Hitchens in Athens (and Denial)

June 23, 2009

Via Upturned Earth, Hitchens is in Athens.  I’ll leave the historical criticisms to more competent parties, but I just feel the need to kvetch about this for a moment:

Don’t let me blast on too long about how absolutely heart-stopping the brilliance of these people was. But did you know, for example, that the Parthenon forms, if viewed from the sky, a perfect equilateral triangle with the Temple of Aphaea, on the island of Aegina, and the Temple of Poseidon, at Cape Sounion? Did you appreciate that each column of the Parthenon makes a very slight inward incline, so that if projected upward into space they would eventually steeple themselves together at a symmetrical point in the empyrean? The “rightness” is located somewhere between the beauty of science and the science of beauty.

I don’t want to be trite here, or to insert polemics where they might not belong, but to reduce the Parthenon’s aesthetic appeal to scientized beauty, as Hitch does here, is to misunderstand the building and its purposes. As incredible as it is from an architectural standpoint, the building’s original purpose was just as much about accord with the rest of the polis, particularly the city’s religious and political life, as it was about the pure technical accomplishment. Those congruent rooftops? The sanctuary to Athena? The large quantities of money in the basement? It would be misleading to identify this place as a church (at least until it got made into one) but it would also be a mistake to deny that it was a place where the civic and religious orders of Athenian society intersected fruitfully.  Yet addressing that possibility would throw quite a wrench into Hitchens’s devaluation of religious moderates, since it suggests a social order in which muthos and logos stand in a fruitful relation to each other, rather than their permanent irreconcilability.

All of which may be rather beside the point…  This is an article about Athens, not Atheism. Still, you got to get your jabs in where you can, especially when the pickins’ is this easy.


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