“Greetings from Syracuse”

[From the pen of Dr. Dave]

Yesterday, our intrepid explorers visited a Greek theater at Syracuse. Founded by Greeks from Corinth in 733 BCE, Syracuse would rival Athens in both size and importance by the 5th century, the time when the theater was originally built by the tyrant Hieron I. The theater, which was cut out of a rocky hillside and seated about 15,000 spectators, was second in size only to Athens’ Theater of Dionysus. In this very theater – whose spectators included such luminaries of the ancient world as the playwright Aeschylus, the philosopher Plato, and the mathematician Archimedes – the Syracusans would regularly assemble to witness the performance of tragic plays.

These spectators, however, were not simply passive viewers, but instead used what they had seen on the stage to actively reflect on their own lives, by contemplating the ethical dilemmas and impossible situations faced by the protagonists of these performances. Naturally, this process sounds familiar, as we ourselves are often prompted by what we view on stage or screen to re-examine our own sense of right and wrong – a vital process for us and especially for our children, whom we are encouraging to grow into self-aware, just, and sympathetic individuals.

If you look closely at the accompanying pictures, you will see a tangible reminder of this remarkable legacy bequeathed to us by the Greeks: the Syracusans of today – like the Syracusans of yesterday – are preparing the stage for a performance of Euripides’ Alcestis, which was first performed nearly 2,500 years ago. Just as the contemporary scenery and spotlights are sharing the same space with the ancient stones, our children are sharing the same space with men like Plato and Archimedes, individuals whose characters were, in part, shaped by what they saw on this very stage … individuals who would later go on to re-shape our understanding of the universe and our place therein.

Full stage

Side View

Both seats