Mr. Brown's History Lesson

If you’re starting to feel old and need to put your age into perspective, try visiting Greece. Wow, that place has some history. It’s staggering to realize that the U.S. in official form is only 242 years old, but Greek civilizations were organized into city-states as much as 2900 years ago and began employing democracy not long after that.

Our family made time to visit Greece last month, and there were many experiences that gave us a new appreciation for its contributions to our world: it’s the birthplace of democracyWestern philosophyWestern literaturehistoriographypolitical science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, as well as the Olympic Games (thank you for the summary, Wikipedia).

I visited dozens of ancient sites and modern museums and took hundreds of photos, but today’s pictorial history lesson is all about THEATER…

The Theatre of Dionysus still looms on the hill overlooking much of modern Athens.

The Theatre of Dionysus still looms on the hill overlooking much of modern Athens.

In the 6th century BC, the earliest origins of drama developed in Athens, where ancient hymns were sung in honor of the god Dionysus. The City Dionysia festival featured competitions in music, singing, dance and poetry, and attendance at the festival as an audience member or as a participant in the theatrical productions was an important part of citizenship.

Sometime in the next century the first theater structure, the Theatre of Dionysus, was first carved into the side of the city’s biggest hill (the Acropolis). It underwent rebuilding a few times over the years but was largely unchanged after the 1st century AD.

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When we visited the Acropolis and Theatre of Dionysus, it felt pretty awesome to walk in the footsteps of the ancient Athenians and to give context to a place that I’d only learned about through Theatre History classes!

Check out the high-tech security ropes right behind me, to keep people off of the stage area and protect this treasured site. The guy under the white umbrella blew a whistle if anyone crossed the barrier. That’s it. Greeks seem pretty mellow.

The view from the diplomats’ and priests’ special seating zone.

The view from the diplomats’ and priests’ special seating zone.

Scaffolding for some restoration work that has begun in recent years.

Scaffolding for some restoration work that has begun in recent years.

Remarkably well preserved “reliefs” at the back of the staging area.

Remarkably well preserved “reliefs” at the back of the staging area.

A bit of info about the restoration efforts.

A bit of info about the restoration efforts.

Only about 200 yards from the Theatre of Dionysus is another theater that originally seated 5000 people and is still used today… The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, from the 2nd century AD, was restored in the 1950s and is now home to the months-long annual Athens Festival (Sting was featured this year) and many other major performances.

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Acropolis Sept 2018 004.jpg

About 5 days after we originally visited the Acropolis and these two theaters (in addition, of course, to the Parthenon on the top of the hill), we were taking an evening walk and realized that the “backstage” area of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus was only 10 minutes from our hotel. This is where the public now enters for events, so of course this area has modern lighting and decor that included several plastic “terra cotta” urns.

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Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus were the only two specific theater facilities that we saw in Greece, but I will round out this history lesson with just a few other special sites that were certainly “dramatic”… Enjoy!

Ruins of the Oracle at Delphi (or Temple of Apollo), where for centuries Greeks would pilgrimage to seek answers to their life problems… And a “conduit to the gods” who was under the influence of heavy incense would answer in nonsense terms, which were then translated into a mysterious and non-specific declaration by a team of priests, and which was then left to interpretation entirely by the recipient.

Ruins of the Oracle at Delphi (or Temple of Apollo), where for centuries Greeks would pilgrimage to seek answers to their life problems… And a “conduit to the gods” who was under the influence of heavy incense would answer in nonsense terms, which were then translated into a mysterious and non-specific declaration by a team of priests, and which was then left to interpretation entirely by the recipient.

The huge Arc de Triomph (and its crazy traffic circle) in Paris, which startled us a bit dramatically when we emerged from the subway station near our hotel, not at all realizing that we would be RIGHT THERE.

The huge Arc de Triomph (and its crazy traffic circle) in Paris, which startled us a bit dramatically when we emerged from the subway station near our hotel, not at all realizing that we would be RIGHT THERE.

And no unplanned (but welcome) overnight in Paris would be complete without a walk to one of the world’s most dramatic monuments, the Eiffel Tower.

And no unplanned (but welcome) overnight in Paris would be complete without a walk to one of the world’s most dramatic monuments, the Eiffel Tower.