Παράξενες Νύχτες στην Ακρόπολη — Weird nights on the Acropolis
Ilias Kolokouris, PhD Candidate, University of Athens
And suddenly everyone’s lives had changed in the most unexpected manner. Forever? Who knows. Let’s hope just for the time being. Things take for granted were now expectations or wishes. Liberties, like walking down the street or staring at the waves of the open mediterranean sea, down in Pirea, were limited, if not banned. Weird days and nights at the Acropolis, bringing in mind the novel of Nobel Prize Laureate, Georgios Seferis Six Nights on The Acropolis.
In the novel, we read through a mystical saga of sexual liberty and maturation, that is played out in the streets, tavernas and brothels of Athens. Athens, which, in the novel is packed with poor refugees from the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922. Similar surreal nights seem to have occurred in Greece amidst the outbreak of the Pandemic. Today, Athens is packed with refugees again; but brothels as well as tavernas have all been shut down, because of the Pandemic of CoronaVirus 19. “Ζούμε ιστορικές στιγμές” a friend said, from New York. We do, indeed, live in historical moments. This Spring shall be a Milestone for generations that will come after the Pandemic.
But first, let us think about the word Pandemic. Pan — derives from πᾶν + δῆμος πάνδημος is derived from παν- (pan-, prefix meaning ‘all, every’) + δῆμος (dêmos, “the common people;”). The Athenians had connected Aphrodite Pandemos with their legendary unifying hero Theseus and sought her blessings in uniting the people of Athens politically and socially. Aphrodite Pandemos was also linked with Peitho, the personification persuasion. The two cults of Pandemos Aphrodite and Peitho had been established by Theseus after unifying the cities of Attica. According to Harpocration, who quotes Apollodorus,Aphrodite Pandemos has very old origins, “the title Pandemos was given to the goddess established in the neighborhood of the Old Agora because all the Demos (people) gathered there of old in their assemblies which they called agorai.”1
So let’s think, can we call the Pan-demic really a “pan” demos disease? Of EVERY-one? Legally, we definitely should. Probably earlier than now. Alas, linguistically, if we decide to call CoronaVirus-19 a “pandemic”, then we are all doomed. And are we? We cannot foresee the future. Let’s hope not and pray, those who believe, as well as follow the state rules.
The weird nights at the Acropolis occurred after the closure, on Friday the 13th, of all museums and archaeological sites, including the entire Acropolis, the Theatre of Dionysus, at least until the end of the month March. The Ministry of culture made the announcement, at first giving hope. The initial announcement was that “non open air archaeolgical sites shall close and museum visits shall be limited”. On March 12th. Then, shopping mall, cafes, hairdressers, everything was shut down as Greece had 117 confirmed cases and one (then, now up to 5) fatal cases.
The image of the empty Sacred Rock of Athena on these sunny spring days does look strange to everyone. Weird. Nonetheless, considering the current situation globally, it gives hope for survival. We will stay healthy and visit the Sacred Rock not scared, but happy and safe.
A group, probably the last student group for this spring season to travel the archaeological sites of Greece for 2020, visited the Acropolis last Friday. The site was merely crowded, very few were visiting, mostly families. Then, upon return at their hotel, one of the students got severely entoxicated and burst into a psychotic episode. Apparently, the use of ouzo has not been made clear as an apperitivo, an appetizer that you sip one glass of. After harassing fellow students near the empty Monastiraki Square, the student was kept in his room under strict surveillance from his dedicated supervisors and teaching assistants overnight. The student safely returned home, back to the US, not adding a bigger fatal problem to his fellow students. Had the full moon affected his mental health? Or general coronavirus pressure? The full moon, probably not, because it took place many nights before the incident.
But concern has increased with the shutting down of the archaeological sites amidst the greek economists. Besides the fact that the Roman Agora or the Theatre of Dionysus look dystopian when found so empty, some locals have different opinion. Soula, 59, local of Thission area, right across the Athenian Agora, argues in another manner “I prefer it now, as is; empty! People are just marching through in swarms, causing loud noise. This is a beautiful neighborhood and we have lost our peace over the last years with the huge tourism wave! We need to live in harmony and balance!”
Though this aspect might be true, the economy of Greece has had a massively negative impact with all the tours cancellations or rescheduling. The state has announced that there will be great fund for those whose jobs are at risk, but it is common knowledge that many work undeclared and were only waiting for the summer season to make a living for the whole year. Last year, more than 33 million visitors visited Greece. Unfortunately, though fertile the land, the locals seem to be not given the chance to grow their own goods, thus leaving tourism as the single alternative for an economy on the prowl from the shark markets. The markets, of course, are affected by all the massive cancellations. And this will, eventually, affect the locals. Will it make them turn to agriculture? But if you have no property and live in a modern city like Athens, how can you turn to agriculture?
In the meantime, the Hellenic Olympic Committee on Friday the 13th, too, made a public announcement suspending the rest of the Olympic Torch relay, because of fears for the spread of the Coronavirus. The Olympic Flame, not ancient custom, but a tradition started in 1928 in Amsterdam, became a Relay at the Berlin Olympics of 1936, which were, indeed organized by the Nazis.
“Therefore we do not need such a tradition! This country resisted Nazism! And also the whole dress up ceremony is absolutely kitch ! ” local of Olympia, Eleni, argues. This may be true for some, but the symbol of the Olympic Flame has been disconnected from the Nazi regime and the time it had Greece under occupation. At least, there was a progressive first in this 2020 Olympic Torch Relay, in the Archaeological Site of Olympia. Only about 100 visitors were allowed in the ceremony, including the Former President of Greece, Prokopios Pavlopoulos, who was given an award by the International Olympic Committee. The First of the Ceremony was the historic moment of a female athlete being the first torchbearer. Quite late, one could say, but at least Anna Korakaki, who has honoured the Greek flag started off the brief relay, to be followed by Ekaterina Stefanidi.
Afterwards, the brave Scotsman, Gerard Butler who played Leonidas in the legendary movie 300 had the courage to carry the light of the Olympic Flame into the modern city of Sparta. So far, only one case of Coronavirus has been reported from Sparta. Let’s hope the brave Leonidas shall not be affected as much as the greek economy.
Shops, bars and restaurants have all been shut down, due to the fear of the Coronavirus. The Crown above our heads, like the Sword of Damocles. Even though one could say we do not have that much power overall, unlike Damocles.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni on Friday announced the closure of museums and archaeological sites across the country. Staff for the archaeological sites still continue to go to work, as minster Mendoni announced, to keep the archaeological sites safe. The health ministry has also put out an urgent call for an additional 2,000 medical staff, even though before the Coronavirus crisis there have occurred cut downs on public healthcare. The closures will last until March 30, as we know until now. On the other hand, epidimiologists argue that COVID-19 has not broken out fully in Greece, because of the good weather. But it is true that facts from myths, truth from fiction, made up stories from reality have been hard to decipher lately. One could bring in mind the words of Thycidides about the plague of Athens, crossing our fingers that visions and images like these do not occur again. But it does feel ironic that centuries after we are still unprepared globally for this, and the measures taken in 1918 for the spanish flu are quite similars to the measures today; For we have researched greek newspapers of 1918, and we found similar ideas like those of today, except written in purist Katharevousa. For now, Thycidides of Oloros, from the Athenian deme of Alimos; Pericles and both his legitimate sons, Paralus and Xanthippus, died of the plague. Aspasia made it and so did the great historian, to narrate the Funeral Oration as well as the Λοιμός τῶν Ἀθηνῶν:
θεῶν δὲ φόβος ἢ ἀνθρώπων νόμος οὐδεὶς ἀπεῖργε, τὸ μὲν κρίνοντες ἐν ὁμοίῳ καὶ σέβειν καὶ μὴ ἐκ τοῦ πάντας ὁρᾶν ἐν ἴσῳ ἀπολλυμένους, τῶν δὲ ἁμαρτημάτων οὐδεὶς ἐλπίζων μέχρι τοῦ δίκην γενέσθαι βιοὺς ἂν τὴν τιμωρίαν ἀντιδοῦναι, πολὺ δὲ μείζω τὴν ἤδη κατεψηφισμένην σφῶν ἐπικρεμασθῆναι, ἣν πρὶν ἐμπεσεῖν εἰκὸς εἶναι τοῦ βίου τι ἀπολαῦσαι.
Θουκυδίδου Ιστορίαι 2.53
Neither the fear of the gods nor laws of men awed any man, not the former because they concluded it was alike to worship or not worship from seeing that alike they all perished, nor the latter because no man expected that lives would last till he received punishment of his crimes by judgment. But they thought there was now over their heads some far greater judgment decreed against them before which fell, they thought to enjoy some little part of their lives.
(Translation : Thomas Hobbes. translator. London. Bohn. 1843)
1 Rosenzweig, Rachel (2004). Worshipping Aphrodite: Art and Cult in Classical Athens. University of Michigan Press. p. 14.