So I would like to take a moment and describe how much I am enjoying my beloved colleague, both for his entertaining perspective on this journey and his blog posts. Not only is he kind enough to share his thoughts, but also his irresistible joy and appreciation of all the people and places we are encountering along the way. He is a great support and booster of all our endeavors. And even more impressive than that, I think his photo count is in quintuple digits right now.
Segesta is a place of history and beauty. When I was a student, studying Latin, ancient Greek, and archaeology in Rome, we spent a few weeks in southern Italy and Sicily. This is when I first fell in love with Segesta. The city was not a big player in world affairs, nor did it have an impressive run while it was in its heyday. Nevertheless, it was pivotal as the impetus for a doomed expedition from Athens, signaling the defeat of the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. However, it means much more to me than the sum of its parts
Besides the intense natural beauty of its surroundings and its uncrowded, off-the-beaten-track novelty, Segesta, in the form of its theater and Doric temple, to me offers what is best of the Greek genius.
The very first people in the western world to take a huge step forward in the intellectual adventure of mankind were a group of philosophers we refer to as “pre-Socratics” or “monists”. These pioneering geniuses decided to make a break from the notion that the universe was mysterious and incomprehensible and totally left to the caprice of the gods. They tried to find the One factor or substance that tied everything together. Some thought everything was made of water or air or change itself, and that all matter consisted of those things in different states of being. These philosophers may have gotten it wrong, but they were the first scientists and we owe everything to them. They taught humanity that we are not doomed to the darkness of our ignorance and the frailty of our fears. The temple, a monument to the divine and a symbol of the power of scientific, rational thought–in the complexity of its architecture and design–is a reminder of our connection and participation in the infinite.
On the neighboring hillside, the theater, which post dates the temple by a hundred years or so, portrays the other aspect of our humanity–our connection to each other. After the Monists started grappling with the nature of the universe, a man named Socrates came along and asked questions about the nature of who we are and how we can live together, as well as the big question of why we are here. Socrates lived in a world where drama was not mere entertainment. Drama, literature, poetry, and music were meant to teach us about what it is to be human. The mythological themes and the plight of heroes portrayed in tragedy educated the viewer and cleansed the community. The Greek word for cleansing was ‘catharsis’.
So the theater and the temple at Segesta together, having weathered the crucible of time, stand like monuments, physical tributes to the rationality of the human mind, the beauty of what we can bring to this world, and our opportunity to participate in eternity.