In the shade under a hundreds-year-old olive tree, with a breeze blowing from the nearby Aegean Sea, the Greek sun loses its bite.
You can sit back and let the marble and granite ruins, spread in a park-like setting across the hillside, blur in your mind, allowing your subconscious to take you back thousands of years.
Socrates sat here.
Okay, maybe not exactly here, on this very slab of granite. But it’s possible.
Same with Plato, Aristotle, and hundreds of other thinkers who together launched the concepts that culminated in our own democracy 2,500 years later.
I spent a day this summer in the Agora, the ancient meeting place of philosophers, politicians and citizens of Athens, Greece.
As adviser to The Agora, the student newspaper at Monroe County Community College, I had a special interest in the place. I wanted to understand why a college named its newspaper, “The Agora.”.
Now, I understand. I’m actually impressed that the first students and their advisers, who created The Agora in 1968, had the foresight and imagination to come up with the name.
The ancient Agora was a special place in the life of Athens and in the history of civilization. The term “agora” roughly translates as “meeting place.” Put in the
context of ancient Athens, that takes on significant meaning.
For the first time in history, Athens was developing a system of government where regular citizens – of course that meant only land-owning men; suffrage for women and the poor took a few more millennium – could sit around and debate how to run their town. They chose their leaders, not by sword, but by vote.
Most of the big meetings were held in the Parthenon, the famous center of government atop the Acropolis in the center of Athens.
But the discussing, debating and deliberating occurred down the hill, a few hundred yards from the Parthenon, in the Agora – about a 30-acre section of town that featured temples, schools and public markets.
It was the place Athenians came to catch up on the news. They could listen to others’ opinions and offer their own.
Isn’t that the role a newspaper should fill in its community. Shouldn’t you be able to turn to The Agora – or its Web site, www.mcccagora.com – to find out the latest campus news, read opinions and offer your own, find out about a good new band or get advice on buying used textbooks.
Sitting under that olive tree – by the way, there is an olive tree every few feet anywhere you go in Greece – I found myself mulling the link between the ancient Agora and the modern Internet.
One of the fundamental principles of Athenian democracy was each citizen’s right to speak and be heard. And that’s one of the features of the Internet that has fascinated today’s users.
The Internet has democratized the flow of news and information. You don’t have to buy ink by the barrel or get the FCC to give you a TV license. Just create your own Web site for $25 and knock yourself out.
On The Agora Web site, anyone can comment on any story. The Agora staff has plans to expand the blogging section this semester, giving any student or employee their own space on the Web site.
And there are plans to add a spot for students and staff to upload their own photos and videos.
The print edition of The Agora also is available to anyone from the campus community. They can submit stories, opinions or photos.
In effect, any student or employee can stand on a marble dais in the center of The Agora and speak their piece.
At the west end of the ancient Agora, next to the entrance gate, I stumbled across a plaque that read, “Simon’s House.” Behind it were ruins of the walls
of a small home.
I had read earlier that Socrates often came to Simon’s house to teach.
It was a pretty spot – yes, there was an olive tree with a bench under it, right in front of Simon’s house. The olives were green and thick, hanging from the limbs in clumps – enough for dozens of pizzas.
I wonder. Did Socrates ever step outside Simon’s house and sit in the shade of an olive tree to discuss the value of an informed citizenry to a democracy?
I bet he did.