First appeared as “Losing Our Marbles” in the June 2017 issue of Air Canada enRoute.
I wonder if this might be the last time I’ll set foot on the stone of an antiquity. Age–old grit rolls away underfoot as I make the short hike up the hill of the Pnyx (Greek for “tightly packed together”) on a warm midday in Athens. I’m reminded of the Hindu concept darshan, roughly translated as the spiritual benefit gained from seeing an authentic thing. It’s a sensation we all feel in our bones. The Pnyx was carved into a vast natural amphitheatre that became the site of popular assemblies at the height of Athenian influence, when such gatherings outgrew the nearby Agora. Little of the original site remains except for the bema, the podium carved into the stone overlooking the bowl. As I near it, I realize I’m the only person on the hillside. I’m standing less than a metre from where Pericles asked his fellow Athenians to respect one another’s rights, where Demosthenes urged 13,000 compatriots to stand up to Philip II. Nothing but a fraying shin–height rope separates me from the podium. I look around again – still no one. With one small step over the barrier, I could be exactly where Demosthenes stood 2,300 years ago.