New York.- By Catherine Tsounis
“Captive Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought the arts to rustic Latium” – Horace, Epistles Book II and Epistle to the Pisones.
I discovered the Roman Emperor Hadrian, “the Greekling” with retired professional guides Erica Haralambithou and Doris Christopoulou. The National Archaeological Museum, in collaboration with the Italian Archaeological School in Athens, hosted the temporary exhibition “Hadrian and Athens, Conversing with an Ideal World” that runs until late November 2018 marking 1.900 years since the beginning of Hadrian’s reign in 117 AD. The collaboration between Greece and Italy intensifies their cultural heritage. The exhibition launches the “European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018. All forty exhibits come from the National Archaeological Museum’s collections.
The sculpture collection shows an imaginary philosophical dialogue about Greek philosophers, such as Herodes Atticus, Emperor Hadrian’s teacher. Greek education system, the Gymnasia of the imperial period, is explained through Greek artifacts. What will future generations say about US education, the iPad, calculator, that no longer teaches script, traditional Math, but the core curriculum of boxes? The guardians of traditional education (paideia) of ancient Athens highlight the spiritual bond between Hellenic and Roman culture. Busts of Plato and Aristotle give us a glimpse of their physical appearance.1
Who knows what Greek learning would have become without emperor Hadrian? “In Athens the emperor’s benefactions were numerous. At the Athenians’ request, he had their laws professionally redrafted, and he brought to completion the massive temple of Olympian Zeus that the Peisistratid tyrants had begun more than five centuries before. He created the Panhellenium, a federation of Greeks that was based at Athens, which gave equal representation to all Greek cities and thereafter played a conspicuous part in the history of Roman Greece.
At the shrine of Delphi, Hadrian gave his support to a building renaissance. The impact of all this on Hadrian personally cannot be exaggerated. Like Augustus before him, he was initiated into the Greek mystery religion at Eleusis, and, after the temple of Olympian Zeus was dedicated, he assumed the title Olympius.”2 The Acropolis Museum has a recent exhibit on the Eleusis Mystery rituals that Emperor Hadrian followed.
Hadrian’s building projects are perhaps his most enduring legacy. He established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. His love for Greece and Greek literature was such that he was known as `Graeculus’ (Greekling) in his youth and his philhellenism did not dissipate with age….. The Arch of Hadrian, constructed by the citizens of Athens in 131/132 CE, honor Hadrian as the founder of the city. Inscriptions on the arch name Theseus (the traditional founder) but add Hadrian owing to the latter’s substantial contributions to Athens (such as the Temple of Zeus).3
Hadrian’s outlook on life can be best summarized in his own word: “The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books, and to a lesser degree schools.”3