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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH FIELD TRIP

Let me take you on one of my archaeological research trips. Today (Tuesday) I went back to the Agora to check out setting details for the last chapter segments of my novel. I had realized the day Ingrid and I were there that I'd made some errors, so I wanted to correct them. My main focus was to locate the Bouletarian and the other civic buildings in the agora and to locate the Hill of Muses and Hill of the Nymphs to check out details and views from those locations.

The Agora ("assembly') was the place where the citizens of Athens met daily in the open air for all purposes of community life. It was a venue for the transactions of business and discussions of philosophy as well as the scene of athletic displays and dramatic competitions. Here traders rubbed shoulders with administrators, citizens with slaves.

I've visited the Agora scores of times since my very first trip to Greece almost 27 years ago. On that first day I left my hotel Tempi on Aeolou Street and let my feet take me where they would. I landed in the Agora, and had an instant deja vu moment when it seemed I could "see" it all as it had once been. It was such an overwhelming vision I burst into tears. Since the I have returned there often and each time I discover something new. Today I finally found the State Prison where Socrates was held!

I was in search of the old and new Bouletarions (which happen to be side-by-side) and also the Strategeion. These state administrative buildings figure in my novel, so I wanted to 'place' them correctly. The Bouleterion was where the Council of Athens met which included a 'presidential committee'. The Boule met here to prepare legislation for the Assembly.

The Strategeion was the headquarters of the ten elected generals (strategoi). These generals, one of each tribe, were elected every year. They were the supreme commanders of the army and navy and dominant magistrates in the political field. My characters, Phokion and Demetrios of Phaliron were both important strategoi of Athens and Phokion, who had been re-elected numerous times, was the leading military advisor of the city.

With the help of the "Blue Guide" which contains excellent historical details and maps, I easily located these buildings and noted the errors in setting I'd made, took photos to 'place' them in my mind for future reference. In my wanderings I also noted the House of Simon the Cobbler nearby, one of Socrate's hang-outs and I found the markings for the old road to Pireaus, which passes through the Melitedes Gate with Themostocles Walls on the right, and the south road leading to the Hill of Muses where Phokion would have walked to go to his home, passing through the South Gate. Up behind the Bouleterion, there was a new dig with some young archaeology students excavating a Geometric Period grave site.

I left the agora and walked back along through Monastiraki to Thission. Along the way I noted some new digs with more young archaeological students excavating. There's a beautiful cobbled pedestrian path all along this road which skirts the agora and Acropolis, passing below the Pnyx Hill. The Pnyx ("The Rocks") is a flat table of rock where the Assembly met. Here great statesmen, among them Themestocles, Pericles and Demosthenes held their audiences.

To the north of the Pnyx rises the Hill of the Nymphs. Now, on the top, stands the Observatory founded in 1842. There are traces of the Northern Long Wall nearby and a depression generally identified as the Barathron, the ancient Athenian place of execution.
Not far past this, with a spectacular view of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis, are the tree-clad slopes of the Hill of Muses, a hill that through history has played a strategic role in the fortunes of Athens. Now, on its summit stands the monument of Philopappos (AD 114-116) honouring a Syrian prince who had a distinguished career as an Athenian citizens and Roman praetor. In this area are the remains of a large number of ancient dwellings, so this is where I have placed Phokion's house. This quarter was entirely within the city walls and close to the agora. Plutarch has an excellent description of Phokion's house which I have used in my novel.

It was a hot day and after all my exploring I went to the To Kati Allo for a lunch of souvlaki and lemonade. I really missed Graham today when I went there as I found myself sitting in the seat he used to occupy. I was the only one there and Anna was glad to see me. She must miss her faithful customer too. Afterwards I went home for a long nap.

I want to try and spend a part of each day now writing notes for "Shadow" so that this summer I can try to complete it. My friends here are urging me on, and also encouraging me to write my "Life Under the Acropolis" stories. There are so many of them to record and I hope the memories haven't faded, although some of the details have and now my main source (Roberto) is gone. Hopefully though my collection of journals and letters will provide the missing details.

It's nice to be back into the 'zoe' (life) just like when I lived here. I am enjoying my stay at Dinaz's place and as she is working 12 hours days I am pleased to make dinner for her each night. Tomorrow evening Patrick arrives from his Central American adventures so for a few days there will be some excitement again and perhaps a few small field trips. Otherwise, I 'll be here writing away on the balcony.

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