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Preservation of the Temple on the Ilissus

"Luxuriant grass, a fine plane-tree and a clear spring, hard by Ilissus, were inspiration enough for Socrates: in such a spot he could sit bantering Phaedrus, refuting Lysias, and invoking the Muses."

Lucian, The Hall

In Plato's eponymous dialogue, Phaedrus has just come from a house near the Temple of Olympian Zeus, intending to take a walk outside the city walls, when he is met by Socrates, who suggests that they go down to the Ilissus, where they can find a quiet spot and talk. There they sit in the shade of a tall spreading plane tree, on the bank of the cold stream. Socrates remarks that a quarter of a mile lower down, where there is an altar to Boreas the north wind, one can cross to the Temple of Artemis (also Pausanias, I.19.5-6, Apollodorus, III.15.2).

Pliny speaks of the plane trees that adorned Plato's Academy at Athens as the first to be admired, one of which was said to have roots that extended fifty feet, far beyond its branches (Natural History, XII.9; Theophrastus places the tree in the Lyceum, On Plants, I.7.1). Aristotle walked among the plane trees of the Lyceum, lecturing as he did so, and one continues to associate the groves of academe with the peripatetic philosophers. In 86 BC, all were cut down by Sulla, who "laid hands upon the sacred groves, and ravaged the Academy, which was the most wooded of the city's suburbs, as well as the Lyceum," to make siege engines against Athens, which had been forced to side with Mithridates in his war against Rome (Plutarch, XII.3).


This view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus provides some perspective for the walk taken by Socrates and Phaedrus. In the foreground is Hadrian's Gate and in the background, above the two isolated columns of the Temple, an exhibition display, now covered by graffiti. It is here that the retaining wall of the small Ionic temple on the river Ilissus was discovered in 1962. Expropriated by the Central Archaeological Council, the site still has not been developed and the buildings remain uninhabited, the result of an ongoing dispute with landowners that has lasted nearly half a century. With its view of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis rising up in the distance--and the thought that Socrates might have walked nearby--it is hoped that the area will become an archaeological park and again be, as it was then, "a fair resting-place, full of summer sounds and scents."


Reference: The Works of Lucian of Samosata (1905) translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler.

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