The theme is preservation.
All around us on the Acropolis, individuals are working diligently to preserve their experiences. Photos, videos, the study of surroundings, saying to selves that they’ll remember the moment forever. Beyond the momentary effort to preserve the event, each person is seeking to preserve their bodies, live in good health, keep their souls polished like a silver ocean pearl. The self is important, and the ancient Greeks mention this.
As Socrates provides a discourse to his counterparts in Symposium, he speaks of the wisdom Diotima imparts to him.
“Those who are pregnant in the body only, betake themselves to women and beget children-this is the character of their love; their offspring, as they hope, will preserve their memory and giving them the blessedness and immortality which they desire in the future. But souls which are pregnant-for there certainly are men who are more creative in their souls than in their bodies conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain.”
Here, Diotima enlightens Socrates on the soul and its reproductive creativity. Our bodies procreate, as do our minds. A poet makes love to the essence of beauty, gives birth to his odes and elegies, and preserves his soul in this capacity.
What does this have to do with the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens?
“Earth proudly wears the Parthenon as the best gem upon her zone.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Parthenon is a work of beauty and precision. It is considered the most important surviving site of Classical Greece. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his masterful poetic way, stated that “Earth proudly wears the Parthenon as the best gem upon her zone.”
Everything I’ve been taught about mediation and wisdom from Eastern perspectives sharply contrast the sense of self-preservation discussed above. In Buddhism, all emphasis lies on the release of ego and self. “Liberation” is a term used amply, and self is used to refer to a kind of collective consciousness. Atman, the Sanskrit term used for soul in Hindu philosophy, refers not to the individual soul housed in a single body, but as a transcendental spirit beyond one’s own physiology.
Though this contradiction exists, I can’t help but feel a sense of inspiration bearing from both viewpoints.
During one flight from Phoenix to New York, I sat in silent contemplation with my head down for a great duration. I came to an interesting realization, a thought I had never really fully considered before. It was an idea that lies both in feeling and thought. It was the idea that many opposites and dualities in knowledge exist simultaneously, in a paradox we often reject. People often feel that they are right on an issue. If you’re pro-life, you believe in one end of a spectrum and spend the rest of your life confirming this belief. Or, you confirm another belief continually. We live in constant confirmation, and holding two opposite beliefs at the same time is a sort of rarity.
Of course, I’m not even close to being one of few who have realized this. Even Socrates himself constantly challenged and questioned his own positions to get closer to fundamental truths. But this idea is necessary for harmony, for seeing a world that is full of opposing beliefs, for connecting, for enjoying.
We preserve temples, ideas, and art. The Parthenon should certainly be protected for as long as we can hold on to it. We should also live in health to stay in health.
We also realize that theres is an end to all things, and that (quoting Led Zeppelin here) “all that lives is born to die.”
Hopefully all people experience this harmony of duality at some point in time. The realization that preservation doesn’t rival liberation/detachment, it complements it. It’s an essential thought, and certainly one to consider at a sublime place such as the Acropolis.