the capital of Attica, the most celebrated city of the ancient world, the seat of Greek literature and art during the golden period of Grecian history. Its inhabitants were fond of novelty ( Acts 17:21 ), and were remarkable for their zeal in the worship of the gods. It was a sarcastic saying of the Roman satirist that it was "easier to find a god at Athens than a man."
On his second missionary journey Paul visited this city ( Acts 17:15 ; Compare 1 Thessalonians 3:1 ), and delivered in the Areopagus his famous speech ( 17:22-31 ). The altar of which Paul there speaks as dedicated "to the [properly "an"] unknown God" (23) was probably one of several which bore the same inscription. It is supposed that they originated in the practice of letting loose a flock of sheep and goats in the streets of Athens on the occasion of a plague, and of offering them up in sacrifice, at the spot where they lay down, "to the god concerned."
(city of Athene ), the capital of Attica, and the chief seat of Grecian learning and civilization during the golden period of the history of Greece. Description --Athens is situated about three miles from the seacoast, in the central plain of Attica. In this plain rise several eminences Of these the most prominent is a lofty insulated mountain with a conical peaked Summit, now called the Hill of St. George, and which bore in ancient times the name of Lycabettus . This mountain, which was not included within the ancient walls, lies to the northeast of Athens, and forms the most striking feature in the environs of the city. It is to Athens what Vesuvius is to Naples, or Arthurs Seat to Edinburgh Southwest of Lycabettua there are four hills of moderate height, all of which formed part of the city. Of these the nearest to Lycabettus and at the distance of a mile from the latter, was the Aeropolis , or citadel of Athens, a square craggy rock rising abruptly about 150 feet, with a flat summit of about 1000 feet long from east to west, by 500 feet broad from north to south. Immediately west of the Aeropolis is a second hill of irregular form, the Areopagus (Mars Hill). To the southwest there rises a third hill, the Pnyx , on which the assemblies of the citizens were held. South of the city was seen the Saronic Gulf, with the harbors of Athens. History. --Athens is said to have derived its name from the prominence given to the worship of the goddess Athena (Minerva) by its king, Erechtheus. The inhabitants were previously called Cecropidae, from Cecrops, who, according to tradition, was the original founder of the city. This at first occupied only the hill or rock which afterwards became the Acropolis; but gradually the buildings spread over the ground at the southern foot of this hill. It was not till the time of Pisistratus and his sons (B.C. 560-514) that the city began to assume any degree of splendor. The most remarkable building of these despots was the gigantic temple of the Olympian Zeus or Jupiter. Under Themistocles the Acropolis began to form the centre of the city, round which the new walls described an irregular circle of about 60 stadia or 7 1/4 miles in circumference. Themistocles transferred the naval station of the Athenians to the peninsula of Piraeus, which is distant about 4 1/2 miles from Athens, and contains three natural harbors. It was not till the administration of Pericles that the walls were built which connected Athens with her ports. Buildings. --Under the administration of Pericles, Athens was adorned with numerous public buildings, which existed in all their glory when St. Paul visited the city. The Acropolis was the centre of the architectural splendor of Athens. It was covered with the temples of gods and heroes; and thus its platform presented not only a sanctuary, but a museum containing the finest productions of the architect and the sculptor, in which the whiteness of the marble was relieved by brilliant colors, and rendered still more dazzling by the transparent clearness of the Athenian atmosphere. The chief building was the Parthenon (i.e. House of the Virgin), the most perfect production of Grecian architecture. It derived its name from its being the temple of Athena Parthenos, or Athena the Virgin, the invincible goddess of war. It stood on the highest part of the Acropolis, near its centre. It was entirely of Pentelic marble, on a rustic basement of ordinary limestone, and its architecture, which was of the Doric order, was of the purest kind. It was adorned with the most exquisite sculptures, executed by various artists under the direction of Phidias. But the chief wonder of the Parthenon was the colossal statue of the virgin goddess executed by Phidias himself: The Acropolis was adorned with another colossal figure of Athena, in bronze, also the work of Phidias. It stood in the open air, nearly opposite the Propylaea. With its pedestal it must have been about 70 feet high, and consequently towered above the roof of the Parthenon, so that the point of its spear and the crest of its helmet were visible off the promontory of Sunium to ships approaching Athens. The Areopagus , or Hill of Ares (Mars), is described elsewhere. [MARS HILL] The Pnyx, or place for holding the public assemblies of the Athenians, stood on the side of a low rocky hill, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile from the Areopagus. Between the Pnyx on the west) the Areopagus on the north and the Acropolis on the east, and closely adjoining the base of these hills, stood the Agora or "Market," where St. Paul disputed daily. Through it ran the road to the gymnasium and gardens of the Academy , which were situated about a mile from the walls. The Academy was the place where Plato and his disciples taught. East of the city, and outside the walls was the Lyceum, a gymnasium dedicated to Apollo Lyceus, and celebrated as the place in which Aristotle taught. Character. --The remark of the sacred historian respecting the inquisitive character of the Athenians ( Acts 17:21 ) is attested by the unanimous voice of antiquity. Their natural liveliness was partly owing to the purity and clearness of the atmosphere of Attica, which also allowed them to pass much of their time in the open air. The Athenian carefulness in religion is confirmed by the ancient writers. Of the Christian church, founded by St. Paul at Athens, according to ecclesiastical tradition, Dionysius the Areopagite was the first bishop. [DIONYSIUS] Present condition. -- (The population of Athens in 1871 was 48,000. Its university has 52 professors and 1200 students. Educational institutions are very numerous. A railway connects the Pirzeus or port with the city and its terminus stands in the midst of what was once the Agora.--ED.)
ath'-enz Athenai In antiquity the celebrated metropolis of Attica, now the capital of Greece. Two long walls, 250 ft. apart, connected the city with the harbor (Peiraeus). In Acts 17 we are told what Paul did during his single sojourn in this famous city. He came up from the sea by the new road (North of the ancient) along which were altars of unknown gods, entered the city from the West, and passed by the Ceramicus (burial-ground), which can be seen to this day, the "Theseum," the best preserved of all Greek temples, and on to the Agora (Market-Place), just North of the Acropolis, a steep hill, 200 ft. high, in the center of the city. Cimon began and Pericles completed the work of transforming this citadel into a sanctuary for the patron goddess of the city.
The magnificent gateway (Propylaea), of which the Athenians were justly proud, was built by Mnesicles (437-432 BC). A monumental bronze statue by Phidias stood on the left, as one emerged on the plateau, and the mighty Parthenon a little further on, to the right. In this temple was the famous gold and ivory statue of Athena. The eastern pediment contained sculptures representing the birth of the goddess (Elgin Marbles, now in the British Museum), the western depicting her contest with Poseidon for supremacy over Attica. This, the most celebrated edifice, architecturally, in all history, was partially destroyed by the Venetians in 1687. Other temples on the Acropolis are the Erechtheum and the "Wingless Victory." In the city the streets were exceedingly narrow and crooked. The wider avenues were called plateiai, whence English "place," Spanish "plaza." The roofs of the houses were flat. In and around the Agora were many porticoes stoai. In the Stoa Poecile ("Painted Portico"), whose walls were covered with historical paintings, Paul met with the successors of Zeno, the Stoics, with whom he disputed daily. In this vicinity also was the Senate Chamber for the Council of Five Hundred, and the Court of the Areopagus, whither Socrates came in 399 BC to face his accusers, and where Paul, five centuries later, preached to the Athenians "the unknown God." In this neighborhood also were the Tower of the Winds and the water-clock, which must have attracted Paul's attention, as they attract our attention today.
The apostle disputed in the synagogue with the Jews (Acts 17:17), and a slab found at the foot of Mount Hymettus (a range to the East of the city, 3,000 ft. high), with the inscription haute he pule tou kuriou, dikaioi eiseleusontai en aute (Psalms 118:20), was once thought to indicate the site, but is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th century. Slabs bearing Jewish inscriptions have been found in the city itself.
The population of Athens was at least a quarter of a million. The oldest inhabitants were Pelasgians. Cecrops, the first traditional king, came from Egypt in 1556 BC, and by marrying the daughter of Actaeon, obtained the sovereignty. The first king was Erechtheus. Theseus united the twelve communities of Attica and made Athens the capital. After the death of Codrus in 1068 BC, the governing power was entrusted to an archon who held office for life. In 753 BC the term of office was limited to ten years. In 683 BC nine archons were chosen for a term of one year. Draco's laws, "written in blood," were made in 620 BC. Solon was chosen archon in 594 BC and gave the state a constitution. The tyrant Pisistratus was in control permanently from 541 to 527 BC; his son Hipparchus was assassinated in 514. Clisthenes changed the constitution and introduced the practice of ostracism.
In 490 BC the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, and again in 480 BC at Salamis. In 476 BC Aristides organized the great Athenian Confederacy. After his death Conon became the leader of the conservative party; and when the general Cimon was killed, Pericles became the leader of the people. In 431 BC the Peloponnesian War broke out and continued till 404 BC, when Athens succumbed to Sparta. An oligarchical government was set up with Critias and Theramenes at the head. War broke out again but peace was restored by the pact of Antalcidas (387 BC). In the Sacred War (357-355 BC) Athens exhausted her strength. When Philip of Macedon began to interfere in Greek affairs, Athens could neither resolve on war measures (to which the oratory of Demosthenes incited her), nor make terms with Philip. Finally, she joined Thebes in making armed resistance, but in spite of her heroic efforts at Chaeronea, she suffered defeat (338 BC). Philip was murdered in 336 BC, and Alexander the Great became master.
After the subjugation of Greece by the Romans, Athens was placed under the supervision of the governor of Macedonia, but was granted local independence in recognition of her great history. As the seat of Greek art and science, Athens played an important role even under Roman sway--she became the university city of the Roman world, and from her radiated spiritual light and intellectual energy to Tarsus, Antioch and Alexandria. Philo, the Jew, declares that the Athenians were Hellenon oxuderkestatoi dianoian ("keenest in intellect") and adds that Athens was to Greece what the pupil is to the eye, or reason to the soul. Although the city had lost her real independence, the people retained their old characteristics:
they were still interested in art, literature and philosophy.
Paul may possibly have attended theater of Dionysus (under the Southeast cliff of the Acropolis) and witnessed a play of the Greek poets, such as Euripides or Menander. Many gifts were received from foreign monarchs by Athens. Attalus I of Perg amum endowed the Academy, Eumenes added a splendid Stoa to theater and Antiochus Epiphanes began the Olympeium (15 columns of which are still standing), the massive sub-basement of which had been constructed by Pisistratus. Athens became a favorite residence for foreign writers who cultivated history, geography and literature. Horace, Brutus and Cassius sojourned in the city for some time. Josephus declares that the Athenians were the most god-fearing of the Greeks eusebestatous ton Hellenon. Compare Livy xlv.27.
See Wordsworth, Athens and Attica; Butler, Story of Athens; Ernest Gardner, Ancient Athens; Tucker, Life in Ancient Athens; A. Mommsen, Athenae Christianae; Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of Paul, chapter x; Gregorovius, Stadt Athen im Mittelalter; Leake, Grote, Thirlwall, Curtius, Wachsmuth, Holm, and Pausanias' Attica, recently edited by Carroll (Ginn and Co.), or in the large work of Frazer.
J. E. Harry
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