published 2.19.2019

Simon Critchley’s Athens in Pieces: The Stench of the Academy in The New York Times

by Simon Critchley

The weekend traffic in the center of Athens was awful on the late January day I decided to visit the site of Plato’s Academy. Each of the narrow, slightly dog-legged streets in Plaka, the old city, was completely jammed, because recent angry protests, some of them violent, had forced the closing of roads around Syntagma, or Constitution Square.

Still, pedestrians were out in impressive force, filling the streets, intent on enjoying their Saturday shopping. Athenians take their weekends very seriously. Pantelis, my cabdriver, threaded his way delicately around people suddenly lurching, seemingly semi-oblivious, into the street and the constant chorus of motorcycles appearing out of nowhere and disappearing noisily into the distance.

Once past the clogged junction at Monastiraki Square, we pushed more easily along Ermou Street and headed northwest. We came to an area scattered with warehouses and former factories. The cab stopped by a huddle of abandoned buses. Ahead of us was what looked like an open area of greenery. Pantelis pointed and said, “Akadimia Platonos.” This must be the place, I thought.

Plato’s Academy is now a public park in a not particularly nice part of town. It is just next to Colonus, Sophocles’ birthplace and, according to the legend he helped to invent, the final resting place of Oedipus. The day was cool and sunny, but the previous 48 hours had been filled with storms, strong winds and intense rain.

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