THE PNYX AND THE ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE

The rocky hill of Pnyx began to be used as an area for public assemblies and deliberations of the Athenian citizens (the dêmos) from 507 BCE. In that year the Athenian statesman Cleisthenes introduced his sweeping reforms, under which the Athenian dêmos gained sovereignty over the political life of the city. Soon buildings and facilities were constructed here for the needs of the Assembly. Henceforth the Pnyx was to become associated with the democratic ideal that has inspired people worldwide.

The podium, known as the ‘Bêma’, is the raised protruding step from which the speakers addressed the Assembly. More than any other remnant, the Bêma is the symbol that best expresses the principles of the democracy, namely, political equality (isonomia), freedom of speech and assembly (isegoria), and the equal participation of the people in the institutions affecting public life (isopoliteia). It was from the Bêma that all the important political statesmen and orators of the 6th to the 5th centuries BCE (the golden age of the Athenian democracy) addressed the Athenian people. Among them were Cleisthenes, Themistocles, Aristides, Kimon, Pericles, Alcibiades, Nicias, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Lycurgus, and many others.

The Pnyx, both as a public area and as the Assembly of the People, undoubtedly was used during the Roman times as the boulê, the Council that regulated the internal affairs of Athens. Naturally, during its long years of use the site underwent continuous modifications that reflected the political changes of each era, and these modifications have been systematically studied by Greek archaeologists.

As a prominent rocky hill, the Pnyx has certainly always been visible, however its positive identification in modern times was made in 1835 by the archeologist S. K. Pittakis, who discovered the 5th century stone inscription bearing the title ‘HOROS PYKNOS’ (Boundary of the Pnyx).  Shortly, thereafter, in 1838, Theodoros Koloktrones, the military commander of the Liberation War, made use of the site’s identification to deliver a speech there, exhorting the youth of the struggling nation to pursue wisdom, so as to follow ‘the steps of the wise men who once walked here’. Excavations resumed in 1910 and continued during 1930–1937 under K. Kouroniotes, Robert Scranton and others. Their work brought to light the foundations of buildings, such as those of the two porticoes (which were constructed around 330-326 BCE), the Altar of Zeus Agoraios (i.e., of ‘Free Speech’), the Temple of Zeus, the Highest, and the Heliotrope of Meton, an important astronomical observatory.

The Pnyx is open to the public. However, the site, especially the Bêma, is discreetly protected as a sacred symbol of democracy. The view from the vicinity of the Bêma grants to the observer a breathtaking grasp of the logical unity of the Athenian republic: below is the Agora, with its magistracies, courts and administrative offices; immediately opposite is the Acropolis with its Parthenon and just below it is the Theatre of Dionysius, the hub of the city’s culture. These monuments, with the Lycabettus hill and the Hymettus Mountain in the background, provide a view that continues to enchant with its unsurpassing beauty, especially during sunset.

The Pnyx is located less than 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) west of the Acropolis and 1.6 km south-west of the centre of modern Athens, Syntagma Square.

From 1989 to 2004, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Athens, Konstantine Boudouris, successfully organized and held, within the archeological site of the Pnyx, the International Seminar of Philosophy series. These seminars were open for the public, and were attended both by thousands of citizens and intellectuals from all over the World.

Meeting of the Tenth International Philosophy Seminar at Pnyx (1998)

From the 14th International Philosophy Seminar meeting at Saint Demerius Church Courtyard - Pnyx

Likewise, during the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy, one of the Special Philosophy Sessions of the Congress was organized and held at this sacred birth place of democracy, where participants and attendees had an unique opportunity to philosophize, discuss, and express their ideas in the spirit of free speech, looking at the Acropolis.

Pictures from the Special Philosophy Session of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy at Pnyx (August 2013)


Ὑπόθεσις δημοκρατικῆς πολιτείας

“Ὑπόθεσις μὲν οὖν τῆς δημοκρατικῆς πολιτείας ἐλευθερία (τοῦτο γὰρ λέγειν εἰώθασιν, ὡς ἐν μόνῃ τῇ πολιτείᾳ ταύτῃ μετέχοντας ἐλευθερίας· τούτου γὰρ στοχάζεσθαί φασι πᾶσαν δημοκρατίαν)· ἐλευθερίας δὲ ἓν μὲν τὸ ἐν μέρει ἄρχεσθαι καὶ ἄρχειν. καὶ γὰρ τὸ δίκαιον τὸ δημοτικὸν τὸ ἴσον ἔχειν ἐστὶ κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀλλὰ μὴ κατ' ἀξίαν, τούτου δ' ὄντος τοῦ δικαίου τὸ πλῆθος ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι κύριον, καὶ ὅ τι ἂν δόξῃ τοῖς πλείοσι, τοῦτ' εἶναι τέλος καὶ τοῦτ' εἶναι τὸ δίκαιον· φασὶ γὰρ δεῖν ἴσον ἔχειν ἕκαστον τῶν πολιτῶν· ὥστε ἐν ταῖς δημοκρατίαις συμβαίνει κυριωτέρους εἶναι τοὺς ἀπόρους τῶν εὐπόρων· πλείους γάρ εἰσι, κύριον δὲ τὸ τοῖς πλείοσι δόξαν. ἓν μὲν οὖν τῆς ἐλευθερίας σημεῖον τοῦτο, ὃν τίθενται πάντες οἱ δημοτικοὶ τῆς πολιτείας ὅρον· ἓν δὲ τὸ ζῆν ὡς βούλεταί τις. τοῦτο γὰρ τῆς ἐλευθερίας ἔργον εἶναί φασιν, εἴπερ τοῦ δουλεύοντος τὸ ζῆν μὴ ὡς βούλεται. τῆς μὲν οὖν δημοκρατίας ὅρος οὗτος δεύτερος· ἐντεῦθεν δ' ἐλήλυθε τὸ μὴ ἄρχεσθαι, μάλιστα μὲν ὑπὸ μηθενός, εἰ δὲ μή, κατὰ μέρος, καὶ συμβάλλεται ταύτῃ πρὸς τὴν ἐλευθερίαν τὴν κατὰ τὸ ἴσον” (Aριστοτέλους, Πολ.1317a40-b17).

The basis of Democratic State

“The basis of a democratic state is liberty; which, according to the common opinion of men, can only be enjoyed in such a state—this they affirm to be the great end of every democracy. One principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn, and indeed democratic justice is the application of numerical not proportionate equality; whence it follows that the majority must be supreme, and that whatever the majority approve must be the end and the just. Every citizen, it is said, must have equality, and therefore in a democracy the poor have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. This, then, is one note of liberty which all democrats affirm to be the principle of their state. Another is that a man should live as he likes. This, they say, is the mark of liberty, since, on the other hand, not to live as a man likes is the mark of a slave. This is the second characteristic of democracy, whence has arisen the claim of men to be ruled by none, if possible, or, if this is impossible, to rule and be ruled in turns; and so it contributes to the freedom based upon equality.» (Transl by B. Jowett, in the Works of Aristotle, edited by Jonathan Barnes,1984)