With a 130-plus-year history of fostering the study of the Hellenic world from ancient to modern, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens is a proud education partner in this year’s Athens Democracy Forum (September 13-15), sponsored by the International New York Times in cooperation with the United Nations Democracy Fund, the City of Athens, and influential Greek newspaper Kathimerini. The American School, which has since 1931 conducted excavations in the Athenian Agora—the very cradle of democracy—is providing both academic expertise and setting for key components of this year’s expanded, three-day program. Among these are a lecture and discussion at the School’s Cotsen Hall on September 14; tours of the Agora Excavations; and an evening program at the conclusion of the forum, held at the Stoa of Attalos of the Ancient Agora, reconstructed by the American School to be the museum and study center of the Agora excavations.
Setting the stage for a conversation about modern democracy, Dr. Kevin F. Daly, the School’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Classical Studies, will present the Cotsen Hall lecture, in which he will explain how ancient democracy worked. “Democracy is a practice as well as a mindset; you need practicalities such as buildings and ballots, and you need to have broader systems in place to check the various mechanisms and make sure they work together,” observes Dr. Daly, who excavated in the Athenian Agora from 1995 to 2010. “When you excavate in the Agora you come across the real, physical pieces of a working democracy. To reveal and to touch what this system produced—the tools of this ancient idea—is really stunning.” Following Dr. Daly’s lecture, international experts on modern democratic and parliamentary practices — Robert Fishman from the University of Madrid, David Hine from Oxford University, and Dimitri Sotiropoulos from the University of Athens — will participate in a discussion moderated by the School’s director, James C. Wright.
Events at the Stoa bring to a close this year’s high-level debates on liberal democracy, income inequality, Islamic extremism, and the opportunities and hazards of the digital age. The evening program includes a planned address by former Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras, keynote speech by His Highness the Aga Khan, and concluding dialogue between Greek and American journalists.
Features such as the Agora tours broaden the forum’s appeal and emphasize the continued relevance of discussion and study of the seeds and the evolution of democracy. As John McK. Camp II, Director of the Agora Excavations, recently noted in GreeceIS, a magazine produced by Kathimerini: “Despite any flaws, the concept of equal citizenship, the protected rights of the individual, a communal civic awareness, and a sense of the corporate identity of the people developed over time and led to an entirely new Athenian society, one which endured in reality for 200 years and which has remained an ideal for another twenty-five hundred.”