to its finale.
‘Reversal of the Situation’ is another fantastic way to swiftly switch things around. At the close of the art, the audience should be surprised, while still believing the possibility of what happened. For instance, we may not have expected to see an elderly Rose reveal that she has had the jewel all along! But it is, by no means, outside the realm of possibility.
Admittedly, Titanic was a blockbuster. It was clearly a very successful film, one of the most recognized movies of our time. It adheres to a plethora of Aristotle’s prescriptions… down to the ever popular Greek theme of Hubris, as witnessed in the initial description of that unsinkable ship.
Then surely Aristotle must be right, describing exactly what poetry in tragedy should be. Following that logic, Titanic is everyone’s favorite sad movie because it encompasses all the qualities of the ideal tragedy. Unfortunately, Titanic isn’t universally appealing. While some people love the emotive film, other individuals hate it.
This inconvenient truth disrupts Aristotle’s literary laws because art is not as rational as a chemistry set. Art is subjective.
In the end, tragedy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Throughout history, critics and theorists have tried to put rules around artistic endeavors and have failed. The impressionists, for instance, broke all the regulations according to the French academy…and yet their masterpieces now adorn the walls of the very best art museums.
So then, what was the point of Aristotle’s Poetics? What did he achieve?
He actually accomplished a lot.
Aristotle was sticking up for art by rebelling against Plato. In his teacher’s famous work, The Republic, Plato admonishes the creative pursuits, insisting that it has no value. According to Plato, life as we know it is just an imitation of the things that truly exist. Why, then, would you want something that is an imitation of an imitation?
Aristotle countered this accusation head-on in Poetics. We know art is an imitation, and yet we are still moved by it. Why?
Aristotle believed that we are naturally attracted to poetry and art. He observed that imitations of things have the power to fascinate and enthrall us, while the real thing might in fact leave us disgusted. So too can we learn from art forms, an act that in and of itself brings us pleasure. Likewise, art has the power to inspire feelings, states of mind and awareness of abstract, general ideas.
To Aristotle, the emotive arousal, the acts of katharsis, the release of sentimental tensions are, indeed, good for us. This is probably why blockbusters, like Titanic, do so well.
After all the rules, definitions and posits, can we say that the scientifically minded Aristotle understood tragedy? We aren’t certain, but we do respect that this unlikely champion was the first to even think about art critically… and stand up for it.
“Aristotle’s Poetics – The Science of Tragedy” was written by Anya Leonard
“Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it, and don’t forget.” – the Last words of Socrates, according to Plato.
Reading Socrates’ final utterance, one could be forgiven of thinking he was a practical, material man. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Socrates, as depicted in Plato’s Phaedo, was a gentleman who shunned the physical world and all thing corporeal. An individual who dedicated his life, and eventually lost it, in pursuit of wisdom and abstract ideals such as Beauty and Justice. In a word: Spiritual… even in the modern sense of the term.
But before we proceed, we must first dispense with the essential caveats that collocate with all Platonic/Socratic texts. As always, the distinction between teacher and student is a hard line to draw, as is the influence the former had on the latter. With time though, the mentor’s exact words started to fade and were replaced by the young philosopher’s own theories. This can be seen in Plato’s Phaedo, which was conceived much later than the Apology or Crito, though it still follows the tragic story of Socrates’ trial, imprisonment and eventual death.
Therefore, when Socrates speaks, we should see him more and more as a puppet for Plato’s words… a sacred protagonist.
So what does Plato’s frontman do in the final hours of his life? Bewail his fate? Seek the comforts of his wife and children? Or question and prove to his companions the existence of the immortal soul? Of course we can’t know what Socrates actually did while waiting in the shadows of his imminent execution… we only know how Plato wanted to envision it.
Of course, it isn’t a large stretch to imagine a thoughtful man pondering the future of his soul considering his situation. Surely the inmates in Huntsville, Texas’ death row are contemplating the same thing with their quickly diminishing lives. Will their spirit exist once their body has deceased? And, if that life force within us escapes its prison of flesh and blood, where does it go?
To these questions Socrates posits a few of his own suggestions. To begin with, he endeavors to prove the immortality of the soul with four theories.
Socrates’ first thesis is the Argument of Opposites. Everything comes to be from its opposite, in the way that ‘Tallness’ comes to be only from ‘Shortness’. With this logic, life can only come from death and vice versa. This would imply that life and death do not have a definitive end, but exist in a perpetual cycle.
The second, more famous concept, is the Theory of Recollection, which is dealt with much more thoroughly in Plato’s Meno. This argument is that we do not learn, only remember knowledge we’ve had before we were born. It can be hard for modern readers to swallow this thought, but it is important to distinguish fact from form. Socrates is not advocating that we ‘remember’ things like: when did the Peloponnesian war begin? Especially if it did not happen until after we were conceived. Instead, it is the idea that within us is an innate, built in ability to distinguish the essential concepts of Beauty, Equality and the like.
In regards to the immortality of the soul, this theory proves to Socrates and his friends that the soul existed before the body.
The third idea is the Argument of Affinity. It is the categorization of things that are invisible, indivisible and immortal versus those that are material, dissolvable and mortal. The body is of the latter, the spirit of the former. Therefore, the soul can not cease.
At this moment, the two other Pythagorean philosophers in the dialogue put Socrates on his back foot with strong rebuttals. Think about a musical instrument, says Simmias, the beauty of ‘Harmony’ only exists with the tangible structure of the lyre, same as the soul and the body. While Cebes agrees that the soul is long living and can exist after the physical form has died, he is not yet convinced that it is immortal.
Socrates concedes that these are excellent points, and so brings out his final and most formidable notion. The cornerstone of his winning argument is the Theory of the Forms. It is one of Plato’s most important contributions and it proposes that greater abstract concepts exist as immaterial and unchanging ideas, such as courage or Justice or Beauty or Goodness, and that all worldly items take in these forms.
The soul, therefore, partakes of the form of “Life” and is in fact an essential property of the soul. Consequently it can never die.
Socrates concludes his arguments with a myth that describes the concept of an afterlife. Throughout his whole conversation, however, he has sprinkled references to where he feels his spirit will go next.
Relaying: “That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world to the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods.”
This is the reason why Socrates does not fear death. Like more contemporary believers, he is convinced that his future spiritual life will be better than his current physical existence. In fact, as a lover of wisdom and truth, his body only distracts him from finding reality.
“And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her-neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure-when she has as little as possible to do with the body, and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being?”
Socrates spirituality was unlike the traditions of the Hellenic era, where the multitude of gods and the destination of Hades ruled over life and Death. Socrates never evokes the plethora of olympian dwellers. He does refer to the underworld though… he paints a hell-like finale for those who spent their life impurely and committed to the physical.
And so, knowing his life has been dedicated to finding the truth, and that his soul will live forever in a heaven like residence, Socrates bathes, bids his farewells, takes his hemlock and dies.
“Plato’s Phaedo: The Spirituality of Socrates” was written by Anya Leonard
by Anya Leonard
Somewhere between the words of Socrates and the thoughts of Plato lies the profound question of what is ‘Just’. Is it defined by laws and men or is it something separate, something ideal? When one is wrongfully imprisoned, for example, is it okay to escape, to break the “law” as it is written? This was the quandary in which Socrates found himself when facing an unfair death sentence.
Of course, we can’t be sure which ideas actually belong to Socrates or to Plato. We only know that Crito, the second defense of Socrates, was written after the events took place. Even if Socrates did utter the words contained therein, it was a secondhand account at best. Chronologically though, it follows Socrates’ trial as seen in the Apology and slots in before his final death in Phaedo.
Crito is actually the shortest of these three dialogues, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest to understand.
In it, Plato attempts to find justice in an unjust action. He wants to reconcile the injustice of his beloved friend’s execution with the respect that he has for the city and its laws. Certainly that is no simple feat, and one that some might say Plato did not entirely accomplish.
To understand this dialogue, one first must distinguish between the lower case and upper case words – laws vs. Laws, respectively. The latter represents something much grander than the collective ideas of men or the wisdom of a lawmaker. The Law is an ideal, a form, an entity – personified and perfect. And it’s Plato’s way out… a method for Socrates to remain good by following what is Just in the concept of the Laws, rather than obeying the evil of his unjust accusers who unethically utilize mere laws to kill him.
We begin the dialogue with Socrates in his cell, his imminent death casting a long shadow on the proceedings. His friend, Crito, has found him asleep and, impressed by his quiet slumber, does not want to wake him up to face his unfortunate reality. When finally Socrates comes to, Crito implores him to escape, employing, at times, astute logic to make his case.
He begins, perhaps, with a selfish point. Should Socrates allow himself to be killed, others will think his friends were not loose enough with their purses to rescue him. Crito makes clear that Socrates need not worry about his friends’ welfare or wallets. The provocative philosopher has sufficient benefactors to ensure his escape.
Crito’s second argument addresses the injustice of those who accused and sentenced him. By fulfilling their decision, Socrates is acting unjustly. By refusing to escape, he treats himself as his enemies treat him. This, says Crito, is morally wrong.
Lastly, Crito pleads for Socrates to think of his children, who will become orphans if he dies.
He beseeches: “You appear to me to betray your own sons, who, when it is in your power to rear and educate them, you will abandon, and, so far as you are concerned, they will meet with such a fate as chance brings them, and as is probably, they will meet with such things as orphans are wont to experience in a state of orphanage”.
As a philosopher, it is Socrates’ aim it to reveal ignorance and inspire knowledge. Would he deny his own progeny his lessons?
Socrates, in turn, counters these arguments with his own. He attacks Crito’s concern for public approval, responding that the only opinions that matter, are of those with knowledge. In a swift rebuttal, he states: “what we ought to consider is not so much what people in general will say about us but how we stand with the expert in right and wrong, the one authority, who represents the actual truth.”
The matter at hand is not what people will think of Socrates. The real question is: is it Just to escape? Even if his punishment is unjust, he should still not act unrighteously. Here Socrates combats the idea of an ‘eye for an eye’, making the point that it is never right to do an injustice, even if you suffered an injury first. Therefore, he won’t leave his prison if the departure is proved to be unrighteous.
Crito concedes this point… but it still doesn’t address whether escape is Just. To answer this riddle, Socrates conjures the Laws, which confront and question the philosopher.
The Laws take the stance that escape is unjust, for disobeying the rules would, in effect, destroy the Laws and what they stand for. The State is held together by the Laws, and if the latter were to fall into disarray, the former would collapse as well. Therefore, Socrates’ illegal departure would be an affront the city-state that reared him. He argues allegiance to the State is more important than one’s well being or ties to their family…
Finally Socrates concludes that by living in Athens, he has agreed to her Laws. Not only that, he reared his children in the famous city-state and stayed there his whole, long, 70 years of his life. If he didn’t agree with the Laws, he could have left at any time, but chose not to.
The fact that the Laws are personified in Crito is important for our understanding of the “social compact” as viewed by Socrates. This is not Rousseau’s famous social contract, though it does at first appear that way. In the 18th century concept, the state or sovereign is a direct consequence of the people’s general will. Therefore, the social contract is an agreement between citizens to live together under the same laws. For Plato, however, this agreement is not made between citizens. It’s made between the individual citizen and the Laws – an entity in and of itself.
For Plato and for Socrates, the Laws are more like the ‘forms’ – an abstract idea that represents the fundamental essence of a thing. A chair, as we know it, is not just the thing we sit on, that you may be sitting on right now. It is also an idea of something that we sit on. Therefore, we can all look at a chair and say, “Yes, that is chair,” having in our minds a form of what a chair is.
In this way the Laws are something greater, purer than laws. The Laws are always Just, according to Socrates, but a law can be unjustly used.
This is how Plato tries to reconcile unjust actions with the innate Justice of the Laws. By acquiescing to the injustice, Socrates upheld the Laws and Justice and therefore, the State built upon them. Failure to do so would have destroyed all the ideals, truths and forms he held dear. This is why Socrates had to die.
Socrates Justice – Law and Disorder – Classical Wisdom Weekly was written by Anya Leonard