“I went down the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon, the son of Ariston. I wanted to say a prayer to the goddess, and I was also curious to see how they would manage the festival, since they were holding it for the first time.”1
In this famous dialogue of Plato, Socrates visits some friends and foreigners in the port city of Piraeus and entertains them with a conversation on the definition of justice. The dialogue is considered to be one of the most important historical insights into philosophy and politics, particularly in the pursuit of the best life. Throughout it, Socrates constructs a fictional city that he uses to compare the lives of the just and unjust man, arguing that the former is happier than the latter, and he eventually decides that the best life is that of the philosopher. Many scholars purport that Piraeus symbolizes the themes of The Republic, though there is little agreement as to what they might be. Some suggest it represents justice and democracy, as it was the site of the defeat of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens; others claim that as a port city, it embodies the commercial and the mundane, and is therefore the manifestation of the famous Parable of the Cave. Either way, the city’s rich history certainly lends itself to study.
Located very close to Athens, Piraeus was one of the most important harbors of Ancient Greece, particularly in the 5th Century BC. It became the home of the Athenian naval fleet after the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, and was a bustling and successful city until the Peloponnesian War, when its blockade by the Spartans forced the Athenians to surrender and the city fell to Spartan rule. However, when the Thirty Tyrants of Athens were defeated in 403 BC, democracy was reinstated and the walls were rebuilt. The city was largely abandoned under the Ottoman Empire, but began to expand again in the 1820’s. Today—due to its proximity to Athens—Piraeus is once again a major center of trade, and acts as the largest harbor in Greece. It is also known for its restaurants and its sports, as well as some of its ancient architecture, and hosted events in the 1896 and 2004 Olympic Games.
1Plato. The Republic. Plato: Complete Works. Eds. John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1997. 972. Print.
Marie McDonough is beginning her junior year at the University of Arizona as a Creative Writing major. She enjoys classic and young adult novels, and spends too much time knitting.
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